Category Archives: Advocacy

Columnist admits video on polar bears and global warming contained a serious error

Since mid-August,  Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham has been filing a series of articles from an expedition cruise through the Northwest Passage for a feature called “Above the Arctic Circle”. One of these appeared on August 18, along with a video called “What to know about polar bears and global warming” and it contained an egregious error that should have stood out to any educated person as being wrong by several orders of magnitude:

What to know about pbs GW_Video_screencap 2_SUN_18 Aug 2016 marked

We are not talking about a difference of opinion or interpretation but a simple fact that was outrageously wrong by a wide margin. You see it, don’t you? Continue reading

USGS report on history of walrus haulouts leaves out correlation with population size

Walrus researchers from the US Geological Survey have a new report on the history of walrus haulouts in the Chukchi and Bering Seas – yet their media efforts (via press release and interviews) fail to mention the relationship between fluctuating size of walrus haulouts and fluctuating walrus population size that is evident in that history. In fact, overall population size is not mentioned at all.

Walrus 2012 July USGS

Two articles came out over the weekend that announced the results of this new joint US-Russian initiative [PBS, Walrus beaching in Alaska might not be as harmful as it looks. Here’s why – 31 July 2016 and ADN, Alaska and Russia join forces to create 160-year database of walrus haulouts – 31 July 2016]

But neither articles nor the new USGS paper they are touting (Fischback et al. 2016) mention the huge summer/fall haulouts of females, calves, and juveniles that were documented in the 1970s that coincided with the huge population size at that time, which crashed in the 1980s.

Only now has the population grown (to at least 200,000) to the point that huge haulouts are again being reported – conservation has done it’s job. But when walrus numbers get too high the animals out-strip their food source and numbers plummet, as they did in the 1980s (Fay et al. 1989; Garlich-Miller et al. 2011). See my fully referenced summary paper, Crockford 2014 (On The Beach: Walrus Haulouts are Nothing New).

Here’s the concern: When (not if) a population crash happens again, will it be blamed on global warming rather than natural causes? According to the PBS article:

“The database is supposed to help federal officials with conservation, especially as more ships start sailing through the newly open waters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is determining whether walrus should be listed as a threatened species.[my bold]

My GWPF video on the issue (The Walrus Fuss) below:

See excerpts from the USGS database below, with a map:

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Why is polar bear conservation such a contentious issue?

Are polar bears in decline or not? Who is to blame for the fact that there is no clear answer about how polar bears are doing? Apparently, everyone except polar bear specialists are at fault for the way polar bear issues have been handled in recent years (including me), at least according to one northern journalist.

UpHere Magazine_July 2016 cover cropped

Back in February, I wrote a rather critical review of an exclusive interview with polar bear researcher Ian Stirling that was published in the February issue of UpHere Magazine called, He speaks for the polar bears – with this lede under the title:

“No fear-mongering. No exaggeration. For Ian Stirling, it’s purely about the science.”

I said “Yeah, well – judge for yourself,” and pointed out some rather critical inaccuracies and obfuscations in Stirling’s answers that I backed up with references.

Well, the editor of that magazine, Tim Edwards, emailed me a few days later and said:

“...we wanted to try to clarify the issues and just talk hard science, no rhetoric. Lo and behold, we’re learning that even his opinion is by no means universally agreed-upon. So thank you for your criticism.”

In May, I was contacted by UpHere writer Dan Campbell, who spoke to me several times before writing this month’s article (15 July 2016), Lost in the numbers: The polar bear is getting more attention than ever, but that may be harming the animal more than helping. Have a look and decide if it clarifies any of the polar bear issues for you. Continue reading

Critical spring feeding for polar bears is over – sea ice levels are now irrelevant

Polar bears in virtually all regions will now have finished their intensive spring feeding, which means sea ice levels are no longer an issue. A few additional seals won’t make much difference to a bear’s condition at this point.

Relative importance of seasons polar bear graphic_PolarBearScience_June2016

The only seals available on the ice for polar bears to hunt in early July are predator-savvy adults and subadults but since the condition of the sea ice makes escape so much easier for the seals, most bears that continue to hunt are unsuccessful – and that’s been true since the 1970s. So much for the public hand-wringing over the loss of summer sea ice on behalf of polar bear survival! Continue reading

USGS polar bear researchers publish their rebuttal to 2015 IUCN Red List assessment

Surprise! US Geological Survey polar bear specialists have just published another opinion-based model that concludes – yet again – that there is no hope for polar bears of the future unless the world drastically reduces fossil fuel use. This appears to be the Amstrup-led rebuttal to the hated 2015 IUCN Red List polar bear assessment I have been expecting, written in tandem with the Red List document by two of the same co-authors (Steve Amstrup and Todd Atwood).

Kaktovik female w cub_21 September 2015 USDA_med

Really, no surprises here – just more of the same overwrought fear-mongering about polar bears that we’ve been hearing from USGS since 2007. I saw Atwood and Amstrup last week in a British-made TV film that expressed the same sentiments (The Great Polar Bear Feast – it oddly featured dozens of fat/very fat Kaktovik polar bears while mostly USGS ‘experts’ talked about impending starvation). On camera, Atwood and Amstrup were almost indistinguishable in their statements of doom, and even though the film aired 6 months ago in the UK, it has so far not garnered the angst it seems to have intended.

