Category Archives: Life History

Franz Josef Land is a sea ice refugium for most pregnant Barents Sea polar bears

Consensus polar bear expert Andrew Derocher has been busy over the last few weeks, expounding a story of doom regarding Svalbard area polar bears (e.g. here and here), ridiculing the suggestion that Franz Josef Land is viable alternate habitat for Barents Sea bears, especially pregnant females looking for a place to den and give birth. But the facts say otherwise.

Svalbard polar bear_Aars August 2015-NP058930_press release

Below are the long answers, with references and ice maps, to the questions Derocher asked in his 21 December 2017 tweet (above), a refreshing change from the ‘take my word for it, I’m the official expert’ answer one gets from him, along with derogatory slurs directed at those who don’t share his pessimism.

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Harvey et al. attack article mum on real selection process for polar bear papers used in their analysis

The Harvey et al. Bioscience article that attacks this blog and others that link to it — a veritable tantrum paper that took 14 people to write — included a sciency-looking analysis of peer-reviewed articles said to have been retrieved by the database “Web of Science” using the search terms “polar bear” and “sea ice.”

Temper-Tantrum graphic

“Consensus science pounds the floor and chews the carpet in angry frustration.” [mpainter, 25 December 2017]

Other critics have pointed out that the Harvey paper used 92 such references:

“Of the 92 papers included in the study, 6 are labeled ‘controversial.’ Of the remaining 86, 60 are authored or co-authored by Stirling or Amstrup, or Derocher. That is, close to 70% (69.76%) of the so-called ‘majority-view’ papers are from just three people, 2 of whom wrote the attack paper themselves.” [Shub Niggurath, crossposted at Climate Scepticism, 14 December 2017]

The bias of co-author papers used to represent the “expert consensus” on polar bear biology is only one problem with this particular attempt at making the Harvey paper look like science: in fact, the short list of papers used for analysis is a far cry from the original number returned by Web of Science for the search terms the authors say they used in the supplementary information.

How that large original number (almost 500) was whittled down to less than 100 is not explained by the authors. As a consequence, I can only conclude that the “methodology” for paper selection was likely defined after the fact. While the method of paper selection sounds simple and reasonable, apparently not one of the Harvey et al. paper’s co-authors checked to see if it was plausible (or didn’t care if it was not).

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Bioscience paper and starving polar bear follow-up

Between the two stories (the attack by my colleagues and the starving polar bear hype), views at my blog have gone through the roof and one Arctic biologist speaks out on what SeaLegacy folks should have done when they saw a starving polar bear on Baffin Island this summer.

polar_bear_sow_two_cubs_feeding_with_gulls_Kaktovik_USGS

For the two weeks prior to the release of the Harvey paper (rounding to the nearest 100) the number of page views was 11,400 while for the two weeks since the Harvey et al. paper was released views were at 72,300 (with 14,900 views yesterday, 23,300 views the day before, and 12,500 the day before that). Prior to the Harvey et al. incident, my highest-ever one day blog view tally was 10,400 (a walrus haulout post!).

Several blogs were discussing the Harvey et al. paper and its implications from the first day (29 November) and a few have contacted me to say their blog views are way up as well. Terry Corcoran at the National Post wrote a supportive column, here.

So much for shutting down non-conforming opinion and criticism, especially mine. Now folks know exactly where to go for an unbiased take on polar bear issues.

One reader contacted me via my ‘contact me’ page and insisted he wanted to make a cash donation to support my blogging efforts:

“First, I apologize for adding to your (probably) overflowing inbox, but wanted to let you know that I have followed recent developments and applaud your response to these ignorant accusers.

I would be happy to assist you with monetary support in order to help defray any expenses you have incurred recently, or anticipate soon. If there is a method to do that, please let me know.

The stress and time away from your regular work is precisely what prompted me to contact you. To me this attack on your work is similar to a person that has had a fire in their home. Everything is put on hold while they tend to all of the mitigation, insurance response, etc. It takes time, energy and money.”

I wish I could have said “it’s not necessary” but he’s absolutely right. I’ve had to take time off work to deal with the issue, and it’s not over yet. Christmas is fast approaching. I don’t have a donate button here at PolarBearScience but we figured out a way to make it happen. His generous contribution is much appreciated. I’ve had dozens of emails of support, from known colleagues to people I’ve never heard from before.

Comments on the starving polar bear below.

UPDATE 11 December 2017: shortly after posting, I came across James Delingpole’s just-published column on the starving polar bear issue, read it here.

