Monthly Archives: April 2014

PBI Facebook posts on Stirling’s polar bear that “died of climate change” have disappeared

It seems the two PBI Facebook posts about polar bear expert Ian Stirling’s bear that supposedly “died of climate change” last summer, which included some scathing comments and links to this blog, were removed sometime between late August 2013 and yesterday, when I happened to look for them.

See the screen-caps below. The first one, posted August 6, linked to the original Guardian article on the Svalbard bear and added some activist spin for good measure!

Polar Bears International Facebook_Aug 6

The second one, posted August 8, linked to an PBI news item that introduced a PBI blog post written by Stirling, in which he attempted some damage control.1

PBI link to Stirlings blog post on the bear that died of climate change_with activist spin_Aug 8 2013

[Reprise: Stirling speculated that a 16 year old bear found emaciated and dead in Svalbard, three months after it had been captured by researchers in good condition, had died of starvation due to lack of sea ice caused by global warming. Guardian writers transformed this into a bear that “died of climate change.” No mention from in the original story that 16 years is near the maximum life expectancy for male bears in the wild, that death by starvation is the usual cause of death for very old bears, or that other bears in the area were doing just fine (based on the fact that the Norwegian team working that area had just posted their data online). See my original post here, followup here, Featured Quote #44, here and footnote below]

Stirling himself (a “scientific advisor” to Polar Bears International, PBI), and the-polar-bears-are-dying message generally, took a big hit over that incident. But attempting to rewrite history? See the screen-cap below, taken yesterday (pdf here):

PBI_Fan Photo Day Aug 6 to Aug 13 gap_Svalbard bear story gone_April 29 2014

The deletion of these two entire entries suggests that PBI and Ian Stirling would rather their faithful Facebook followers and donors not have a chance to revisit the scathing comments and links to this blog. I assume it is the comments and links that were the offending parts, since Stirling’s blog post at PBI is still there, and of course, the news stories carried elsewhere are still out there. So instead of deleting comments, they removed the entire posts.

Good thing I saved screen caps of many of the more critical comments, from at least two PBI Facebook followers I’ve never heard of — have a look. [August 6th post was also captured by the cache machine]
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My interview with CNS News: “Alaskan Polar Bears Threatened…By Too Much Spring Ice”

Not bad, as these things go, but the reporter made one error that needs correcting – so I’m doing it here to set the record straight, just in case it does not get taken care of in the original story.

CNS News reporter Barbara Hollingsworth had seen my post last week, “Current ice conditions don’t bode well for Beaufort Sea polar bears” and wanted to talk to me about it. It was a little rushed, but I agreed.

This is how it turned out, with the error corrected and an updated ice thickness map.
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New polar bear exhibit at Winnipeg zoo will help make it “self-sustaining”

Here’s a development I’m sure you’ll find surprising: the July opening of the new polar bear exhibit at the Assiniboine Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba, expected to draw huge crowds this summer, will coincide with a substantial hike in entrance fees.

Kaska and Aurora, courtesy Assiniboine Park Zoo.

Kaska and Aurora, courtesy Assiniboine Park Zoo, Winnipeg.
Aurora is the cub orphaned in Churchill last year when her mother was shot.

Starting July 3, the fee for adults will increase from $10.24 to $18.50, not including GST. Said a CBC News report earlier today:

“Officials said the admission prices are being adjusted to “reflect the industry standard across zoos in North America” and bring the Winnipeg zoo closer to being a self-sustaining facility.

“Our job was to build a world-class and increasingly self-sustaining facility that allowed the [Assiniboine] Park and Zoo to be dramatically less dependent on tax dollars,” Redmond said.”

So, that’s why having polar bears in zoos are a good thing. Didn’t I say that last year? See the whole story here, more comments below.

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Current ice conditions don’t bode well for Beaufort Sea polar bears

Thick spring ice along the shore of the Eastern and Southern Beaufort is bad news for polar bears, especially females emerging from their dens with new cubs. Are those conditions developing now?

Beaufort Sea pressure ridges_Spring 1949 wikipedia sm

Every 10 years or so, since at least the 1960s, nearshore ice gets too thick for ringed seals to maintain their breathing holes and many breeding seals depart the area. This leaves a lot of polar bears without the baby seals they need to consume to get them through the rest of the year (that’s if they don’t (or can’t) leave themselves).

I’ve discussed various aspects of this phenomenon before, with references – see the list at the end of this post.

Sadly, we are on schedule for such conditions to recur – could be this year, could be next. The last time of heavy spring ice was 2004 and previous heavy ice conditions occurred the springs of 1964, 1974 (the worst), 1984, 1992 and 2004. The 2004-2006 event was reportedly almost as bad as the 1974-1976 event.

