Category Archives: Conservation Status

Polar bear researchers try very hard to make good news in Kane Basin sound trivial

In an astonishing display of under-selling good news, the authors of a new paper announcing that Kane Basin polar bears are doing well have avoided mentioning that the population increased substantially since the 1990s and insist that any benefits will be short-lived.

Kane Basin population size at 2013 was 357 (range 221 – 493), up from 224 (range 145 – 303) in 1997. That’s an increase of 59% based on a 2016 recalculation of the 1997 population estimate of 164 (Crockford 2020) – it would have been a 118% increase otherwise.

Money quote: “We find that a small number of the world’s polar bears that live in multiyear ice regions are temporarily benefiting from climate change.” Kristen Laidre, lead author of Transient benefits of climate change for a high‐Arctic polar bear (Ursus maritimus) subpopulation

Both the paper and the press release also claim, despite acknowledging that there is no evidence for this conclusion (“the duration of these benefits is unknown“), that this good news will probably not last because computer models say beneficial conditions might not persist beyond the end of the century.

As always, if you’d like to see this paper, use the ‘contact me’ page to request a copy (it’s paywalled).

UPDATE 25 September 2020: News just out from Nunavut this morning, “New Nunavut polar bear surveys point to “currently healthy” populations in M’Clintock Channel and Boothia Bay.” The survey report for M’Clintock Channel (mentioned in the post below) and neighbouring Gulf of Bothia has still not been made public but this announcement suggests that population numbers in these subpopulations have also increased by some amount that will be similarly discounted as unimportant.

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Potential impact of the second-lowest sea ice minimum since 1979 on polar bear survival

The annual summer sea ice minimum in the Arctic has been reached and while the precise extent has not yet been officially determined, it’s clear this will be the ‘second lowest’ minimum (after 2012) since 1979. However, as there is no evidence that polar bears were harmed by the 2012 ‘lowest’ summer sea ice this year’s ‘second-lowest’ is unlikely to have any negative effect.

This is not surprising since even 2nd lowest leaves summer ice coverage in the Arctic at the level sea ice experts wrongly predicted in 2005 wouldn’t be seen until 2050 (ACIA 2005; Amstrup et al. 2007; Wang and Overland 2012) and this is the same amount of summer sea ice that polar bear experts incorrectly predicted would cause 2/3 of all polar bears to disappear. My book explains how it all went wrong: The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened

In this summary of how polar bears have been doing since the the lowest sea ice minimum in 2012, I show that contrary to all predictions, polar bears have been thriving despite reduced summer ice in the Barents, Chukchi and Southern Beaufort Seas, and because of unexpectedly short ice-free seasons in Hudson Bay and less multiyear ice in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

UPDATE 21 September (10:20 PT): NSIDC has just announced the Arctic sea ice extent minimum (preliminary) for 2020 at 3.74 mkm2 reached on 15 September. See full report here.

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Sceptical covid-19 research and sceptical polar bear science: is there a difference?

This essay about medical researchers having trouble getting their papers published because the results don’t support the official pandemic narrative has disturbing parallels with my experience trying to inject some balance into the official polar bear conservation narrative.1 Especially poignant is the mention of models built on assumptions sold as ‘facts’ that fail once data (i.e. evidence) become available – which of course is the entire point of my latest book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.

Read the commentary below, copied from Lockdownsceptics.org (6 September 2020). Bold in original, link added to the story to which this is a response, and brief notes and links added as footnotes for parallels with polar bear conservation science. Continue reading

Criminal charges dropped in case of polar bear shot by cruise ship guards in 2018

The guards from a cruise ship who shot an emaciated bear in self-defense in late July 2018 on the remote island of Phippsøya in northern Svalbard have had criminal charges against them dropped. It is illegal to kill polar bears in Norway, so the death of the bear automatically triggered a criminal investigation.

 

Polar bear shot in self defense on the island of Phippsøya in the Sjuoyene group north of Spitzbergen 28 July 2018 by guards from a cruise ship, photo courtesy Govenor of Svalbard.

This case, which made international headlines and sparked outrage at the time, also saw charges laid against the cruise ship that employed the guards. However, all charges against the company have also been dropped. See below for details on the decision and my post about the incident in 2018. No information on the condition of the bear was included in the statement about criminal charges.

 

Phippsøya is part of the Sjuoyene island group in northern Svalbard.

 

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Amid crying over low Arctic ice, W Hudson Bay polar bears leave ice as late as 2009

This year, the last collared Western Hudson Bay polar bear to leave the ice left as late, or later, than the last collared bear did in 2009 (which was an unusually late breakup year) and so far, all bears spotted have been in good physical condition despite inhabiting one of the most southern regions of the Arctic. All the while, sea ice experts have been hand-wringing about low Arctic sea ice –– in general and as polar bear habitat.

Polar bear Cape East 0 Wakusp NP _24 Aug 2020 earlier

A female with two yearling cubs on the shore of Wakusp National Park, Western Hudson Bay on 24 August 2020. Taken via livecam from almost a mile away.

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Risk to Alaskan polar bear cubs from oil exploration in coastal Wildlife Refuge is small

A bill recently introduced to US Congress (30 July 2020) is supposedly meant to “safeguard the Beaufort Sea polar bear’s denning habitat”.  However, the bill is named the “Polar Bear Cub Survival Act”, which tells us this is an appeal to emotions rather than a call for rational decision-making. In fact, few Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear cubs are born on land in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and the risks to them from oil exploration is not overwhelming.