UPDATE 11 December 2017: I forgot to say that I have yet to hear back from the editors of Bioscience regarding my retraction request, except they did respond to my second email on Friday asking for confirmation that they received the letter sent three days earlier. I shouldn’t have had to prompt them: confirming receipt of such document is common courtesy and good business practice.  (h/t Anthony Watts)

UPDATE 11 December 2017 7:00 PM PST: Finally, after the damage has been done, polar bear specialists have spoken out (sort of) on the SeaLegacy “starving polar bear as victim of climate change story.” An article in the National Post was published in the early evening and features an interview with Andrew Derocher, with comments from Ian Stirling and Inuit representative Terry Audla (“What everybody got wrong about that video of a starving polar bear“). CBC covered a similar change of tune here. Too little, too late, I say. And over at the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente has a hard-hitting piece today on why this kind of exaggeration is bad for everyone.
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One starving bear is not evidence of climate change, despite gruesome photos

We finally have this year’s example of the new fad of claiming every polar bear that died of starvation (or on its way to starving to death) — and caught on film — is a victim of climate change: a young bear on Somerset Island near Baffin Island, Nunavut filmed in August during its last angonizing hours by members of an activist conservation organization called SeaLegacy.

‘I filmed with tears rolling down my cheeks’: Heart-breaking footage shows a starving polar bear on its deathbed struggling to walk on iceless land.” [actual title of article in the DailyMail Online, 8 December 2017]. CBC Radio (8 December 2017) jumped on it as well, as have others. National Geographic ran a similar story, like others, that compliantly emphasized the future man-made global warming threat the photographers were touting.

Baffin Island starving pb headline_GlobalNews_8 Dec 2017

This is no different from Ian Stirling’s “bear that died of climate change” back in 2013, or several others since then: here, here, and here (one of these incidents also involved the same photographer as this incident, Paul Nicklen). I’ve called this practice of filming dead or dying bears and splashing the photos across the pages of newspapers and the internet “tragedy porn” — a kind of voyerism that leaves people open to emotional manipulation. The internet laps it up.

UPDATE 9 December 2017: a quote from another source shows photographer Paul Nicklen’s “expertise” in polar bear biology, see below.

UPDATE 11 December 2017: an Arctic seal specialist, Jeff Higdon, has weighed in via twitter about the possible cause of death of this bear and also what the SeaLegacy team should have done when they found the bear in this condition. See below

UPDATE 12 December 2017: See my update to this post here.

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W Hudson Bay polar bear season wrap-up: problem bear stats & sea ice vs. 2016

This year, due to an early freeze-up of the sea ice, many polar bears left the Western Hudson Bay area (including Churchill) the week of November 6-12. However, the folks who produce Churchill’s problem polar bear statistics did not generate a report for that week, so we are left with assessing the final freeze-up situation based on the previous report (see it here) and the one they have just released for the week of 13-19 November (below), the 18th week of the season (which began July 10):

Churchill Polar bear alert report Nov 13-19_Nov 20 released

The “quiet” week was almost certainly due to the fact that very few bears were still around, having left the previous week.

While it is apparently true that a south wind briefly blew ice away from the area around the town of Churchill, most bears had left by that point and there was plenty of ice to the north and southeast for bears that had congregated outside the town to wait for the ice to form.

Churchill sits on a point of land (see map below) that makes new ice vulnerable to winds from the south but this year impact was small: the north winds returned within a few days and so did the ice.

Hudson Bay weekly ice stage of development 2017 Nov 20

By this week there were still a few stragglers that hadn’t left shore but most of these were mothers with cubs, as well as young bears living on their own, who often hold back to avoid dangerous encounters with adult males at the ice edge.

A few adult males that were still in excellent condition after 4 months ashore without food seemed in no particular hurry to resume hunting. In part, this may have been due to the rather foul weather prevalent since the first week of November (with howling winds, low temperatures and blowing snow much of the time).

You can see in the chart below just how much more ice there was for the week of 20 November compared to average — all those dark and light blue areas along the west coast of Hudson Bay (and east of Baffin Bay) indicate more ice than usual. Even Southern Hudson Bay has enough shore ice for bears to resume hunting. Foxe Basin (to the north of Hudson Bay) has less ice than usual (red and pink) but there is still enough ice for polar bears there to begin their fall hunting, as the chart above makes very clear.

Hudson Bay weekly departure from normal 2017 Nov 20

Freeze-up and bear movement offshore were about three weeks earlier this year in Western Hudson Bay compared to 2016, which made a huge difference to the number of problem bears in Churchill, see below.

UPDATE 23 November 2017: CIS ice chart for today showing the ice forming in the northwest sector of Hudson Bay

Sea ice Canada 2017 Nov 23

UPDATE 27 November 2017: Final problem polar bear report copied below, issued by the town of Churchill. As noted above, the fact that some bears remained onshore into last week was a very local anomaly not experienced over the rest of the region.

churchill-pb-reports_week-19_20-26-nov-2017_last-of-the-season.jpg

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W Hudson Bay freeze-up one of earliest since 1979, not “closer to average”

Tundra Buggy Cam_10 Nov 2017_bear headed offshore pmWestern Hudson Bay polar bears have been leaving shore for the rapidly thickening sea ice since at least 8 November (bear above was heading out 10 Nov.). However, Polar Bears International chose not to mention the unusually early freeze-up until the week-long (5-11 November) doomsday bombardment they call “Polar Bear Week” was almost over.

