Monthly Archives: June 2022

Svalbard polar bear data for spring 2022, low June ice unlikely to affect health or survival

Sea ice around Svalbard, Norway has receded dramatically over the last few weeks and is now at levels similar to 2018 and 2006. But the data are in for the 2022 spring season and they show the bears are still thriving.

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Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear habitat at the summer solstice is above average

Sea ice is well above recent levels for this time of year in the Southern Beaufort and only time will tell if that’s bad news for polar bears. Seals need the open water that early summer polynyas provide in order to feed and some polar bears make use of the hunting opportunities (Stirling and Cleator 1981; Stirling et al. 1981).

It’s been a decade since there was this little open water at the beginning of summer in the western North American Arctic, especially the Southern Beaufort. It’s looking unlikely there will be extensive open water until well into July, which may result in many fewer bears on shore in early summer. Recall that in July 2019, NOAA employees counted 31 fat, healthy bears onshore along the Alaska coast.

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New polar bear subpopulation update: more background facts and details from the paper

Here are the facts you need to put into context the claim that the estimated 234 polar bears recently discovered in SE Greenland have been living ‘without sea ice‘.

The unique genetic isolation of this new subpopulation makes it one of the most interesting discoveries about polar bears we’ve seen in decades, yet the media were primed by a press release loaded with dooms-day climate rhetoric to focus exclusively on the model-predicted precarious future of the species, like this gem from the lead author:

“In a sense, these bears provide a glimpse into how Greenland’s bears may fare under future climate scenarios,” Laidre said. “The sea ice conditions in Southeast Greenland today resemble what’s predicted for Northeast Greenland by late this century.”

As a consequence, the media have been trying to out-do each other with the most over-the-top climate catastrophe headlines, see here and here. The authors of paper itself and a companion piece do the same: instead of focusing on the exciting scientific implications of the genetically isolated population they discovered, they promote the preferred narrative that polar bears have a bleak future and lecture the public (yet again) about the need for limiting CO2 emissions (Laidre et al. 2022; Peacock 2022).

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Newly-discovered SE Greenland polar bear subpopulation: another assumption proven false

Researchers have discovered that the 300 or so polar bears living in SE Greenland (below 64 degrees N) are so genetically distinct and geographically isolated that they qualify as a unique subpopulation, adding one more to the 19 subpopulations currently described by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group.

NASA photo, SE Greenland glacier-front habitat with a polar bear and two cubs.

Previously, polar bear researchers simply assumed all of the bears in East Greenland were part of the same subpopulation but no field work had been conducted in the extreme southern area until 2015-2017. When they included this region, they got a big surprise: now they are spinning it as significant for polar bear conservation (Laidre et al. 2022).

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My scientific blog posts contributed to the failed Antarctic Treaty bid to protect Emperor penguins

There is actual evidence that two of my fully-referenced blog posts caused some Antarctic Treaty delegates to reject a bid for special protected status for Emperor penguins. Activist heads have exploded.

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China ruins Antarctic Treaty attempt to enact special protection status for Emperor penguins

China has thwarted an attempt by members of the Antarctic Treaty organization to enact special protection status for the Emperor penguin, which would have generated a ‘Species Action Plan’. Apparently, such a proposal required a consensus of all parties and China wouldn’t go along.

But as we know from past actions by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialists Group against former member Mitch Taylor, such impediments are easily sidestepped when a decision requiring consensus doesn’t go your way.

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Grizzly spotted on Western Hudson Bay shore but there are no polar bears on land for it to mate with

On 28 May last week a big grizzly (probably a male) was spotted on the shore of Wapusk National Park just south of Churchill, Manitoba but unless he heads out onto the sea ice, he has no chance of finding a polar bear female to mate with. Even if he does, he is unlikely to find a polar bear female willing to mate: most polar bears mate late March to early May (Smith and Aars 2015). Brown bears (called grizzlies across most of North America) mate later in the year, from late May to July, which means finding hybrids here is highly unlikely.

A few tundra grizzlies from the Northwest Territories have been spotted moving southeast into the Hudson Bay area since 2008. There was some media-and-expert-generated excitement back in 2016 when a hunter shot what he thought might have been a grizzly/polar bear hybrid near Arviat but it turned out to be a blonde grizzly, which are not uncommon in the tundra population from which it came. A similar result came from recent genetic study: samples from two pale blonde grizzlies from the North Slope of Alaska that looked remarkably like polar bear hybrids were not only unrelated to each other but showed no evidence of being hybrids (Lan et al. 2016 Supplementary data, pg. 3).

Contrary to some predictions, grizzly/polar bear hybrids are still quite rare (Crockford 2018:23).

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