All the hubris last month about polar bear x grizzly hybrids, based on an unusual-looking bear killed near Arviat, has turned out to be wishful thinking by those who’d like to blame everything to do with polar bears on climate change. An awful lot of “experts” now have egg on their faces. That “hybrid” was just a blonde grizzly, as I warned it might.
According to one report, Nunavut wildlife manager Mathieu Dumond said:
“Some otherwise pretty renown bear biologists jumped on the hybrid bear story without even knowing what they were talking about,” Dumond said.
“I think it was something blown out of proportion, with the wrong information to start.”
Gee, ya think? CBC ran a story too. But the CBC don’t really admit (see below) that they were the first out of the gate on this story and started the media madness. It was the CBC that relied on the opinion of a black bear expert from Minnesota (who likely only saw a picture) – but since he was willing to say it was a hybrid and that its presence was a sign of climate change, they went with it. See “Grolar or pizzly? Experts say rare grizzly-polar bear hybrid shot in Nunavut: Expert says interbreeding may be happening more frequently due to climate change” (CBC 18 May 2016).
For background, see these recent posts on this putative hybrid and the issues on hybridization it spawned:
Another alleged grizzly-polar bear hybrid shot but it’s not a sign of climate change
Polar bear hybrid update: samples sent for DNA testing to rule out blonde grizzly
Five facts that challenge polar bear hybridization nonsense
Most polar bear hybrids said to exist have not been confirmed by DNA testing
Blonde grizzlies, like the one pictured below (which I posted the day the story broke), are actually a proven sign of natural variation within species – a critical lesson in biology that should be the take-home message here. [ADDED: 2007 Alaska Fish & Wildlife Service Newsletter article on colour variation in black and brown/grizzly bears. h/t Wayne D]
“Paging Professor Derocher”: PBSG biologist and University of Alberta professor Andrew Derocher gave so many interviews to the media on this issue I lost count – he fed the media frenzy almost single-handedly. Well, except for granddaddy of polar bear experts Ian Stirling, who said (via the Toronto Star)[update: Toronto Star published correction]:
“I think it’s 99 per cent sure that it’s going to turn out to be a hybrid,” said Ian Stirling, an emeritus research scientist with Environment Canada and adjunct professor at the University of Alberta.”
Quotes from today’s story below.
Five years worth of sea ice maps for the same date is hard to come by in this country, since the Canadian Ice Service does not archive their daily sea ice maps. However, due to some forethought, I have at hand ice maps going back to 2012 for the longest day of the year for Canada and archives for other regions provide similar perspective at the solstice.
Few photos of polar bears in June likely exist – too early for most bears to come ashore and the ice too unstable for humans to be offshore [photo above is dated March].
Compare the five maps for Canada and eastern Alaska below. Notice the differences for Hudson Bay: it may seem ironic, but 2012 (which had the lowest September minimum since 1979 due to an August storm) had the most typical Hudson Bay breakup/melt pattern compared to previous years. [Keep in mind this recent post about how much ice can remain even when almost none is visible on the ice maps]
In many regions, polar bear hunting efforts are seldom successful after early June because young-of-the-year seal pups have taken to the water to feed, which means the only prey still on the ice are predator-savvy adults and subadults that have an easy time escaping in the rapidly breaking up ice fields. Bears that come ashore in June likely are not missing much – a little less ice than usual at this time of year is not going to make much difference.
Overall, despite doom and gloom predictions we heard in March 2016 (“wintertime extent hits another record low”), sea ice extent (courtesy NSIDC) at 20 June 2016 was the same at this date as it was in 2010 and 2012 at this time of year – which essentially marks the end of the primary feeding period for polar bears (except for those that live in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, where seals give birth a bit later in the spring).
And did polar bears die in droves due to conditions in 2010 or 2012, in any subpopulation around the Arctic affected by low sea ice levels? No, they did not. In fact, the subpopulation that had the most recent survey done (Svalbard portion of the Barents Sea – 2015) was not only found to be thriving but numbers had increased markedly (42%) over 2004 levels. Now that’s resilience!
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Barents Sea, breakup, Canada, facts, Hudson Bay, polar bear, record low, resilience, sea ice, seals, solstice, Svalbard