So, prompted by reports of the heaviest sea ice conditions on the East Coast “in decades” and news that ice on the Great Lakes is, for mid-April, the worst it’s been since records began, I took a close look at ice thickness charts for the Arctic. I’m not suggesting these conditions are necessarily related to Beaufort ice, just that they got me thinking.

Here’s a screencap of the US Navy ice thickness animation chart for yesterday [from WUWT Sea Ice Page]

Figure 1. Arctic Sea Ice Thickness (NRL), for April 18, 2014. Look at thick ice (yellow, 3.5-4.0 meters thick) spreading along the north coast of Alaska. See the 30 day animation here.

Figure 1. Arctic Sea Ice Thickness (NRL), for April 18, 2014. Look at thick ice (yellow, 3.5-4.0 meters thick) spreading along the north coast of Alaska. See the 30 day animation here.

Below is a similar image from about the same time last year, with the Southeast Beaufort Sea marked.

Figure 2. Arctic Sea Ice Thickness (NRL), for April 13, 2013. Southeastern Beaufort marked.

Figure 2. Arctic Sea Ice Thickness (NRL), for April 13, 2013. Southeastern Beaufort marked.

I don’t think this bodes well for Beaufort bears but we’ll have to wait and see if there are any reports of starving bears bit later this spring and summer. Sea ice charts aren’t a guarantee that this heavy spring ice phenomenon is developing in the Beaufort, but they could be a warning.

Below are archived ice age charts from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) for some previous years when Beaufort bears had trouble, especially 2004-2006, with which I compare this year’s conditions. [h/t Steve Goddard for alerting me to this resource]

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Polar bears move around as sea ice habitat changes – this is what resilience looks like

Oddly, it seems some people expect polar bears to sit around and suffer (or die) when local conditions deteriorate, rather than move elsewhere.

PolarBear_2008_USGS

While there are perhaps a few places where moving is not really an option over the short term, over the long term (more than one season) polar bears are free to shift to another locale if ice conditions change (either too much ice or too little).

An announcement by the WWF last week (10 April) caught my eye, as it talked about bears moving from one area to another because of changing ice conditions — as if this was surprising, extraordinary and newsworthy. That said, at least they weren’t suggesting the bears are all going to die because of declining ice, which is a huge improvement.

See what you think of this part of the press release (below), in the context of what we know about the movement of bears between regions:

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Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea: March map

Here is the March 2014 follow-up to my post on the July 2013 track map for female polar bears being followed by satellite in the Beaufort Sea by the US Geological Survey (USGS) – “Ten out of ten polar bears being tracked this summer in the Beaufort Sea are on the ice.”

See that post for methods and other background on this topic, and some track maps from 2012 (also available at the USGS website here).

The USGS track map March 2014 is copied below (Fig. 1).

Compare this to February’s map (Fig. 2) – you’ll be surprised at how little has changed!

Figure 1. Movements of 5 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of March, 2014. Polar bears were tagged in 2013 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All 5 of these bears have satellite collar transmitters. Note that the dots with the polar bear icons are the end points (end March), while the other end of the string is their position in early March. These are the same 5 females that were present in January. Click to enlarge.

Figure 1. From original caption: “Movements of 5 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of March, 2014. Polar bears were tagged in 2013 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All 5 of these bears have satellite collar transmitters.” Note that the dots with the polar bear icons are the end points (end March), while the other end of the string is their position in early March. These are the same 5 females that were present in January. Click to enlarge.

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Amstrup grasps at straws to defend his polar-bears-are-doomed computer model

Polar bear activist Steven Amstrup made an astonishing statement in an interview earlier this week — he insisted that the current rate of warming in the Arctic is greater than anything polar bears have lived through before. He also said that optimistic comments on the future of polar bears made by geneticist Matt Cronin a few weeks ago were “incautious” and “misleading.”

Polar bear cubs in den wikipedia

Previously, I described how a new paper by Cronin and colleagues confirmed that genetic evidence indicates polar bears have been around long enough to have survived several past Interglacial periods that were warmer than today (and therefore, would have had virtually no summer ice). Cronin, not unreasonably, had some critical things to say about computer modeled predictions that polar bears could not survive in an Arctic without summer sea ice.

On Monday, the Anchorage Daily News gave Amstrup a forum to rebuke Cronin for his comments. A similar story was also carried by the Washington Post. [In the same ADN article, geneticist Charlotte Lindqvist, offered an outdated argument against future polar bear survival that I’ll deal with later]

Today, I’ll address Amstrup’s ridiculous assertion that the current rate of warming, attributed by him primarily to human activities rather than natural variation, is something polar bears have never experienced in their evolutionary history (a period of more than 400,000 years!).

Let’s start with the offending portion of the news item (published March 31, 2014):

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