Category Archives: Advocacy

CBC hypes “bleak” Churchill polar bear fate with unsupported claims & falsehoods

Over the weekend in Canada, the CBC ran a polar bear news feature that is now available online (“Polar bears in peril: the bleak future of Churchill bears,” The National, CBC, 3 December 2018). It gave polar bear biologist Nick Lunn of Environment Canada free rein to spread unsubstantiated claims and outright falsehoods about the status of Western Hudson Bay polar bears and sea ice. Apparently, he and the CBC learned nothing from National Geographic‘s fiasco over their starving’ polar bear video last year: they still think the public will be swayed to “act” on human-caused global warming if a persuasive expert tells them that polar bears are on their way to extinction. I expect many were convinced otherwise, since the facts are available for all to see.

No triplet litters born since 1996? Nonsense, as the photo below (from 2017) shows.

Triplet litter at Seal River Lodge 2017 Quent Plett photo

The CBC video is described this way:

“They are a majestic icon of Canada’s North, but polar bears have also come to symbolize climate change. And scientists say the future for one particular population of polar bears in northern Manitoba is dire.

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Inuit and Western science are far apart on polar bear issues in Nunavut

Interesting summary and informed perspective from Nunavut News that’s worth a read on the issue of polar bear management in Nunavut (29 November 2018: “Inuit, Western science far apart on polar bear issues”).

sow_yearling_USGS

“Nirlungayuk said the predictions made by Western science for the polar bear populations in western Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay were, in a word, wrong.

He said they need to look closely at those predictions and determine how they got them wrong.

“From a scientific perspective, I would challenge the scientific community to take another look at both western Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay to explain why the predictions that were being made back in the early 2000s up to 2018 were so wrong.

“A statement that came from Environment Canada was that the bears will keep on declining because of climate change even without hunting and that hasn’t happened.”

 Read the rest here.

No extirpation looms for Svalbard polar bears: no pending catastrophe in Norway

Despite a wild claim that a “slow Arctic freeze” this year increases the risk that polar bears will become extinct, sea ice charts show ice returning earlier than it has for decades everywhere except the Svalbard area of the Barents Sea. That’s good news for pregnant polar bears. Although Svalbard is without ice, that’s been true for so many years that pregnant Svalbard females long ago abandoned the use of islands they used in good ice years and now make their dens in the Franz Josef Land archipelago to the east (which is still within the Barents Sea subpopulation region).

Svalbard polar bear fall 2015_Aars

Polar bears give birth around 25 December each year, so pregnant females prefer to be snug in a safe den by around the end of November at the latest. That’s been possible for all regions of the Arctic this year, including the Barents Sea — because sea ice returned to Franz Josef Land weeks ago, even though Svalbard is still ice-free.

Franz_Josef_Land_location_wikipedia

Major denning areas in Russia, including Wrangel Island, have been surrounded by ice since the middle of the month, allowing pregnant females that did not remain on shore over the summer to return to make maternity dens. Elsewhere, bears that have been confined to shore over the ice-free season (such as along Hudson Bay and Baffin Island in eastern Canada) returned to the ice to hunt seals weeks ago after the earliest freeze-up in more than two decades.

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Arctic sea ice habitat for polar bears is like a big pond that dries up partially in summer

What’s a good analogy for sea ice as essential polar bear habitat? Biologist Andrew Derocher claims that the soil in a forest is appropriate, because without the soil you can’t have the forest ecosystem. However, that’s a specious comparison because the amount of soil in a forest does not change markedly with the seasons the way that Arctic sea ice does.

polar-bear-arctic-ice_21-aug-2009_patrick-kelley-us-coast-guard.jpg

A much better analogy is a big pond that dries up a bit every summer. The amount of habitat available to sustain aquatic plants, amphibians and insects is reduced in the dry season but many species have special adaptations for surviving reduced water availability. For the rest of the year, however, the pond provides an abundant and non-limiting habitat for all the creatures and plants that live there.

Beaver pond USFWS

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Scientific study finds polar bears excel at diving, contradicting previous expert opinion

A recent study by Norwegian biologist Karen Lone and colleagues, who tagged 57 polar bear females with sensors around Svalbard, discovered that polar bears can dive to a maximum depth of 13.9m and can swim long distances across open water without rest. Contrary to previous claims, polar bears are excellent divers and their breath-holding ability did not seem to limit how deep they could dive.

chukchi-bear-swimming-june-15-2014-brian-battaile-dsc_4036_lg.jpg

From the abstract of the new paper by Lone and colleagues (Lone et al. 2018):

“Some bears undertook notable long-distance-swims. Dive depths up to 13.9 m were recorded, with dives ≥5 m being common. The considerable swimming and diving capacities of polar bears might provide them with tools to exploit aquatic environments previously not utilized.”

Compare the above statement to one made by Stirling and van Meurs (2015), after describing a 3 minute dive video-taped during an aquatic stalk of a bearded seal, also in the Svalbard area:

“…increased diving ability cannot evolve rapidly enough to compensate for the increasing difficulty of hunting seals because of the rapidly declining availability of sea ice during the open-water period resulting from climate warming.” [my bold]

These two papers really show the difference between using anecdotal accounts as if they were evidence of species-wide physical abilities and doing a scientific study on the physical ability of interest.

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New paper provides no evidence that polar bears ate whale carcasses to survive Eemian interglacial

Contrary to what the misleading press release implies, an entirely speculative new paper by polar bear specialists Kristin Laidre and Ian Stirling (among others) presents zero evidence that polar bear consumed whale carcasses during the last warm Interglacial (Eemian, ca. 115-130kya). And contrary to the impression that Eemian conditions were very challenging for polar bears, simulations from the single paleo sea ice simulation paper these authors cite show the ice-free season over most of the Eemian was less severe than today in the polar basin, with no reason for polar bears to scavenge extensively on large whale carcasses.

LaidreFEE_Wrangel Island scavenging_smaller

Polar bears are shown scavenging on the carcass of a dead bowhead whale that washed ashore on Wrangel Island, Russia. Credit: Chris Collins/Heritage Expeditions

This is yet another paper posing as science co-authored by Stirling that uses anecdotal accounts of behaviour to send a message about evolutionary capabilities of polar bears (Stirling and van Meurs 2015). With little or nothing to back it up, the paper’s real purpose is to convey Stirling’s opinion that past polar bear survival is irrelevant to understanding future polar bear survival — and that all the bears are gonna die unless we do something about carbon dioxide emissions generated by fossil fuel use.

Is it a coincidence that the Summary for Policy Makers was issued by the IPCC over the weekend (not the report with the science in it but the document that all politicians agreed were acceptable)? Look no further than the last sentence of National Geographic’s article on this story, which includes a quote from lead author Laidre and a link to the magazine’s interpretation of the new IPCC report:

“Laidre put it even more bluntly: “If you want polar bears around we need sea ice, and loss of sea ice closely tied to our activities and our fossil fuel emissions.” (Learn about the IPCC’s dire new climate report.)” 

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The politics of starving polar bears: my op-ed in the National Post last week

In case you missed it: The real story behind the famous starving polar-bear video reveals more manipulation (29 August 2018).

Chukchi Sea polar bear Arctic_early August 2018_A Khan NSIDC

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