Monthly Archives: November 2014

Amstrup knows his polar bear predictions are flawed – but continues to promote them

The largest conservation organization in the world says that predictive models developed by polar bear biologist Steven Amstrup are utterly unsuitable for scientifically estimating future populations. Earlier this year, mathematical modeling experts  at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, who maintain the Red List of Threatened Species, made it clear that Amstrup’s models (used in 2008 to convince the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ due to predicted global warming) do not meet IUCN standards.

I’d say this makes Amstrup’s polar bear projections (Amstrup et al. 2008, 2010) no more scientifically useful than a crystal ball prophesy, but you wouldn’t know it by his recent actions — or the silence of his fellows.

crystal ball_3c

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Davis Strait polar bear habitat – the sea ice is forming, but it’s late!

Since 1971, there have been only two years with as little sea ice in Davis Strait as there was this year at this time – 2003 and 2010. But the ice is forming rapidly and history shows it will likely catch up enough by next week to allow most Davis Strait polar bears to start hunting seals except along the Labrador coast.

Courtesy IUCN PBSG

Courtesy IUCN PBSG

Have a look at the ice maps and charts below from the Canadian Ice Service for the status of freeze-up in Davis Strait.

UPDATE 30 November 2014: Sea ice extent map from NSIDC added.

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Winnipeg zoo unashamedly frightens children about polar bear extinction, for a price

The Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg is selling Polar Bears International-style1 “save our sea ice” global warming propaganda to children, which it calls “messaging.”

“The centre is deliberately targeting children, fully aware that there is a magical connection between the cuddly, entertaining orphan cubs and young visitors.”

Orphaned cubs from Churchill now on display in Winnipeg

Orphaned cubs from Churchill now on display in Winnipeg

That’s the money quote, in more ways than one, from an article at The Globe and Mail earlier this week (23 November 2014), “Innovative Winnipeg zoo experiment shares the plight of polar bears” in which the author promotes the new “Journey to Churchill” exhibit at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg as “an ambitious experiment.”
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Labrador polar bears face a longer ice-free season than Hudson Bay bears, but do well

Pretty typical ice levels in both regions for this time of year – Davis Strait polar bears (especially those in Labrador) are still onshore while Hudson Bay bears (even those in the south) have their sea ice hunting platform back.

Davis Strait Hudson Bay freeze-up at Nov 25 2014_PolarBearScience

Funny thing is, the Davis Strait subpopulation may still be increasing despite a longer ice-free season than Western Hudson Bay. And bears in the south of that region – who spend the summer onshore in Labrador – have the longest ice-free season of all1 yet according to the latest survey they were even doing better than bears in northern Davis Strait.

That apparent paradox has an easy explanation – sea ice extent in late summer/early fall (length of the ice-free season) has much less of an impact on polar bear health and abundance than the state of the food supply in the spring. More seals in spring, polar bears do well; few seals in spring, polar bears starve.

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Lake-effect snow in NY just like Victoria, B.C. blizzards of 1996 & 1916

The Victoria blizzard of 1996 (Dec. 28-29) dropped 124 centimetres (48.8 inches) of snow. Not too far off some recent accumulations around Buffalo and other western New York State communities (great photos here). Just wacky weather (and nothing to do with polar bears) but memorable if you’ve lived through it and the stories out of NY have twigged my memories.

We get a maritime version of “lake-effect” snow here in Victoria (which is on Vancouver Island), where cold air moves offshore from the Interior of the province, travels over the relatively warm Strait of Georgia (see map below) and dumps snow on south island communities. Victoria is renowned for mild winters but when these cold conditions all line up just right, Victoria might as well be Buffalo.

Snow at "Bob's" front door.  A Flickr photo, hope you don't mind, Bob!

Snow at the front door, original here, taken 28 December 1996 in Victoria, B.C.

I didn’t have a camera then, which is a pity, but others did. Someone downtown (where accumulations were somewhat less than 48 inches) made a video, copied below. A diversion from polar bear shenanigans that you might find of interest.
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Hudson Bay freeze-up: way more ice for this day than in 2013

On this day (20 November 2014), there is way more sea ice over Hudson Bay and Foxe Basin than 2013, with ice starting to form in Hudson Strait.

The polar bears of Hudson Bay are on the ice (except pregnant females, who will be in their dens); Churchill polar bear season is over (see previous discussions here and here).

Ice maps and graph courtesy Canadian Ice Service.

Sea ice extent Canada 2014 Nov 20 CIS
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Polar bear researchers knew S Beaufort population continued to increase up to 2012

Why did the Southern Beaufort polar bear population survey stop in 2010? It’s clear that the recently-published and widely-hyped new study stopped before the population rebound from a known decline was complete.

USFWS 2013-2014 PB News_cover_PolarBearScience

The researchers of the recently-published paper knew before starting their mark-recapture study in 2007 that the population decline had taken place. They also knew why the numbers dropped and that previous declines, caused by similar conditions, had been followed by a full recovery.

Did they really think a full recovery in population numbers was possible in only three four years, when cubs born in 2007 would not yet have been old enough to reproduce?

In fact, a US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) fall survey of Southern Beaufort polar bears in 2012 found numbers were higher than they had been in a decade.
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