In a life-mimics-fiction moment, this report appeared Tuesday morning (26 January) in The Telegram newspaper in Newfoundland:
“The RCMP is warning the public after reports were received of a polar bear in Tilting. Fresh bear tracks were seen in the Fogo Island community Tuesday.”
Tilting is a small town on the eastern shore of Fogo Island (see map below): Fogo Island sits off the northeast shore of Newfoundland (and is featured prominently in my new polar bear attack novel). Fogo Island lays at about the same latitude as London, England. The CBC, Canada’s national news outlet, also ran the story.
A government public advisory issued yesterday stated:
“Residents are cautioned following reported sightings of polar bears tracks near the community of Titling, on the eastern end of Fogo Island. Conservation officers confirmed the tracks to be within one kilometre of the community and believe the polar bear has since returned to saltwater.” [my bold]
Polar bears are not usually seen onshore in Newfoundland until late March or April (previous stories here and here), after the ice has been close to shore for week and bears have feed extensively on newborn harp and hooded seal pups. Bears that come ashore in January – well before seal pups are born in spring (late February/mid-March) – can potentially be very dangerous because they are likely very hungry. None of the reports of this sighting gave any indication of the probable age of this bear. However, it must be kept in mind that young bears (3-5 years old) are more apt to be in a desperate state at this time of year.
Or, perhaps the bear caught interesting smells coming from shore and decided to take a short swim to check it out. The sea ice was still offshore at the time (see maps in yesterday’s post) but clearly, not too far off for the bear to swim. There may have been icebergs frozen into the pack ice that broke away (too small to show up on ice maps), that brought the bear further south than it would have ventured on its own.
It is a rare event for a polar bear to come ashore at Newfoundland in January, but it has happened before. Apparently, another bear came ashore, also on Fogo Island – in 1935 – and attacked someone. See the story below.
Posted in Life History, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged attacks, Barr'd Island, Coish, Eaten, facts, Fogo, Newfoundland, novel, polar bear, sea ice, Tilting
There is still below average ice extent in the Barents Sea but there is no data whatsoever to indicate that this situation poses a problem for polar bears, given that as far as researchers know, polar bears eat little or nothing during the winter. That’s why the bears are at their leanest at the end of winter and why seal pups born in early spring are such a critical food source.
Note on map below (from WUWT Sea Ice Page, marked; original here) that polar bears are not found in three areas that are included in the total Arctic ice extent figures: below-average or above-average ice in the Sea of Okhotsk, Baltic Sea, and Gulf of St. Lawrence have no impact on polar bear health and survival.
Additional ice maps below. Continue reading
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Baltic, Barents Sea, Derocher, facts, fast, Gulf of St. Lawrence, polar bear, risk, sea ice, Sea of Okhotsk, t, threatened, winter
Using sea ice maps issued by the National Sea Ice Data Center (NSIDC), it’s interesting to compare these two years with respect to polar bear health and survival (keeping in mind that no polar bears live in what I like to call the armpits of the Arctic – the Sea of Okhotsk, the Baltic Sea or in the Gulf of St. Lawrence)1:
22 January 2016
Posted in Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic, Baltic Sea, Barents Sea, darkness, Derocher, facts, feeding, Gulf of St. Lawrence, habitat, NSIDC, polar bear, sea ice extent, Sea of Okhotsk, spring, starving, survival, Svalbard, winter
Newborn harp seals are food for Davis Strait, East Greenland and Kara Sea polar bears but wildlife photographers see only cute furry babies with big eyes and trusting natures.
See these photos taken some unknown spring (early March) in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada (published 29 December 2015 by Mailonline): the pups are kind of skinny when first born but fatten up quickly on fat-rich milk from their attentive mothers. Ask yourself: does this photographer know that the fattest of these baby seals he oh’s and ah’s over in his commentary are just what polar bears depend on for their existence – and that the bears will eat as many of them as they can catch, peeling them like bananas so that they can eat the skin and fat first?
The title of the piece is: “Eye-eye! Cheeky seal cubs just a few days old wink and pose for the camera as they wait for their mother to feed them:
- The young Harp seal pups had never seen humans before the pictures were taken
- They were photographed in their habitat of Madeleine Island in Quebec, Canada
- Harp seals are solitary animals except during breeding season, when they congregate in their thousands“
“These seal-ebrities from Canada are pictured striking hilarious poses that even Cara Delevingne would be proud of.
