Posted onMarch 30, 2023|Comments Off on Southern Labrador coastal landscape dominated by fat polar bears in March
Recent reports out of southern Labrador highlight how common it is to find polar bears onshore at this time of year. The small coastal community of Black Tickle seems to take the prize for the highest number of incidents and sightings but Happy Valley-Goose Bay is the somewhat surprising contender. [see correction below] Photo below is from Black Tickle.
Since early March, polar bear sightings in Newfoundland and Labrador have been common. The bears, of course, have come south on the Labrador Sea pack ice looking for fat newborn harp seals, which are now so abundant in the region that nearly a year’s worth of food could probably be consumed in a week or so. It appears that already well-fed bears may look around for what else could be added to their menu or just need a break to digest between meals. Photos of some of the bears sighted are all in good or excellent condition, and few of the animals seem to be intent on causing real trouble for locals–a far cry from the bear that wandered off the ice into Wales, Alaska earlier this year and killed a young mother and her infant son.
Posted onMarch 20, 2023|Comments Off on 15 years after ESA listing as ‘threatened’ due to sea ice loss polar bears are abundant & thriving
Experts who used the American Endangered Species Act (ESA) to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ in May 2008 were mistaken: sea ice authorities got their predictions wrong about future ice extent and polar bear specialists erroneously declared that two-thirds of polar bears would disappear if summer sea ice declines continued unabated.
By 2007, there was even less summer sea ice than computer models of the day had predicted (Stroeve et al. 2007, see red line on graph below) and in 2012, it dropped to just above 3 mkm2.
Updated sea ice predictions published in 2014 by the Stroeve team (see below) went to the other extreme, using totally implausible RCP 8.5 scenarios to predict a virtually ice-free Arctic (< 1 mkm2 ice extent) before 2040, which seem just as likely to be just as wrong as their 2007 attempt (Hausfather and Peters 2020; Pielke and Ritchie 2021; Stroeve et al. 2007, 2014; Swart et al. 2015).
In fact, for 12 years out of the last 15, summer ice extent has been below 5.0 mkm2 (often well below), which polar bear experts had not anticipated would happen until at least 2050 (Amstrup et al. 2006).
Despite this dramatic decline in sea ice, polar bears are still abundant and thriving because polar bear specialists got it wrong about the bears’ need for this habitat in summer (Crockford 2017, 2019; Crockford and Geist 2018). Polar bear turned out to be more flexible and resilient than predicted and many subpopulations are better off than before. Davis Strait and Chukchi Sea bears are doing very well: Barents Sea bears in particular are thriving despite by far the most sea ice loss of any Arctic region (e.g. Conn et al. 2021; Frey et al. 2022; Haavik 2022; Lippold et al. 2019; Peacock et al. 2013; Regehr et al. 2018; Rode et al. 2014, 2018, 2021, 2022).
Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 19 January 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v1 Open access. https://peerj.com/preprints/2737/
Crockford, S.J. 2019. The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats.
Crockford, S.J. and Geist, V. 2018. Conservation Fiasco. Range Magazine, Winter 2017/2018, pg. 26-27. Pdf here.
Frey, K.E., Comiso, J.C., Cooper, L.W., et al. 2022. Arctic Ocean primary productivity: the response of marine algae to climate warming and sea ice decline. 2022 NOAA Arctic Report Card, https://doi.org/10.25923/0je1-te61
Haavik, E. 2022. ‘Svalbard’s polar bears persist as sea ice melts — but not forever. The World, 21 July.
Hausfather, Z. and Peters, G.P. 2020. Emissions – the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading [“Stop using the worst-case scenario for climate warming as the most likely outcome — more-realistic baselines make for better policy”]. Nature 577: 618-620. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00177-3
Lippold, A., Bourgeon, S., Aars, J., et al. 2019. Temporal trends of persistent organic pollutants in Barents Sea polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to changes in feeding habits and body condition. Environmental Science and Technology 53(2):984-995.
