Writing this blog takes a lot of time and effort but it gives me immense personal and professional satisfaction. I get emails from readers all over the world saying how much they appreciate what I do for science. The fact that my colleagues felt threatened enough to publish a malicious hit piece attacking my scientific credibility tells me I’m reaching a wide and influential audience that are convinced by the science I present.
My books are getting good reviews. I discount the few Harvey et al. supporters that showed up in the days after the BioScience paper appeared in late November to write some Harveyesque comments in the Amazon review section for my Polar Bear Facts & Myths kids’ science book. A thuggish stunt but predictable given the nasty tone of the paper.
I’m not worried, though: book sales over the last couple of months have been very good, even though my university didn’t issue a press release to promote my kids book like Penn State did today for Harvey et al. co-author Michael Mann. I know that folks will head to Polar Bear Facts & Myths for a child-appropriate science book about polar bears, and to Mann’s Tantrum book if they want their kids to be petulant activists before they finish elementary school.
You might be interested to know I’ve decided not to take legal action against the Harvey cabal responsible for the defamatory BioScience paper. I’m not backing down. I will definitely be pushing back (already started) but doing so will take time away from my paid work.
So if you’d like to buy me a virtual beer to help defray costs, it would be much appreciated. I’ll keep you posted on progress. My new donate button is upper right on the sidebar: “Support Polar Bear Science” — it takes credit cards or PayPal.
Posted in donations, Scientists hit back
Tagged children's book, defamation, donations, facts, lawsuit, legal action, polar bear, science, support, tantrum
The really significant content of a new paper being heavily-hyped by the media1 is what wasn’t said rather than what the authors discovered about metabolic rates and weight maintenance of a small sample of nine Southern Beaufort Sea bears in 2014 to 2016 (Pagano et al. 2018; Whiteman 2018).
This paper does not document starving or dying bears but merely found some (5/9) that lost weight when they should have been gaining, given that early April is the start of the ringed seal pupping season (Smith 1987) and the intensive spring feeding period for polar bears (Stirling et al. 1981).
The question is, why were Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears off Prudhoe Bay (see map of the study area below), still hunting and capturing only adult and subadult ringed seals from sea ice leads when newborn ringed seal pups and their mothers should have been plentiful and relatively easily available in their birth lairs on the sea ice (see below)?
“Using video collar data, we documented bears’ hunting behavior and foraging success. Bears used sit-and-wait tactics to hunt seals 90% of the time, and stalking comprised the remaining 10% of hunts (movies S1 to S4) (19). Bears that successfully killed and ate adult or subadult ringed seals either gained or maintained body mass, whereas bears that only scavenged or showed no evidence of eating lost mass.”
There was no discussion in the paper of ringed seal birth lairs, or sea ice conditions at the time of the study, but several mentions about what might happen in the future to sea ice and potential consequences for polar bears. The press release did the same.
However, as you’ll see by the sea ice thickness maps below, there may be good reason for the lack of ringed seal lairs, and a general lack of seals except at the nearshore lead that forms because of tidal action: the ice just a bit further offshore ice looks too thick for a good crop of ringed seals in all three years of the study. This is reminiscent of conditions that occurred with devastating results in the mid-1970s and mid-2000s (Burns et al. 1975; Cherry et al. 2009; Harwood et al. 2012, 2015; Pilfold et al. 2012; Stirling 2002, Stirling et al. 1987). Those events affected primarily bears in the eastern half of the Southern Beaufort and were almost certainly responsible for the recorded decline in SB bear numbers in the 2001-2010 survey (Bromaghin et al. 2015; Crockford 2017; Crockford and Geist 2018).
It seems very odd to me that Pagano and colleagues suggested no reasons for the unexpectedly poor showing of polar bear hunting success during their study except a bit of hand-waving about higher-than-we-thought metabolic rates in the bears. For years, I’ve worried that the inevitable next episodes of thick Southern Beaufort spring ice would cause problems for polar bears and seals but we wouldn’t know it because whatever effects were documented would be blamed on reduced summer ice: I suspect that time may have come.
Figure 1 from Pagano et al. 2018 cropped to show only the study area off Alaska.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Beaufort Sea, climate change, global warming, polar bear, sea ice, starving, struggling, survival, threatened, trouble, USGS, wasting, worse than we thought