Amstrup_only solution_with 3 cubs_Oct 8 2014

Despite a modest decline in summer sea ice since 1979, only about half of Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear females currently make their dens on the sea ice in late fall. Recent research confirms results from older studies that show denning females in Alaska are highly tolerant of the kind of disturbance associated with oil exploration and few dens are found more than about 1 km from the shore. This emotion-laden bill is not really about protecting polar bears: it’s a political move aimed at preventing oil exploration along the coast of Alaska after previous efforts failed. It comes ahead of an announcement today (18 August 2020) that the White House will begin to auction off leases for oil drilling in the ANWR.

Don’t let the ‘trust my word, I’m an expert’ hyperbolic testimony from activist scientists like Steven Amstrup and others hold sway on this issue – see for example Alaska polar bear den disturbances part of ‘death by a thousand cuts,’ researcher says (biologist Wesley Larson on Alaska Public Radio, 14 July 2020), or activist conservation organizations Polar Bears International and World Wildlife Fund. Have a look at the facts on the matter taken from the published literature, which I summarize below (as many pdfs provided as possible).

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Few bears on the ice off Western Hudson Bay at 14 August but will be onshore soon

Polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher published a tracking map of his collared polar bear females that shows one bear (out of 11) still on the rapidly diminishing ice north of Churchill in Western Hudson Bay – and where there is a collared female, there is almost certainly other bears doing the exact same thing:

Derocher 2020 WHB tracking map 14 Aug_1 bear still on the ice

Without evidence to support such a claim, Derocher (below) assumes this collared female is probably hunting seals. In fact, last year he admitted that most bears on Hudson Bay from at least July onward are unlikely to be successfully hunting seals:

Derocher 2020 Aug 14_1 bear still on the ice at 14 Aug odd behaviour

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Many W Hudson Bay polar bears still offshore at 7 August despite apparent low ice levels

Contrary to all expert expectations, five female polar bears (45%) out of eleven that had tracking collars attached last year were still out on the sea ice that’s lingering along the western shore of Hudson Bay as of 7 August. And if five collared bears are out there, then there are almost certainly many more without collars doing the same thing. This pattern of bears staying out on the ice long after the so-called ‘critical threshold’ of 50% concentration has passed has been going on since at least 2015 and many bears on tracking maps in July and August appear to be on ice that doesn’t exist.

Chukchi Sea polar bear Arctic_early August 2018_A Khan NSIDC small

There are two explanations for this pattern and both are likely true: 1) much more ice actually exists on Hudson Bay than satellites can detect and 2) polar bear experts are wrong that Western Hudson Bay polar bears head to land soon after sea ice concentration drops below 50%. Models that predict a catastrophic future for Western Hudson Bay polar bears (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2013; Molnar et al. 2020) assume that ice coverage of less than 50% in summer greatly reduces polar bear survival. However, if polar bears do not always head to land when sea ice drops below 50% then the models cannot possibly describe their future accurately. In other words, depending on the discredited ‘worst case’ RCP8.5 climate scenario for the most recent polar bear survival model that extrapolates from Western Hudson Bay bear data to many other subpopulations, as I discussed previously, may not be its only fault.

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Is the demise of polar bears being exaggerated to keep extinction panic alive?

An excellent summary of recent points I’ve made in my latest book and on this blog about the recent push to keep polar bear extinction panic alive with a new model of impending doom was published two days ago in the Spectator UK by columnist Ross Clark (23 July 2020, in Coffee House).

Svalbard polar bear fall 2015_Aars

Excerpt below:

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could debate climate change for five minutes without hearing about polar bears or being subjected to footage of them perched precariously on a melting ice floe? But that is a little too much to expect. Polar bears have become the pin-ups of climate change, the poor creatures who are supposed to jolt us out of thinking about abstract concepts and make us weep that our own selfishness is condemning these magnificent animals to a painful and hungry end.”

Read the whole thing here.

PS. I noticed Clark refers to me as an anthropologist. I have requested a correction because I am a zoologist.

New model of predicted polar bear extinction is not scientifically plausible

Apparently, a prediction that polar bears could be nearly extinct by 2100 (which was first suggested back in 2007) is news today because there is a new model. As for all previous models, this prediction of future polar bear devastation depends on using the so-called ‘business as usual’ RCP8.5 climate scenario, which has been roundly criticized in recent years as totally implausible, which even the BBC has mentioned. This new model, published today as a pay-walled paper in Nature Climate Change, also did something I warned against in my last post: it uses polar bear data collected up to 2009 only from Western Hudson Bay – which is an outlier in many respects – to predict the response of bears worldwide. The lead author, Peter Molnar, is a former student of vocal polar bear catastrophist Andrew Derocher – who himself learned his trade from the king of polar bear calamity forecasts, Ian Stirling. Steven Amstrup, another co-author of this paper, provided the ‘expert opinion’ for the failed USGS polar bear extinction model featured in my book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.

James Bay female and cub_Ontaro Govt

Well, these authors and their supporters got the headlines they crave, including coverage by outlets like the BBC and New York Times (see below) but I have to say that the combination of using out-of-date Western Hudson Bay information on when polar bears come ashore in summer and leave for the ice in fall (only to 2009) to make vague projections (‘possible’, ‘likely’, ‘very likely’) about all other subpopulations in addition to depending on the most extreme and now discredited RCP8.5 climate scenario (Hausfather and Peters 2020) for this newest polar bear survival model is all that’s needed to dismiss it as exaggerated-fear-mongering-by-proxy. Why would anyone believe that the output of this new model describes a plausible future for polar bears?

New York Times headline _climate change pushing pbs to extinction_20 July 2020
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