The three Harp seal pups – just days old – were passing time while they waited for their mother to return from hunting.
One pup looked straight to the camera with a cheeky wink, while another lay on its back looking longingly at the lens.
The impressive poses were captured by photographer Gunther Riehle, who was lucky enough to get just feet away from the baby seals on Madeleine Island in Quebec.”
See the photos here. Harp seal and hooded seal distribution and breeding areas in the Eastern Arctic (from DFO Canada).
More polar bear seal prey info here. See potential consequences of lots of polar bears depending on abundant harp seals north of Newfoundland in my novel, EATEN.
Posted in Advocacy, Life History
Tagged baby seal, cute, Davis Strait, East Greenland, facts, food, Front, Gulf of St. Lawrence, harp seal, Kara Sea, newborn, photographer, polar bear, prey, pups, West Ice, White Sea
Apparently, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) thinks that it’s OK to mislead the public on the conservation status of polar bears for half a year because its website is being revamped. This conservation organization is of the opinion that people landing on their website while searching for official polar bear status information don’t need to know right away that a new IUCN Red List document was published in November 2015. We know this because the message below appeared on the PBSG homepage 14 January 2016 (text in bold was there previously: the new message is in CAPS), screencap of entire page at 16 Jan 2016 pdf here:
It appears that the PBSG feels that the public can wait to be told about 2015 Red List decision until the PBSG are ready for them to be told, which could be anywhere from March to the end of June 2016, depending on what definition of “spring” they use. Anyone (like moi) suggesting this tactic is paramount to withholding unpleasant information is just being “impatient.”
Decide for yourself but to me, this PBSG message speaks volumes: it says the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment is bad news for polar bear predictions of gloom and doom. Polar bear specialists don’t want to talk about it because it is a slap-down of all previous attempts at predicting a grim future for the bears (see the summary at the end of this post).
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged conservation, Derocher, Encyclopedia of Life, extinction, facts, future, IUCN, misinformation, PBSG, polar bear, politics of polar bears, population trend, predictions, Red list, sea ice, Sherren, status, threatened, Vongraven, vulnerable
A new genetics paper suggests that global warming will “fragment” polar bear habitat to such an extent that it will further reduce the already-low genetic variability documented in the bears, with disastrous effects on survival.
However, that argument only works if you disregard a rather large body of literature on other mammals as well as the history of polar bears themselves. I’ve addressed this issue before (“Low genetic diversity will not make polar bears more vulnerable to extinction”) and what I said then needs to be repeated now:
“…there is lots of evidence to support my contention that polar bears are not more vulnerable to extinction just because they have low genetic diversity.”
“Many populations that were reduced to very low numbers (i.e., gone through a ‘bottleneck’ ), ending up with low genetic variation, have subsequently recovered dramatically without adverse affects.
In other words, they not only recouped their population size after a population bottleneck but did so while dealing with subsequent environmental fluctuations and other natural threats to their survival (Lehman 1998:R723-724).
In some cases, genetic diversity increased after a population bottleneck, via mechanisms biologists are only just beginning to understand.”
In fact, there is good evidence to suggest that ice age cooling is what previously fragmented polar bear populations: past warm interglacial periods brought bears closer together, confined more or less to the area within the Arctic Circle – even in winter.
Go back and read the entire genetic diversity post. I concluded it by recounting several examples of abundant and successful mammal populations with low genetic diversity (with references), including Northern elephant seals, Guadalupe fur seal, Sand Nicolas Island fox, Mouflon sheep, and North Atlantic right whale. The details are worth reviewing. If you can’t access a paper you want to read, contact me via the contact page above and I’ll send it along.
Regarding this new paper (Kutschera et al. 2016), what I said before needs repeating:
“To suggest that polar bears cannot endure a bit of Arctic warming in the future (whether natural or due to human influences on climate, or a bit of both) is absurd: climatic extremes have defined the evolutionary history of polar bears, which means that climatic extremes have fine-tuned their biological adaptability.”
