Polar bear specialists just don’t get it: virtually no one except the ever-gullible media believes their exaggerated stories of doom. Yet they keep trying and with every lie and misrepresentation of fact, they erode the confidence of the public. Unfortunately, it’s not just trust in polar bear specialists that’s being eaten away, it’s trust in science generally.
This time, it’s a head-line grabbing piece about the number of problem polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba (written by Chinta Puxley) that made the usual media rounds yesterday (CBC News, CTV News, Global News, Huffington Post, Winnipeg Sun, The Globe and Mail). The main culprits are Daryll Hedman, regional wildlife manager for Manitoba Conservation, and polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher.
However, it’s hard not to see that the increased number of bears captured by Manitoba Conservation officers around Churchill can be best explained as a natural reaction by officials to a particularly frightening polar bear attack in 2013. Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged attack, attacks, Churchill, Dercoher, facts, Hedman, misinformation, polar bear, polar bear patrol, problem bears, science, sea ice, trust, western hudson bay
What presents a bigger risk to current polar bear populations: natural hazards that have already proven deadly or potential, yet-to-be-realized threats prophesied to occur due to human activities? That’s a perfect question for International Polar Bear Day.
Dag Vongraven, chair of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, remarked last year that “until 2001, everything was fine.”
Polar bear researchers thus assume that 2001 was the year climate change became the new over-hunting – but is it true? What are the relative harms presented by proven natural causes, potential human-caused threats, and predicted threats due to sea ice declines blamed on global warming? Considered objectively, is climate change really the single biggest threat to polar bear health and survival right now?
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population, Summary
Tagged climate change, Derocher, endangered, extinction, facts, forecast, global warming, hazards, International Polar Bear Day, IUCN, natural causes, natural variability, over-hunting, poaching, polar bear, prediction, sea ice, snow, Stirling, threatened, threats, Vongraven
Western Hudson Bay bear, Wakusp National Park, August 2011.
In the just-published version of their Western Hudson Bay (WHB) population survey conducted in 2011, Nick Lunn and colleagues highlighted in the abstract:
“Our analysis suggested a long-term decline in the number of bears from 1,185 (993-1411) in 1987 to 806 (653-984) in 2011…”
But they didn’t mention that the 806 estimate for 2011 was based on only a portion of the WHB region (Fig. 1) and has not been accepted by their peers as a valid estimate of the population size. They also failed to mention that the decline occurred due to thick spring ice and/or unsuitable snow conditions for ringed seals between 1989 and 1992 (Fig. 2), which resulted in reduced availability of polar bear prey (as I discussed in detail in Crockford 2015).
They know the “long-term” population decline is what the media will grab onto and run with – rather than the next sentence, which says “In the last 10 years of the study, the number of bears appeared stable due to temporary stability in sea ice conditions.”
In other words, their study shows there has been no decline in the population since 2004, which had been predicted to occur (see previous post, Prediction #1), and there has been no trend in either breakup or freeze-up dates between 2001 and 2010 (or since). See previous post on the government report on which this paper is based here.
The bottom line is this: no one is buying this population estimate of 806 bears for the Western Hudson Bay population – both the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group and Environment Canada are using Seth Stapleton and colleagues (2014) estimate from their aerial survey done the same year and that official population size number is 1030 bears. Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Population
Tagged declining, Derocher, ecl, facts, fewer bears, ice thickness, Lunn, polar bear, ringed seals, snow depth, stable, western hudson bay
Sea ice off the southern Labrador coast hasn’t been this high for this date in 20 years: that’s great news for the harp and hooded seals that will give birth at the Front in another few weeks – for a while anyway, because a bumper crop of baby seals is also good news for the polar bears who gather there to eat them.
So brutal, but true. The polar bear must gorge over the short Arctic spring and early summer to survive the rest of the year.
Grim predictions of the imminent demise of polar bears – their “harsh prophetic reality” as it’s been called – have been touted since at least 2001. But such depressing prophesies have so widely missed the mark they can now be said to have failed.
While polar bears may be negatively affected by declines in sea ice sometime in the future, so far there is no convincing evidence that any unnatural harm has come to them. Indeed, global population size (described by officials as a “tentative guess“) appears to have grown slightly over this time, as the maximum estimated number was 28,370 in 1993 (Wiig and colleagues 1995; range 21,470-28,370) but rose to 31,000 in 2015 (Wiig and colleagues 2015, [pdf here] aka 2015 IUCN Red List assessment; range 22,000-31,000).
