Canadian biologist Andrew Derocher was called upon to promote his particularly pessimistic viewpoint on polar bear survival in a story published in the New York Times yesterday (2 December 2018: “Drilling in the Arctic: Questions for a Polar Bear Expert”). However, decades of evidence suggests that onshore oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is unlikely to harm the few female bears that come ashore in Alaska to make maternity dens.
Here is my rebuttal to Derocher’s claims, all of which I’ve dealt with previously.
Posted in Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Alaska, analogy, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, climate change, denning, disturbance, multiyear ice, onshore, polar bear, sea ice, soil
At recent meeting of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), biologists decided to continue to list the polar bear as a species of ‘Special Concern.’ About 2/3 of the world’s polar bears live in Canada and the balance of all evidence (including Inuit knowledge) indicate the bears are not threatened with extinction. The bears have held this status since 1991.
Details from the 3 December 2018 press release below.
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”).
“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.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged attacks, failed predictions, Nunavut, observations, polar bear, population decline, problems, sea ice, too many bears
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).
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.
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.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Aars, Barents Sea, Derocher, extinction, extirpation, polar bear, Russia, sea ice, Svalbard
The Chukchi Sea finally has a polar bear population estimate! According to survey results from 2016 only recently made public, about 2937 bears (1522-5944) currently inhabit the region, making this the largest subpopulation in the Arctic. This is exciting news — and a huge accomplishment — but the US Fish and Wildlife Service responsible for the work has been oddly mum on the topic.
Not only that, but an extrapolation of that estimate calculated by USFWS researchers for Chukchi plus Alaska (the US portion of the Southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation) was estimated at 4437 (2283-9527), although with “significant uncertainty.” Nevertheless, it means the 2016 estimate for Alaska could be roughly three times what it was in 2010: a whopping 1500 or so, up from about 450 (or about 225-650) for the same area estimated during the last survey (Bromaghin et al. 2015: Fig. 5a).
Even if the real number for Alaska is only twice as large (~1000), that’s still a huge improvement. It would eliminate the Southern Beaufort as the only polar bear subpopulation in the Arctic to have shown a significant decline blamed on human-caused global warming (Crockford 2018). If the recovery is real, it means the 2004-2006 decline was a temporary fluctuation after all, just like previous declines in the region. I expect, however, that it will take a dedicated SB population survey for officials to concede that point.
not yet now a detailed report to cite (Regehr et al. 2018 in prep, see update below), but the numbers were announced at the 10th meeting of the Russian-American Commission on Polar Bears held at the end of July this year (AC SWG 2018) by Eric Regehr (formerly of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, as of 2017 at the University of Washington). [h/t to G.H.] This was the same report that raised the quota for subsistence hunting in the Chukchi from 58 to 85, based on these new figures, as I discussed last week.
From “Military bases to open on Wrangel Island and Chukotka” 22 October 2015.
Regehr was quoted as saying:
“Chukchi bears remain larger and fatter and have not seen downward trends in cub production and survival, according to new preliminary information on the health and numbers of bears.”
UPDATE 15 November 2018: The scientific paper describing the entirely new method (yes, yet another one: see Bromaghin et al. 2015) used to estimate the size of the Chukchi Sea population is now available (University of Washington press release here), in an open-access paper: Regher et al. 2018. News reports (see one here) spin the positive outcome as something that researchers expected all along but that’s simply not true. They expected Chukchi Sea bears and Southern Beaufort Sea bears to respond similarly to reduced amounts of summer sea ice, as explained here and in Crockford 2017).
Posted in Conservation Status, Population
Tagged Alaska, body condition, Chukchi Sea, cub survival, fat bears, guesstimate, healthy, increase, polar bear, population, Regehr, sea ice, Southern Beaufort, thriving, triplets
In the news today: “Nunavut Draft Plan Says There Are Actually Too Many Polar Bears In Territory” (CTV News via The Canadian Press, Bob Weber, 12 November 2018).
Polar bear eating seaweed near Churchill, Manitoba (November 2012). Lorraine Brandson photo.
From the Canadian Press story:
“There are too many polar bears in parts of Nunavut and climate change hasn’t yet affected any of them, says a draft management plan from the territorial government that contradicts much of conventional scientific thinking.
The proposed plan — which is to go to public hearings in Iqaluit on Tuesday — says that growing bear numbers are increasingly jeopardizing public safety and it’s time Inuit knowledge drove management policy.
“Inuit believe there are now so many bears that public safety has become a major concern,” says the document, the result of four years of study and public consultation.”
I’ve noted previously that there were two fatal polar bear attacks in Hudson Bay this summer. Both of them happened outside local communities and both happened early during the ice-free period (when bears would have been onshore for only a few weeks). Neither incident can be reasonably blamed on lack of sea ice, an extended ice-free period, or lack of management of problem polar bears within or near communities. The bears involved in the August attack were described as being in good condition.
Update 13 November 2018: See The Guardian‘s take on this story, by a different writer. Despite potential to talk to other polar bear specialists about this issue, only Derocher is quoted. Is no one else talking? “Polar bear numbers in Canadian Arctic pose threat to Inuit, controversial report says” (The Guardian, 13 November 2018).
Update 14 November 2018: See a new CBC story on Inuit perspectives on this issue. “Nunavut community says Inuit lives need to be protected over polar bear population” (CBC News, 14 November 2018).
Posted in Conservation Status, Polar bear attacks, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged attacks, climate change, Derocher, Foxe Basin, Hudson Bay, hunting, Inuit, management, polar bear, problems, sea ice, too many bears
This is the second year in a row that freeze-up of Western Hudson Bay ice has come earlier than average. Movement of tagged bears and reports by folks on the ground in WH show some polar bears are starting to hunt seals on the sea ice that’s developing along the shore. It’s unlikely that a strong wind will again blow the newly-formed ice offshore (as happened earlier this year) because the ice is more extensive. It seems polar bear viewing season in Churchill will be ending early this year, just like it did last year.
The 9 November map Andrew Derocher (University of Albera) published on twitter showing tagged and collared polar bear movements on Hudson Bay makes it look like almost no ice is present:
However, the Canadian Ice Service chart for 10 November shows the ice very clearly:
UPDATE 13 November 2018: See more recent ice charts and the latest (November 4-11, week 19) report from the Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill that confirms the bears are moving offshore.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged alert, charts, Churchill, concentration, freeze-up, Hudson Bay, hunting, polar bear, problem bears, sea ice, seals