Polar Bear Specialist Group population status update is much ado about nothing

I cannot for the life of me fathom why the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) bothered to insert an announcement on their website back in mid-December, promising an updated polar bear status assessment, since the posted January 31 “update” is nothing of the sort — there have been no changes of any consequence.

It therefore appears I interpreted the oddly worded announcement incorrectly and none of the anticipated changes were forthcoming. Baffling, to say the least. Have a look at the new updated documents that were posted yesterday and see what you think.

I’ve been checking the PBSG website every day since January 1st, waiting for the promised status update (see previous post here). This is what they promised (pdf here):

There is a new status table, agreed on by the group by Dec 1, 2013. Updated status and threats for all 13 subpopulations was presented at the Meeting of the Parties to the 1973 Agreement on the conservation of polar bears held in Moscoc [sic] December 4-5, 2013.

The new status table and assessments will be published as they are available in web format no later than February 1, 2014.” [Date on the bottom of the page is December 16, 2013; my bold]

But the “new” status table (copied below) is virtually no different than the one contained in the proceedings of the 2009 PBSG Meeting (Obbard et al. 2010) — the one difference I spotted could be a typo. At any rate, there’s no sign of a revision of the subpopulation boundaries, as I had thought, and no new population estimate.

The “updated” 2010 status table is below. Click to enlarge, find the original here (pdf here). You can’t see the “comments” unless you click on them individually in the online original — they appear at the bottom of the table, so you can’t see them all at once and you can’t copy them unless you do it one by one. I guess this is what they mean by “web-format.”

PBSG 2010 Status Table Update_Jan 31 2014

I have no idea now what the announcement meant by “13 subpopulations” with an “updated status” — not only has nothing changed, but there’s only 12 subpopulations that are not “data deficient” and thus have a “status” assessment to begin with. Perhaps they can’t count?

The one difference I found between this “updated” table and the table published in Obbard et al. (2010) was this: the figure in the “removals” column for Kane Basin are 15 in this version, 13 in the other. A stand-alone pdf of the status table from Obbard et al. (2010: Table 1) is here for comparison.

The population estimates, status and trends on the new table are the same; the “comments” are virtually identical, as far as I can tell: no sign of the new 2013 Western Hudson Bay population estimate leaked to Suzanne Goldenberg at The Guardian in late November (2013), no results of the recent aerial survey work in Foxe Basin (more on this in a future post) and in Western Hudson Bay, or the good news about Chukchi Sea bears that was published in late 2013. Go figure!

The changes in this new table were apparently not agreed to on December 1, 2013 in Moscow, as the December 16, 2013 PBSG announcement implied, but in March 2010, as it states on the table. The time stamp below the new status table says “This page was published May 11 2010” — except it wasn’t there until sometime yesterday afternoon (Friday, January 31, PST).

Only the new notice on the “Population information page, which says that the misleading State of the Polar Bear graphic is being updated (i.e., it’s disappeared), had the current date (January 31, 2014).

That confusing “State of the Polar Bear” graphic has been replaced by the map below, click to enlarge, which was not present before. The original has pop-up notes on the status and population estimate that appear when you pass your mouse over a region, but those don’t copy. This map was not present all through January either, yet it’s time stamp also says May 11, 2010.

These are the folks we are supposed to trust to keep us informed about what’s happening with polar bears, but this is yet another incident that fails to inspire confidence.

PBSG Polar bear population map Update_Jan 31 2014

Obbard, M.E., Theimann, G.W., Peacock, E. and DeBryn, T.D. (eds.) 2010. Polar Bears: Proceedings of the 15th meeting of the Polar Bear Specialists Group IUCN/SSC, 29 June-3 July, 2009, Copenhagen, Denmark. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge UK, IUCN. http://pbsg.npolar.no/en/meetings/

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