Arctic sea ice is spreading out quickly from its central basin summer refuge – according to this NSIDC Masie ice chart, it has already grown more than 2 mkm2 beyond the annual minimum reached in early September. Ice is already pushing south into the eastern Beaufort and the archipelago of Franz Josef Land in the Barents Sea.
Over the next couple of weeks, shorefast ice will start forming along the coasts of North America and Eurasia (see the first bits off Alaska in the 21 October CIS map below), which will eventually meet the expanding Arctic Basin pack to fill the Basin and Canadian Arctic Archipelago with ice – as it has done for eons.
The evidence from the last decade or so suggests that by the end of October, most of the Arctic north of the 79th parallel (see map below) will be filled with ice – although the Chukchi Sea (north of the Bering Strait) may not fill until sometime in November:
Polar bears usually resume hunting as soon as sea ice conditions permit in the fall, since it’s their last chance to top up their fat reserves before the dark and cold of winter when hunting may become next to impossible.
I’ve copied ice charts from the Masie archives for some previous years at 31 October below.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged 79th parallel, Arctic, Barents Sea, Beaufort Sea, Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Chukchi Sea, fall ice growth, hunting, MASIE, NSIDC, platform, polar bears
PBS has published a bizarre poor-starving-polar-bears story that uses pictures of fat, healthy bears to illustrate the supposed desperation of malnourished bears of the Southern Beaufort Sea that is blamed on declining sea ice.
The photo of the fat bear above, taken by the Kaktovik resident quoted in the 15 October 2016 PBS story, Polar bears, growing desperate for food, threaten native Alaskans, accompanies this statement:
“While images of malnourished polar bears have become a national symbol of the effects of climate change, they are a front line reality for Native Alaskans, who face them on their own property and do not want them to get hurt.”
Except this is not a story about starving bears but too many fat bears hanging around one particular community looking for other kinds of food – after being lured in by the enticing smell of rotting whale meat left onshore by the residents.
If photos of starving Beaufort bears existed that PBS could have used to illustrate this story, I’m certain those photos would have been used. But virtually all of the pictures I’ve seen of Kaktovik bears are the epitome of health – fat and sassy – but none that could be described as starving.
It turns out that while native Kaktovik residents have profited from tourists and journalist who have shown up in droves to view the large numbers of bears attracted to the bone piles left after butchering summer-caught bowhead whales, the bears have also put the community at risk of personal attack and loss of stored food. Who would have thought?
Residents of Kaktovik (see map below) have unwittingly enticed these polar bears ashore and now must deal with the consequences. As the residents of Churchill discovered decades ago, having polar bears close to your community comes with benefits, problems – and danger.
There is no doubt that Kaktovik has a polar bear problem but it cannot plausibly be blamed on anthropogenic global warming, retreating sea ice, or starving bears – an irresistible attractant close to the community is the cause and solutions must be found to keep residents safe and their food secure. The PBS article discusses a few of those solutions. Some quotes and background below.
Posted in Life History, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Atwood, Barter Island, bone piles, climate change, desperate, facts, fat bears, global warming, Kaktovik, malnourished, polar bears, retreating sea ice, sea ice, Southern Beaufort, starving, stressed
Veteran Yale University research ecologist Dan Botkin has a new book coming out tomorrow (Saturday 15 October) that you might want to look at:
A number of chapters are relevant to polar bears, including these three:
“Myth 11: Without Human Interference, Earth’s Climate is Stable”
“Myth 13: Climate Change Will Lead to Huge Numbers of Extinctions”
“Myth 25: Compared to Climate Change, All Other Environmental Issues Are Minor”
I found the book clearly written in a readable style (Table of Contents here). It provides timely insight into critical issues related to conservation and species extinction, with many real-world examples that counter theoretical assumptions (polar bears are discussed in the Overview). I found the energy issues (Myths 23 and 24) an awkward distraction but others might find them of interest. It’s a good companion to Bjorn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist (an excellent reference from 2001 but much more detailed).
Pre-0rders now being taken:
Twenty-five Myths That Are Destroying the Environment: What Many Environmentalists Believe and Why They Are Wrong. Daniel B. Botkin 2017. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Lanham, MD 20706. $12.71 PAPERBACK; $7.51 KINDLE
Peak inside via Amazon, more about Dan Botkin and his publication record, and the book below.
Posted in Book review, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged conservation, Daniel Botkin, ecology, extinction, marine mammals, myths, new book, polar bear, review, sea ice, walrus
A quiet year for problems in the polar bear capital of the world (Churchill, Manitoba) so far – despite this year tying for the second-lowest minimum since 1979 – and the ice is growing fast. In fact, Arctic ice growth in the second half of September was rapid and there is now more ice than there was at this date in 2007 and 2012 (when polar bears in those regions considered most at risk did not die off in droves).
Pessimistic polar bear specialists are wrong – polar bears are much more resilient to low sea ice levels in summer than they assume: their own data from low summer ice years proves it. If you’ll recall from my previous post, polar bears seem to have barely survived the extensive sea ice coverage during the Last Glacial Maximum – in other words, too much ice (even over the short term) is their biggest threat. Polar bear numbers, as confirmed by the latest estimates in the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment, are higher now than they have been since the 1960s, despite almost 10 years of summer sea ice minimums below 5.0 mk2.
Churchill Polar Bear Alert reports and Arctic sea ice comparisons at this date, in detail below.
Posted in Conservation Status, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic, attacks, biggest threat, Churchill, facts, ice growth, last glacial maximum, minimum, polar bear, polar bear alert, population size, problem bears, Refuge, resilience, sea ice, September, summer, thick spring ice
From Saturday 8 October, English journalist, author and broadcaster James Delingpole (via his Breitbart column) writes about polar bears:
The Truth About Polar Bears: They’re a Dangerous, Out of Control Pest…
“Crockford is the author of a Jaws-style thriller on ravenous polar bears killing humans called Eaten. At least one polar scientist who has read it considers its “science-based scenario” to be frighteningly plausible.
In field-level polar bear management circles, people don’t talk about the kind of scenario that forms the premise of this novel as an “if”. Instead, they describe it as a “when” and they are not looking forward to it.
Eek is right! The book has been nightmare-inducing for many readers. Put EATEN on your Christmas shopping list (all purchase options here). It makes a great gift and supports the work I do here. Colleagues have said their young adult children really enjoyed it.
[I’m reminded of Christmas since we had turkey for Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend – a fabulous gathering of all the local family at my place, including the two (!!) grandbabies, both of whom are now walking. I’ll be sending Nico to Churchill before you know it]
[And FYI, I’ve updated the Svalbard “problem no one is talking about” post with statistics by year (1974-2015) for polar bears killed to protect life and property]
Posted in Book review, Polar bear attacks, Population
Tagged attacks, christmas, conflicts, Eaten, facts, polar bear, predators, readers, review, young adults
All three polar bear females tagged in the Southern Beaufort Sea far west of Kaktovik (near Barrow) spent all or most of September onshore in the Northern Beaufort area of Canada.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Banks Island, Barrow, Beaufort Sea, boundaries, Kaktovik, mixing, polar bear, satellite radio collars, sea ice, subpopulations, tracking polar bears, USGS, Western Arctic