In fact, the paleoclimate/genetics paper by Cronin and Cronin (2015) which I summarized a few days ago, documents those climatic extremes. See below for details on the polar bear genetic diversity paper.
Posted in Conservation Status, Evolution, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Cronin, diversity, extinction, facts, fragmentation, genetics, global warming, ice age, Iceland, Kutschera, paleoclimate, polar bear, polar bear habitat, sea ice, similarity
From NunatsiaqOnline yesterday, a detailed description of a polar bear attack that took place along Hudson Strait, within the Davis Strait polar bear subpopulation.
Kootoo Shaw was wearing nothing but long johns and a T-shirt when a 400-pound polar bear dragged him by his toes along the tundra towards the ocean outside Kimmirut in September 2003.
Shaw, 46, was working as a guide on a sport-hunting trip when the attack occurred in the early morning. Continue reading
Posted in Polar bear attacks
Tagged attacks, Davis Strait, facts, Iqaluit, Kimmirut, Kootoo Shaw, male, Nunavut, polar bear, subadult, summer
A new paper that combines paleoclimatology data for the last 56 million years with molecular genetic evidence concludes there were no biological extinctions [of Arctic marine animals] over the last 1.5M years despite profound Arctic sea ice changes that included ice-free summers: polar bears, seals, walrus and other species successfully adapted to habitat changes that exceeded those predicted by USGS and US Fish and Wildlife polar bear biologists over the next 100 years.
Cronin, T. M. and Cronin, M.A. 2015. Biological response to climate change in the Arctic Ocean: the view from the past. Arktos 1:1-18 [Open access] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s41063-015-0019-3
Thomas Cronin is a USGS paleoclimatologist at the Eastern Geology and Paleoclimate Science Center, and Matthew Cronin is a molecular geneticist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (see previous posts here and here about Matt’s work on the genetics of polar bear evolution).
From the Abstract:
Arctic climatic extremes include 25°C hyperthermal periods during the Paleocene-Eocene (56–46 million years ago, Ma), Quaternary glacial periods when thick ice shelves and sea ice cover rendered the Arctic Ocean nearly uninhabitable, seasonally sea-ice-free interglacials and abrupt climate reversals.
The final discussion and two summary graphics from this paper (copied below) are especially useful:
Posted in Evolution, Sea ice habitat, Summary
Tagged adaptation, Arctic, arctic seals, biological responses, climate change, climate extremes, Cronin, evolution, facts, genetics, glacial, he, ice-free summer, information, interglacial, LGM, marine mammals, paleoclimate, polar bear, resilience, sea ice, USGS, walrus
The region inhabited by the Davis Strait subpopulation of polar bears dips as far south as James Bay and has a history of highly variable sea ice coverage.
For the last two years Davis Strait sea ice in March has been well above average, while other years it been well below. You might be surprised to hear that 1969 had the lowest February/March ice coverage over the entire the 1969-2002 record (Johnston et al. 2005: 211), which ice charts show now extend to 2015 (see below). Reports of sealers working north of Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the first few decades of the 20th century show this variability has likely always been a characteristic of the area (Ryan 2014).
Remarkably, this year’s ice coverage for the first week in January is well above what they were in 2014 and 2015 – even though those two years were above average by March. In fact, there hasn’t been this much polar bear habitat in the Southern Labrador Sea in the first week of January since at least 1993.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Atlantic Canada, Canadian Ice Service, Davis Strait, East Coast, facts, James Bay, Labrador Sea, polar bear, sea ice, sealers, variability, winter
I’ve combined the months of November and December for this post on USGS polar bear tracking in the Beaufort Sea because there’s not much to tell: there’s one tagged bear left and she’s going almost nowhere. Where’s the news in that?
Movements of 1 satellite-tagged polar bear female for the month of November, 2015; shown with sea ice coverage at 30 November 2015. This bear was tagged in the spring of 2015 in the Southern Beaufort Sea. See original image here and December movements below.
Actually, it does tell us something: this female is probably in a sea ice den, a relative common phenomenon in the Beaufort Sea. And she’s on ice that’s out over very deep water. Continue reading
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic, bathymetry, Beaufort Sea, birth, continental shelves, cubs, facts, females, maternity dens, polar bear, tracking, USGS