In 1999, climate change apparently threatened Western Hudson Bay polar bears

Now, not so much. Here is a 16- year old CBC TV special on Churchill polar bears – listen to Ian Stirling and reporter Eve Savory use the early breakup of sea ice on Hudson Bay in 1999 to hype the alarm about Western Hudson Bay polar bears. Watch Stirling in action darting and measuring bears and bemoaning the good old days of the 1980s, claiming the “bears are sending a signal from the ecosystem.

Watch this archived copy of “The Shrinking Bears of Hudson Bay and compare his claims to what has actually happened in the 16 years since then. It runs just over 15 minutes.

Climate change threatens polar bears 2_CBC 1999

“Just as the ice is shrinking in Hudson Bay, so are its polar bears. Climate change has shortened the season for winter ice, a crucial period for the bears to feast on seals and build up their fat reserves. And so, over the 18 years that wildlife biologist Ian Stirling has been studying them, the polar bears have become skinnier and their offspring fewer. In this 1999 report for CBC-TV’s The National, Stirling says once their habitat is gone, there’s nowhere else the Hudson Bay polar bears can go.” [my bold – see notes below]

Program: The National [Canadian Broadcasting Company, CBC]
Broadcast Date: Sept. 23, 1999
Duration: 16:39

Stirling has continue to make these claims since 1999, yet no updated evidence has been provided. There is no plausible evidence that the decline of polar bear numbers in Western Hudson Bay was due to sea ice changes caused by human-caused global warming (Crockford 2015) or that continued declines in condition of bears or litter size have  occurred. Note that the latest survey of Western Hudson Bay polar bears found no trend in either breakup or freeze-up dates since 2001 (Lunn et al. 2013) and that the population is now stable.

Ice coverage charts and breakup dates graph below, for context.
UPDATE ADDED – see below

Screen-cap map from the video:

Climate change threatens polar bears_CBC 1999

Below is a graph of Hudson Bay ice coverage 1971-2015 for the week 2 July. It is apparent that very little ice was left on the bay on this date in 1999, but 2003 was just as low. Yet, the bears persisted and even the IUCN PBSG now consider the population to be stable.

Hudson Bay same week 2 July 1971-2015

Official breakup dates for Western Hudson Bay in particular, for 1979-2012, according to Lunn et al. 2013, with 1999 marked. Note that 1999 was not the earliest WHB breakup year since 1979 – in fact, 2003 was earlier. Click to enlarge.

Lunn et al 2013 WHB breakup dates to 2012 with 1999 marked

UPDATE (just after posting): I meant to include the latest ice map and graphs for Canadian waters, added below, which shows Hudson Bay essentially (but not quite completely!) ice-free – finally, by 24 August 2015 (click to enlarge).

Hudson Bay breakup Aug 24 2015_CIS

Here’s the latest graph for Hudson Bay coverage, at 20 August (1971-2015), note the scale on the left goes to only to 10:

Hudson Bay same week 20 Aug 1971-2015

There is still ice in Davis Strait and Foxe Basin, however (see the ice coverage graphs below, for the week of 20 August, click to enlarge).

Davis Strait same week Aug 20 1971-2015 CIS

Foxe Basin same week 20 Aug 1968-2015 CIS

Related posts:

When was the earliest ice breakup year for Western Hudson Bay polar bears? June 17, 2015

Hudson Bay, Davis Strait and Foxe Basin sea ice highest since 1992 July 29, 2015

Researcher says most S. Hudson Bay polar bears still on the ice, may have to swim home July 25 2015

Heavy ice in Hudson Bay derails ArcticNet global warming research plans: irony bites July 22 2015

2nd highest ice coverage for Hudson Bay since 1971 at mid-August – only 1992 higher August 13 3015

References
Crockford, S.J. 2015. “The Arctic Fallacy: sea ice stability and the polar bear.” GWPF Briefing 16. The Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Pdf here.

Lunn, N.J., Regehr, E.V., Servanty, S., Converse, S., Richardson, E. and Stirling, I. 2013. Demography and population assessment of polar bears in Western Hudson Bay, Canada. Environment Canada Research Report. 26 November 2013. PDF HERE

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