Posted onMay 12, 2023|Comments Off on Roald Amundsen tried and failed to tame a polar bear cub in 1920
A short account of polar explorer Roald Amundsen’s failed attempt to tame a polar bear cub he had bought in May 1920 from a trader in the Russian Far East appears today in the Barents Observer. The cub was likely captured after its mother was killed, which was a common practice at a time when polar bears were being slaughtered wholesale throughout the Arctic (Crockford 2019; Honderich 1991; Stirling 2011).
It only took a month for Amundsen to give up his experiment. Below are some excerpts; read the full account here. More photos are here.
Posted onMay 6, 2022|Comments Off on Ancient polar bear remains explained by sea ice and polynyas: my peer-reviewed paper
My open-access, peer-reviewed paper on the ecology of ancient polar bears in relation to sea ice has just been published in Open Quaternary. It’s called ‘Polar Bear Fossil and Archaeological Records from the Pleistocene and Holocene in Relation to Sea Ice Extent and Open Water Polynyas’.
A unique compilation of more than 104 polar bear skeletal records from the Holocene and late Pleistocene shows that most ancient remainsare associated with existing or ancient open water polynyas or the expansion of sea ice during past cold periods. This big-picture analysis indicates that as they do today, polar bears were most commonly found near polynyas throughout their known historical past because of their need for ice-edge habitats.
Read my longer summary below and download the paper here. This is a much-updated and expanded analysis based on an informal study I did in 2012.
Posted onApril 26, 2022|Comments Off on Whaling crews and their encounters with polar bears and sea ice in 17th century Svalbard
A new paper published today by Dagomar Degroot is a long but interesting historical account about sea ice and whaling in the 1600s around Svalbard that includes some details on interactions of whalers with polar bears (Figure 4 from the paper copied below). These were the early days of whaling in the Arctic: the wholesale slaughter of whales and polar bears didn’t happen until the 1800s.
The paper is open access, so free to download but I’ve copied the abstract and a short excerpt here.
Posted onOctober 10, 2018|Comments Off on 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.
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 Makerswas 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.)”
Posted onJanuary 24, 2018|Comments Off on Early Holocene polar bear skeleton from Norway vs. other ancient remains
A press release issued yesterday (23 January 2018) by the University of Stavanger tells the story of decades of work on the most complete ancient polar bear skeleton in the world, found in 1976 in southern Norway, that culminated in an articulated museum display. This specimen was described in my research paper, Annotated Map of Ancient Polar Bear Remains of the World (Crockford 2012), which shows how many very early Holocene remains have been found outside current polar bear range.
Although it’s been warmer than averagerecently(25.4 degrees C yesterday, expected to reach 29 degrees C today and 28 degrees C tomorrow), according to Environment Canada weather records, that’s not even close to an August record-breaker temperature for Churchill. Continue reading
Comments Off on Churchill polar bear reports still showing fewer problems than last year
Posted onMarch 20, 2017|Comments Off on Prehistoric polar bear find has elongated body type Inuit know as a ‘weasel bear’
A story that broke in Alaska newspapers a month ago made the UK press this weekend about the archaeological discovery of 1,300 year old polar bear skull that may be associated with an unusual body type known to Inuit hunters. See the Mail Online cropped headline below, full storyhere– and some quotes and critical background below.
Posted onAugust 13, 2016|Comments Off on Narwhal and beluga ice entrapment is natural – not caused by global warming
A part-time Arctic researcher eager for media attention suggested earlier today that the ice entrapment of narwhals in 2008 and again in 2015at Pond Inlet (that made headlines around the world) was the result of “sudden changes in temperature” caused by climate change. This grossly misleading claim ignores the facts: ice entrapment of narwhals is an entirely natural feature of the Arctic that has been known about for hundreds of years.
“Narwhals: the ‘giant unicorn of the sea’ at risk from climate change” (CBC, 13 August 2016), a print version of a CBC Radio interview with Clint Wright that aired 8 August 2016. Wright is the general manager at the Vancouver Aquarium and apparently has “joined a team of researchers to tag and study” narwhals for several years – but does not seem to know much about the history or circumstances of natural ice entrapment.
Ice entrapment of small whales is nothing new. The first formally documented incident – in English – occurred in 1915 (Porsild 1918) and the phenomenon has probably occurred as long as there has been ice in the Arctic (millions of years).
Animals routinely become trapped in a few specific areas due to local geography: when ice that forms in the north moves south quickly, it blocks the entrances to inlets or coastal bays that still have open water. The presence of the pack ice causes nearby temperatures to drop quickly. Rapid development of ice on the bay proceeds from the mouth toward the head of the bay. Any whales present cannot escape to open water and will eventually die or be eaten.
Pond Inlet at the north end of Baffin Island is one such place but Disko Bay in western Greenland is another. In fact, Pond Inlet and Disko Bay are almost identical in geographic layout even though they lie on opposite sides of Baffin Bay, so it’s not surprising that both are locations of repeated entrapment events.
Three highly informative journal articles on the phenomenon of ice entrapment of narwhals and beluga are open access documents that reveal some fascinating details of such incidents, including polar bear predation on trapped whales. h/t T. Nelson Continue reading →
Comments Off on Narwhal and beluga ice entrapment is natural – not caused by global warming
Posted onAugust 16, 2015|Comments Off on Barents Sea polar bear research in the good old days – 1968/69 – with video
Here is some old footage shot in 1968-1969 of four Dutch researchers – none of whom had any experience with large carnivores – sent to study polar bears at Kapp Lee on Edgeøya (eastern Svalbard). It’s in Dutch so I don’t know what they’re saying but given the choice of music (Beatles, “All You Need is Love”) I can guess the message.
Still, the images are kind of cool, it’s interesting to see how research was conducted at the time by inexperienced personnel. FYI, I began my university studies in 1968, I was not much younger than these students at the time.
Overwintering Spitsbergen 1968-1969 [Uploaded to youtube 21 October 2012; length 45:55]
Description:In the winter of 1968-1969 stayed four Dutch students on the island Edgeøya east of Spitsbergen to do research as to polar bears. During that expedition, this film made by Paul van de Bosch and Hans Sweet and exhibited by the NOS on Dutch television in 1969.
[Barents Sea polar bear subpopulation background here and here]
I found some additional background that I’ve included below, which shows how naive these young men were, although clearly they had enthusiasm. Dutch researcher Piet Oosterveld was one of the original four on the 1968 expedition and according to a recent news report (see below), will accompany a new expedition to study the effects of global warming. Map below is from the Dutch News story cited below. Spoiler alert: in 1987, Oosterveld was attacked by a polar bear and seriously injured, blamed in part on the rapid increase in polar bear numbers due to their protected status.
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