Rode, K.D., Olson, J., Eggett, D., et al. 2018. Den phenology and reproductive success of polar bears in a changing climate. Journal of Mammalogy 99(1):16-26. here.
Rode, K. D., Regehr, E.V., Bromaghin, J. F., et al. 2021. Seal body condition and atmospheric circulation patterns influence polar bear body condition, recruitment, and feeding ecology in the Chukchi Sea. Global Change Biology 27:2684–2701. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15572
Rode, K.D., Douglas, D.C., Atwood, T.C., et al. 2022. Observed and forecasted changes in land use by polar bears in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, 1985-2040. Global Ecology and Conservation 40: e02319. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2022.e02319
Posted onMarch 16, 2023|Comments Off on Return of Svalbard sea ice in time for seal births and the polar bear feeding bonanza
It seems that every fall and winter for the last decade at least, there has been hand-wringing about the lack of Svalbard sea ice and what a tragedy this is for polar bears. And like clockwork, before the end of winter (30 March) every year, the pack ice returns in time for spring: for ringed and bearded seals to give birth–and for the polar bears to gorge themselves on the fat newborns.
This year there is even ice as far south as Bear Island (Bjørnøya) and it’s only 15 March. This has happened several times now in the last 10 year. So much for the catastrophe! And soon Norwegian biologists will be out checking on the health of these bears, which they do every year and report their results online for everyone to see.
Posted onMarch 15, 2023|Comments Off on Birthing season for harp seals in Labrador Sea just in time to feed hungry polar bears
The main birthing period for NW Atlantic harp seals has arrived. Local populations of ringed and bearded seal pups will soon follow but in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in eastern Canada, the pupping season for harp seals that is usually in progress by this time has likely been redirected north due to lack of suitable ice conditions. Sea ice off Labrador and Newfoundland is in good condition and this is where the vast majority of the global population go to give birth (ca. 7.6 million vs. 1.5 million in the White Sea and 434,000 in east Greenland).
Posted onMarch 12, 2023|Comments Off on Ice-entrapped dolphins in Newfoundland lucky not to have been eaten by polar bears
A small pod of white-beaked dolphins entrapped on Friday (10 March) by a sudden surge of ice along the northern Newfoundland coast were lucky to have been rescued by humans before polar bears could get to them. We know the bears are around, drawn south by the millions of harp seals giving birth to their pups in the area. In April 2014, something similar happened to white-beaked dolphins in Svalbard and they became a welcome meal for at least six polar bears (Aars et al. 2015).
UPDATE 20 March 2023: Another pod of white-beaked dolphins has perished from the ice over the weekend. More than 30 dolphins were trapped near the town of Carbonear, which is on Conception Bay (the next big bay southeast from Trinity Bay), according to CBC News. Given the ice conditions, this is almost certainly a different pod to the one reported on two weeks ago.
Dolphins getting stuck in sea ice is a fairly regular occurrence, said Ledwell. [Wayne Ledwell of Whale Release and Strandings]
“It’s been happening here forever,” he said, adding it’s not just a problem for dolphins. “It kills blue whale and humpback whales and whatever gets into it.”
Posted onMarch 10, 2023|Comments Off on Polar bear sightings and sea ice conditions in Newfoundland & Labrador 2023 vs. 2017
Conservation officials issued an alert to residents of coastal communities to be aware of polar bears coming ashore over the last week in northern Newfoundland and southern Labrador, after a woman photographed a bear outside her home on Tuesday morning (7 March 2023). Since no bears in this subpopulation are tracked with satellite radio collars, we have no idea if there are a few dozen bears — or a few hundred of them — hunting on the ice and available to come ashore when the opportunity arises.
Posted onMarch 5, 2023|Comments Off on Early-birthing polar bear female with new cubs out on the ice already in Western Hudson Bay
At least a month earlier than in more northerly areas of the Arctic, the first known female with new cubs-of-the-year has been reported on the sea ice hunting for seals in Western Hudson Bay. Remember this when the cries of “early” breakup of sea ice on Hudson Bay come in the summer: these WH bears routinely get a head start on spring feeding that other bears don’t get.