More bad science: US biologists successfully used a scientifically flawed model to get polar bears listed as ‘threatened’ and thus emboldened, went on to do the same for walrus.
The intricate US Geological Survey model of ‘expert opinion’ that was used to support the listing of polar bears as ‘threatened’ under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been soundly rejected by the world’s leading conservation organization, the IUCN,1 which has has tightened its rules for using “future conditions” (e.g., effects of global warming) in generating Red List assessments. That IUCN condemnation means the USGS model was never “the best available science” for evaluating the status of polar bears ̶ it was (and still is) substandard, inadequate science that makes a mockery of serious conservation efforts.
However, not only has this flawed model continued to be used by the USGS for polar bears, it has also been used to assess the conservation status of Pacific walrus, which are now officially “candidates” for being listed as ‘threatened’ (US Fish and Wildlife Service 2011).2
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat, walrus
Tagged Amstrup, Bayesian Networks, best available science, conservation, endangered, ESA, IUCN, model, polar bear, threatened, US Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS, walrus
Polar bear habitat is close to average for this date all over the Arctic this week. Barents Sea pack ice has increased substantially since last week and the ice in Eastern Canada is still well above average (and higher than 1979-early 1980s). Arctic ice has grown since a preemptive call for “the lowest maximum extent on record” was made by NSIDC last week — there is now at least as much ice for this date as there was in 2011 and almost as much as there was last year (2014).
Southern Davis Strait polar bears are out feeding on the glut of harp seals in the pack ice off Labrador and Newfoundland (discussed in detail here). One or more bears strayed a bit from the pack and ended up swimming around near the Hibernia oil platform (not far from the ice edge, although the CBC reports didn’t mention that “minor” fact), discussed in this recently updated post (with maps).
Harp seal female with nursing pup, DFO Canada.
Ice maps and graphs below: it’s worth a look.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Barents Sea, Canadian Ice Service, CBC, denning females, Derocher, harp seals, Hibernia, Hopen Island, Labrador, Newfoundland, Norwegian Ice Service, NSIDC, oil platform, polar bears, sea ice, sea ice maximum, Svalbard, swimming
Perhaps the folks on the platform couldn’t see it, but sea ice wasn’t far off on Monday when a polar bear came to visit the Hibernia oil platform southeast of St. John’s, Newfoundland. See the map below (composite from Heritage Newfoundland and Canadian Ice Service):
UPDATE 26 March 2015: Ian Stirling has added his expert comment on this incident, see below.
UPDATE 28 March 2015: Newfoundland’s Director of Wildlife has commented on this incident, see below.
It takes a special kind of gall for biologists to plead for more funds to count and study Arctic marine mammals they claim are endangered by the use of fossil fuels, when their proposed field work cannot be done without the use of fossil fuels.
A new Arctic “policy” paper was promoted last week by academia (press release here), blogged about by those who were unimpressed (“Another ‘polar bears are in trouble’ story….yawwwn”) and highlighted by a few who were impressed (the magazines SCIENCE: “Huge data gaps cloud fate of Arctic mammals” and SMITHSONIAN (“It’s Hard to Protect Arctic Mammals When We Don’t Know How Many Live There”) — but covered by only one media outlet that I could find (e.g., here).
The paper is a decidedly odd mix: a plea for more research funds for increased monitoring of animal populations plus strident advocacy for regulating “greenhouse gases.”
The authors repeatedly used the phrase “greenhouse gases” in their paper (seven times) but did not mention “fossil fuels” even once, despite the clear relationship between fossil fuel use and the phenomenon known as anthropogenic global warming (AGW), examples here and here. Are they self-deluded — or deliberately disingenuous about their own contributions to a problem they insist is the greatest threat to survival of Arctic marine mammals?
Posted in Advocacy, Sea ice habitat
Tagged boats, climate change, declining sea ice, field work, fossil fuels, global warming, greenhouse gases, helicopters, hypocracy, Laidre, Regehr, research, satellite radio collars, surveys, Vongraven
Polar bear habitat for the last week of March is well above average in eastern Canada for the second year in a row. The very low extent of ice in the Sea of Okhotsk – which has contributed strongly to the low maximum extent this year – is irrelevant to our discussion, since no polar bears live there.
There is a bit more concentrated ice around Svalbard than last year (or in 2012), although ice in the Barents Sea in general is still below average due to the state of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). The state of the AMO and its effects on Barents Sea polar bear sea ice habitat has nothing to do with global warming: it’s a cycle that has been documented for centuries (Miles et al. 2014).
Still, there is plenty enough sea ice for polar bear hunting: this is the beginning of the critical feeding time for all polar bears (see here and here), but especially for the survival of new cubs-of-the-year, so I have a few words about Western Hudson Bay cubs below.
Have a look for yourself.
Update: Added 20 March 2015, comparison maps from Cryosphere Today for 2006 vs. 2015.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged AMO, Barents Sea, Churchill, cubs of the year, Davis Strait, Norwegian Ice Service, polar bear, sea ice, spring ice conditions, spring ice maximum, Svalbard, western hudson bay
My request to Environment Canada in early December 2014 for the documents supporting their polar bear status maps has finally generated results.
In an email dated 2 March 2015, I received the document produced by the EC Polar Bear Technical Committee (PBTC). I waited to see if it would be appended to the webpage where the maps were posted last year (reported here and here). However, as of today, that has not happened, so I am posting it here. There are some rather striking differences that may surprise you.
UPDATE 22 March 2015: A copy of the letter from the Director General of the Canadian Wildlife Service that accompanied the document below, which I forgot to include, is here. It states that the once a new status table has been compiled (provided below), “it is reviewed by the Polar Bear Administrative Committee and then becomes a public document.” The implication is that the reviewed document has not yet been produced.
Posted in Conservation Status, Population
Tagged baffin bay, Canada, declining population, Environment Canada, IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, Northern Beaufort Sea, PBTC, polar bear, Polar Bear Technical Committee, population estimates, sea ice, Southern Beaufort Sea, USGS
Earlier this year we had polar bear penis bones supposedly breaking due to environmental toxins; this week we have their brains damaged.
The March 15 ScienceNordic story (“Chemical pollution is causing brain damage in polar bears”) came complete with a photo of a bear (copied below, provided by research co-author Rune Dietz) that is presumably meant to convey what a “brain damaged” polar bear might look like — if not, perhaps another photo would have been a better choice?
Except, the research only showed there theoretically might be damage but the researchers didn’t bother looking for it before shouting out their findings. All about the scary message, these folks: the very large uncertainties and speculation in their research be damned.
Posted in Advocacy, Pollution, Sea ice habitat
Tagged brain damage, Canada, chemicals, climate change, Derocher, environmental contaminants, global warming, Hamilton, last refuge, media hype, Pederson, polar bear, predictions, sea ice decline, Sonne, threatened, toxins, worst-case scenario
Here is the February 2015 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 for February 2015 is copied below.
There were 7 bears in February, up from 6 in January, because one of the bears has re-entered the area from elsewhere. However, many bears from the original sample have either had their collars fail, moved out of the area and stayed out, or they have died. We can’t tell from which of those options, or combinations of them, explain the reduced number still being followed.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, polar bear habitat, polar bear movements, polar bears, polar bears in winter, satellite collars, sea ice, Southern Beaufort, tracking polar bears, USGS
Not just anyone warrants the attention of the European rapid response team: only those who get media attention and refuse to stay ‘on message’ about global warming issues get the Carbon Brief treatment.
After years of being ignored, I have finally been acknowledged as a worthy adversary [a force to be reckoned with] by those who spin the science of polar bears.
Carbon Brief folks got their knickers in a knot over my “Twenty Good Reasons Not to Worry about Polar Bears” blog post that the Global Warming Policy Foundation released as a Briefing Paper (pdf here). All timed for release on International Polar Bear Day (27 February 2015), which got mainstream media attention galore in the UK.
Posted in Advocacy, Summary
Tagged Amstrup, BBC, Carbon Brief, declining population, declining sea ice, Derocher, GWPF, IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, Kara Sea, media attention, PBSG, polar bears, population estimates, rapid response team, The Times, threatened, vulnerable, Webster
As an interdisciplinary scientist, my recent work reviewing and summarizing polar bear science fits cohesively into my career. In this essay, my 300th blog post, I explain in some detail why ‘polar bear expert’ describes me just as well as ‘dog evolution expert.’ In fact, I have world-renowned expertise in other specialties as well, which will amaze and confuse those who think that a scientist can only ever be knowledgeable about one topic in their lifetime.
My photo of the polar bears at the Stanley Park Zoo, 1970s.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Arctic animals, Arctic ecology, biogeography, Derocher, dog expert, evolution, Heartland, identifying bones, life history, paleoecology, polar bear expert, polar bears, publications, zoology
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