Polar bear news: 1st fat bear ashore in WHB, trouble in S. Greenland, and more hybrid hype

Last week, among other events, the first fat polar bear of the season was photographed on shore in Western Hudson Bay, a fat bear was run out of town in South Greenland, and media outlets spread misinformation – apparently preferring global warming hype to rational facts.

1) First polar bears have been seen onshore in Western Hudson Bay in Wapusk National Park near Cape Churchill (map below) on 18 June this year, apparently fat and well prepared for the summer fast. My informants tell me a few bears usually come ashore in June near Churchill before ice conditions make this necessary; the bulk of the population will probably continue seal hunting for a few more weeks. Those bears will come ashore along the southwest coast (near Polar Bear Provincial Park, in Ontario, see Fig. 2 below). They’ll make their way north to the Churchill area in time for freeze-up in the fall. Watch one fat bear caught on camera on 18 June, below :

2) Fat polar bear spotted in Nanortalik, Southern Greenland 18 June 2015, a bit further south than usual. People from the community drove it away, but not before taking lots of pictures.

Greenland South_polar-bear-nanortalik-08_henrik-hansen_June_18_2015

Some very cool photos, including the one above (taken by Henrik Hansen), worth a look. This bear was in excellent condition, well prepared for the summer fast ahead, whether he ends up spending it on shore somewhere (but not near this community!) or on the sea ice further north in SE Greenland (Fig. 1 below). The ice in that areas is probably broken up (~15-30% concentration) but this is enough for the bear to swim from flow to flow to make it’s way up the northeast coast where most East Greenland bears spend the summer.

Greenland S_Nanortalik_pb location w sea ice 20 June_PolarBearScience

Figure 1. Location of Nanortalik, Greenland and sea ice conditions at 20 June 2015.

3) Polar bears make a nuisance of themselves in East Greenland, said to be caused by “thinning sea ice” – although, in reality, increasing numbers of bears is just as likely to blame. A “pat-on-the-back-to-WWF” style Arctic Journal story (18 June 2015) of problem bears in Ittoqqortoormiit, a town of 450 on Greenland’s east coast. The World Wildlife Fund, ever eager to advise, is providing recommendations to the townsfolk on how to cope with nuisance bears. It strikes me as yet another chump-change, feel-good effort meant to generate good PR and continue the rhetoric that all polar bear problems are caused by global warming. I say, why isn’t WWF putting up the serious cash required to count polar bears in East Greenland, which has never been done? Are they afraid a count might show that a large, healthy population of polar bears exists in East Greenland, despite some change in sea ice cover?

4) A few more grizzlies were recently seen in along western Hudson Bay, where polar bears spend the summer. A compliant CBC (18 June) asked no tough questions of researcher Doug Clark (University of Saskatchewan), who claimed that a few grizzlies seen in Wapusk National Park (see map below) are a sign of global warming – “early winners in the climate change lottery” is the way he put it. Grizzlies in the prairies (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) were extirpated years ago (pdf here) but the bears seen recently have moved south from Nunavut. There have been sightings along Hudson Bay since 2008 and these have been getting more frequent, so last week’s report is nothing new. This “invasion” by grizzlies is not an effect of global warming, it’s a healthy northern species expanding its range south into regions with suitable habitat (not north, as you might expect with warming).

Figure 5. Wapusk National Park is just south of Churchill, while Polar Bear Provincial Park is much further east, where the very last ice of the season ends up and therefore, where most of the bears come ashore. Courtesy Google maps, labels added.

Figure 2. Wapusk National Park is just south of Churchill, while Polar Bear Provincial Park is much further east, where the very last ice of the season ends up and therefore, where most of the bears come ashore. Courtesy Google maps, labels added.

5) Slate magazine (19 June 2015) spreads misinformation about polar bear/grizzly hybrids. This zombie issue just won’t die for some people.

“At bowhead whale carcasses, where grizzly bear and polar bear territories overlap, you’ll see the grizzlies basically dominate the carcass,” says Derocher. “They push polar bears around like crazy.” Does that mean male grizzlies might also actively out-compete male polar bears for mates? We don’t know. Perhaps we’ll find out if such hybridization becomes more common with the onset of climate change, as some project. [my bold]

That last sentence (link in original) refers to a New York Times article from last year (14 August 2014), where the “some” people projecting more hybrids in a warmer world is a single person – alarmist polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher, who implies that warming in the Arctic is responsible for grizzlies moving north to breed with polar bears:

Better management of grizzly hunting may have also contributed to this mixing by enabling males to advance into polar-bear country. “A warming Arctic is not a bad thing for grizzly bears,” says Andrew Derocher, a biologist at the University of Alberta.” [my bold]

Grizzly bears populations in the north are indeed increasing. All naturally produced hybrids have been produced from a cross between male grizzlies and female polar bears, mating in spring when sea ice is at its maximum extent. This phenomenon has nothing to do with Arctic warming or declining sea ice – grizzlies are traveling over sea ice into polar bear territory when there is lots of ice. Grizzlies have been documented in polar bear territory since the 1800s. See previous post here for more details and references on polar bear/grizzly hybridization.

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