Some folks may be even more convinced than ever by this new PR strategy [TV movie plus a published paper] that the polar bears are all going to die unless we (not they) change our wicked ways and stop using fossil fuels, but chances are that many more will detect the desperation in their escalated pitch and continue to refuse to buy what they are so frantically trying to sell.

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BREAKING: DNA results prove so-called polar bear hybrid was a blonde grizzly

All the hubris last month about polar bear x grizzly hybrids, based on an unusual-looking bear killed near Arviat, has turned out to be wishful thinking by those who’d like to blame everything to do with polar bears on climate change. An awful lot of “experts” now have egg on their faces. That “hybrid” was just a blonde grizzly, as I warned it might.

grizzly-polar-bear-hybrid_Arviat 2016 Didji Ishalook

According to one report, Nunavut wildlife manager Mathieu Dumond said:

“Some otherwise pretty renown bear biologists jumped on the hybrid bear story without even knowing what they were talking about,” Dumond said.

“I think it was something blown out of proportion, with the wrong information to start.”

Gee, ya think? CBC ran a story too. But the CBC don’t really admit (see below) that they were the first out of the gate on this story and started the media madness. It was the CBC that relied on the opinion of a black bear expert from Minnesota (who likely only saw a picture) – but since he was willing to say it was a hybrid and that its presence was a sign of climate change, they went with it.  See “Grolar or pizzly? Experts say rare grizzly-polar bear hybrid shot in Nunavut: Expert says interbreeding may be happening more frequently due to climate change” (CBC 18 May 2016).

For background, see these recent posts on this putative hybrid and the issues on hybridization it spawned:
Another alleged grizzly-polar bear hybrid shot but it’s not a sign of climate change

Polar bear hybrid update: samples sent for DNA testing to rule out blonde grizzly

Five facts that challenge polar bear hybridization nonsense

Most polar bear hybrids said to exist have not been confirmed by DNA testing

Blonde grizzlies, like the one pictured below (which I posted the day the story broke), are actually a proven sign of natural variation within species – a critical lesson in biology that should be the take-home message here. [ADDED: 2007 Alaska Fish & Wildlife Service Newsletter article on colour variation in black and brown/grizzly bears. h/t Wayne D]

“Paging Professor Derocher”: PBSG biologist and University of Alberta professor Andrew Derocher gave so many interviews to the media on this issue I lost count – he fed the media frenzy almost single-handedly. Well, except for granddaddy of polar bear experts Ian Stirling, who said (via the Toronto Star)[update: Toronto Star published correction]:

“I think it’s 99 per cent sure that it’s going to turn out to be a hybrid,” said Ian Stirling, an emeritus research scientist with Environment Canada and adjunct professor at the University of Alberta.”

 

Grizzly light_NPS photo

Quotes from today’s story below.
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Terrestrial food fight amongst polar bear researchers reflects political differences

With a few big guns on one side and some fringe folk on the other, a dichotomy of opinion has developed amongst polar bear researchers regarding whether or not consumption of land-based foods is making a difference to polar bear survival (or is likely to in the future).

Polar bears eating terrest foods WHB_Rockwell press release

It’s been going on for a while now. Last year, two US Geological Survey members of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) apparently got fed up with the scatter-shot of papers promoting terrestrial foods as a possible salvation for polar bears (e.g. Iles et al. 2013;  Iverson et al. 2014; Rockwell and Gormezano 2013a, 2013b). In April, they published a canon volley of a paper meant to blow all that ‘polar-bears-might-survive’ talk out of the water once and for all (Rode et al. 2015).

Note that although the PBSG didn’t bother to update their website with the IUCN Red List assessment when it came out last November, they had a link up to the USGS terrestrial feeding paper within 16 days (with an editorial summary in the “NEWS” section as well as a listing of the paper in the “RECOMMENDED READING” section). As I suggest below, this difference in treatment may not be a coincidence.

However, another group of non-PBSG researchers  haven’t given up just yet, as shown by the title chosen for the most recent news report (Alaska Dispatch News, 16 June 2016) on the just-finished International Bear Conference:

Want to know how a changing climate is affecting polar bears? Look at what they’re eating.

Apparently, Jeff Welker, a University of Alaska Anchorage researcher who is co-author on two recent papers on the subject of polar bear consumption of terrestrial foods (Tartu et al. 2016 and Rogers et al. 2015), gave a presentation at the conference that raised this topic yet again. His talk came on the heels of an earlier presentation by Todd Atwood, who suggested Southern Beaufort polar bears might benefit from staying onshore to eat left-over whale scraps instead of staying on the sea ice during the summer (even though he had no data to support that opinion – as I discussed in this post).

Here’s the question: is this dispute really about what polar bears eat or don’t eat when they’re on land – or is it symptomatic of the underlying politics of polar bears? [CBC documentary video by that name here]
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