These ominous prophesies have been promoted primarily by Ian Stirling, Steven Amstrup, Andrew Derocher and a few other IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) members but ironically, it’s data collected by their colleagues that’s refuted their message of doom.
Here are the predictions (in no particular order, references at the end):
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat, Summary
Tagged conservation, death spiral, extinction, facts, International Polar Bear Day, polar bears, predictions, sea ice, status, threatened, vulnerable
The harp seal is the most abundant seal species in the northern hemisphere (estimated to number more than 9 million animals – that’s more harps than ringed seals) but are found only in the North Atlantic. Partly because they give birth on mobile pack ice, harps have their pups earlier in the season than all other Arctic seals, which means that in some regions, they are a critical food source for polar bears that have eaten little over the winter months.
Although young ringed seals are considered the primary prey of polar bears throughout the Arctic, young harp seals undoubtedly represent an increasingly important resource for populations of Davis Strait, East Greenland and Kara Sea bears.
Most of the harp seals in the NW Atlantic/Atlantic Canada (about 80% of them) have their pups off Newfoundland and Labrador, an area known as the “Front” (the location of my polar bear attack novel, EATEN: special deals all this week). Harps seals at the Front now provide a huge prey base for polar bears of the large (and possibly still growing) Davis Strait subpopulation (photo below courtesy DFO Canada).
There are an estimated 7.4 million harps in Atlantic Canada today (range 6.5-8.3m), an exponential increase over the early 1980s, when perhaps only half a million so remained. Pagophilus groenlandicus was assigned a conservation status of ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN Red List in June last year (Kovacs 2015), when it was estimated that the global population size of the harp seal was greater than 9 million animals and probably growing1, 2 due to reduced human hunting:
“…harp seals have been harvested for thousands of years but currently the population is large and the number of animals harvested is declining.” [my bold]
Photographers and animial rights activists love cute, fluffy harp seal pups and rarely mention the carnage that goes on in spring as polar bears devour the naive youngsters. See the video below (from 2008), for an example of the cuteness factor.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Atlantic, beaters, Eaten, facts, Gulf of St. Lawrence, harp seal, hooded seal, Labradore, moulting, Newfoundland, polar bear, prey, Red list, seal hunt, spring feeding, video, whelping, whitecoats
National Geographic has just posted an exclusive video shot mid-summer of 2015 of a male polar bear killing and eating a young cub.
It’s worth watching (23 February 2016; “Polar bear cannialzies cub“) [update: Youtube version posted below]. It was filmed in 2015 in Baffin Bay at mid-summer (during either their July 28-Aug 9 or Aug 7- 19 cruise; pdf of itinerary, dates and prices – oh my god, the prices! here). [Summer is 1 July-30 September]
You’ll soon realize the male bear was not thin or starving (as was true of a much-publicized 2011 event captured on film off Svalbard).
It is also obvious based on the dates listed above that this incident debunks the explanation that cannibalism by adult males is driven primarily by their desire to mate with the mother of the consumed cub: this incident occurred sometime between August 7 and August 19 (as I was informed via email, by a reader on one of those two cruises), which is well past the breeding season for polar bears. A male bear would not still have viable sperm by August and a female could not be forced into estrus. [added 26 February 2016]
National Geographic is already hyping this incident as more evidence of climate change harming polar bears, as the article accompanying the video suggests. However, this is just the typical oversell that accompanies much to do with polar bear these days.
The bear was not “driven to desperation” : he simply took advantage of a rare chance to eat during the summer:
“Without the ability to hunt seals, polar bears may be driven to ever more extreme cannibalism, if they’re not already.”
It’s clear to me that this was an opportunistic kill made at a time of year when few seals are available, as even Stirling admits. It reiterates the point I’ve made many times before, that polar bears on the sea ice in summer have few feeding opportunities.
Incidents of cannibalism cannot be said to be increasing because there is no scientific baseline for which recent occurrences can be compared. Scattered anecdotal reports of any behaviour cannot be touted as evidence for a trend even though they may be of interest and worth recording.
UPDATE 23 February 2016: Video now posted on Youtube, see it copied below: