Polar bear research on hold in Western Hudson Bay due to COVID-19 restrictions

After spring polar bear research was cancelled in Western Hudson Bay (and pretty much everywhere else) this year because of Covid 19 concerns, it now transpires that fall research is out as well. Travel restrictions implemented by government departments and university administrations (not the health department) apparently mean fall programs to assess the health and status of polar bears in Western Hudson Bay have been put on hold.

Triplet litter of polar bear cubs spotted in Wakusp National Park, Western Hudson Bay. 23 October 2020. Courtesy Explore.org.

This story from CTV News (23 October 2020), my bold:

Federal polar bear research near Churchill has been put on hold for the first time since 1980 because of restrictions on travel due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Nick Lunn, an Alberta research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, travels to northern Manitoba every year in September to conduct polar bear monitoring programs.

Lunn’s work involves sedating more than 100 bears so measurements and other biological samples can be taken.

“Long-term data sets can handle a missed year in the time series more easily than short-term data sets,” he said in an email from Edmonton.

“Techniques in analysis have advanced so much over the past 30 to 40 years that there are now ways to deal with gaps for certain types of questions. So while (it’s) disappointing to miss fall 2020, it won’t be the end of the world for the long-term nature and value of the program.”

That said, it doesn’t mean the missed data is inconsequential. “Without knowing what was missed, it is not possible to assess the significance,” he said.

For example, one of the first strong signals that polar bear health was linked to climate change came from a single year of data in 1992. That year the bears weighed significantly more than usual, and researchers were able to link that event with the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

The eruption launched so much particulate matter into the atmosphere that it blocked sunlight, temporarily cooling the Arctic in the spring of 1992. As a result, among other things, there was a later breakup of the sea ice in western Hudson Bay that year – and consequently better-fed, fatter polar bears.

If there had been no data collection in 1992, this specific event and link might have been missed, Lunn said.

As researchers look to better understand the effects of climate change on these animals, they are expanding their understanding of what influences the bears’ health.

“We know that (sea ice) breakup was later this year than last, so we would have expected bears to be in better condition this year, which hopefully translates into (more and bigger) cubs in the spring. Unfortunately, we won’t know how much better condition they may have been in,” Lunn said.

…While provincial health officials allowed an exemption to the travel ban for research and tourism, many universities and government institutions have opted for more stringent restrictions internally. Thus, Lunn and his colleagues at Environment and Climate Change Canada have been grounded.”

Andrew Derocher (University of Aberta), whose spring program was halted earlier this year for the same reason, saw this as a disaster for the climate change narrative:

“Losing the monitoring conducted by Environment and Climate Change Canada this year was a huge loss to polar bear science and to Arctic monitoring on a global scale. The western Hudson Bay population is the baseline study from which we have learned about how climate change affects polar bears,” he said.

“Other polar bear populations have far less data and far less insight into the mechanisms of change brought by warming.

Similar story here.

Derocher may be crying foul to the press but I expect he and Lund are secretly happy there will be no data this year to document how well the polar bears have been doing, despite this being the second-lowest summer ice season for the Arctic since 1979. As Lunn points out, breakup was very late this year and bears came off the ice in very good condition but fails to mention there was no spectacular volcanic eruption to blame this on as there was in 1992.

No data for 2020 will mean fewer questions about the obvious contradictions between the data and claims of climate change victimhood for WHB polar bears. Lunn will be free to use his ‘techniques in data analysis‘ to fill in the gap in a way that does not spoil the climate change narrative of doom he and his colleagues have spent decades developing. How very convenient.

Ironically perhaps, today a polar bear female with a litter of triplet cubs – falsely claimed to be unheard of a few years ago – was spotted along the shore of Wakusp National Park just south of Churchill. See the photo above and video below. One of the cubs is noticeably larger than the others but all are in good condition; this may be the same triplet litter spotted in September in the same area or another, it’s not possible to say:

Virtually all bears spotted with the automated cameras in Wakusp have been in excellent condition and Churchill has had what may be a record-breaking slow season for problem bears this year.

This story also highlights, perhaps inadvertently, that it was not documented harm to bears from lack of summer sea ice that gave Ian Stirling and colleagues Lunn and Derocher the ammunition they needed for their climate-change-is-killing-polar-bears narrative but the exact opposite. In other words, they concluded that if the 1992 late breakup of sea ice resulting in a significant improvement in the bears’ condition, the cause of the documented 1980s decline in survival compared to the 1970s was probably poor summer ice conditions, even though none of the sea ice data would have supported that conclusion.

A change in winter conditions in 1992 for WH bears and/or seals made much better sense in explaining their 1980s survival data but that didn’t fit the newly-developing ‘global warming’ narrative. And anyway, that explanation couldn’t be supported with data because there were none – no one was doing research on winter conditions in Hudson Bay in the 70s and 80s, which is still true today.

As I’ve pointed out previously, Stirling had been struggling in the 1990s to explain why Western Hudson Bay polar bears had been doing so poorly in the 1980s  but his 1993 a shift to new ‘climate change’ focus (Stirling and Derocher 1993) gave him a way of moving past a phenomenon he couldn’t explain. I discuss this in more detail in my book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.

All we can do is hope that even without data from 2020, the obvious good health and survival of the bears this year will speak volumes.


Stirling and Derocher 1993. Possible impacts of climatic warming on polar bears. Arctic 46(3):240-245. Open access https://arctic.journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/arctic/index.php/arctic/article/view/1348

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