It’s worse than that: two days earlier, PBI’s activist spokesperson Steven Amstrup apparently told the Sierra Club (“People Show Up for Polar Bear Week, But the Ice Hasn’t Yet”; 8 November 2017) that “the bears are still waiting on shore for that ice to freeze” even though ice development had been well on its way for days at that point. As if freeze-up on 10 November came as a big surprise to him, with no warning whatsoever.

Apparently, they didn’t want their naive and gullible supporters to know at the beginning of Polar Bear Week that the sea ice loss of which PBI spokespeople rant about constantly (Save Our Sea Ice) was a total non-issue this year: breakup was not earlier than usual and new ice began developing off Churchill at about the same time it did in the 1980s (last week of October).

As I discussed last year regarding newly-published studies (Obbard et al. 2015, 2016) on the status of Southern Hudson Bay (SHB) bears:

“…SHB polar bears left the ice (or returned to it) when the average ice cover near the coast was about 5%. This finding is yet more evidence that the meteorological definition of “breakup” (date of 50% ice cover) used by many researchers (see discussion here) is not appropriate for describing the seasonal movements of polar bears on and off shore.”

That post (with its list of references) is worth another look for its discussion of the following points: the definition of freeze-up; the relationship of official freeze-up and breakup dates to the dates that bears depart; the overall health and survival of Western and Southern Hudson Bay polar bears.

Hudson Bay North daily ice stage of development 2017_Nov 10

Below I dissect the misinformation that PBI calls “science communication” in their attempt to minimize the damage caused by this early freeze-up to their message of looming catastrophe for polar bears.

Bottom line: Not only was freeze-up early this year, 2017 will go down as one of the earliest WHB freeze-up years since 1979 and for Southern Hudson Bay bears as well, since as of 13 November there is concentrated ice all the way into James Bay.

Sea ice Canada 2017 Nov 13

UPDATE 14 November 2017: CBC Radio broadcasted an interview yesterday with a recent visitor to Churchill who was remarkably candid about what he saw regarding polar bears, sea ice, and what he heard from locals about freeze-up (“the earliest since 1991”). It corroborates what I’ve reported here. Worth a listen (about 8 minutes):

“Brian Keating: Polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba” (The Homestretch, November 13, 2017, Season 2017, Episode 300312418)

The closest Doug Dirks has come to seeing a live polar bear was at the Calgary Zoo many moons ago. But naturalist Brian Keating has just returned from another trip to Churchill, Manitoba. He joined Doug Dirks with the details of that frosty adventure.

http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1095183939998

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Experts talk of their bleak future, W Hudson Bay polar bears get earliest freezeup in decades

It seems that Churchill residents and visitors woke up this morning to find most local polar bears had left to go hunting — on the sea ice that supposedly doesn’t exist. Right in the middle of the Polar Bear Week campaign devised by Polar Bears International to drum up donation dollars and public sympathy for polar bear conservation!

Polar bear on the sea ice_Churchill_8 Nov 2017_Explore dot org cam my photo 2Frigid temperatures and north winds last night helped the process along, but this early freeze-up has been in the works for almost a week. From what I can ascertain, it appeared the only bears around onshore today were a mother with her young cub moving out towards the ice (females with cubs are usually the last to move offshore, probably to reduce the risk of encounters with adult males who might kill the cubs).

Tundra Buggy cams at Explore.org have been showing markedly fewer bears today and those that have been seen were on the ice (see above and below) or heading out to it.

The chart below is for yesterday (7 November), before the cold and north winds hit the region. It shows the concentration of ice that’s >15 cm thick.

Hudson Bay North 2017 concentration Nov 7

The chart for 8 November is below, after the storm.

Hudson Bay North daily ice concentration 2017_Nov 8

This is ice thick and extensive enough for polar bears to go hunting. Some bears almost certainly left shore yesterday, with the rest following quickly on their heals today. There are sure to be some stragglers left ashore that will leave over the next few days but the fact remains: there is sea ice to be had for those polar bear willing to start hunting.

Watch polar bear on the WHB sea ice below (screen caps below – and one above – were taken the afternoon of 8 November, from the Tundra Buggy Cam live feed near Churchill).

Polar bear on the sea ice_Churchill_8 Nov 2017_Explore dot org cam my photo 3

Keep in mind that in the 1980s, bears left for the ice on 8 November, on average. That means we’re back to a 1980s freeze-up scenario, at least for this year.

Funny how no one bothered to mention the potential for an early freeze-up to the media last week, when scientist were so eager to talk about the imminent demise of WHB bears. And funny that Polar Bears International hasn’t tweeted a word today about the famous Churchill bears having enough sea ice to go hunting, smack in the middle of Polar Bear Week.

Yes, the “Save Our Sea Ice” PBI rallying cry sounds a bit hollow with sea ice as far as the eye can see off Churchill today. But will anyone in the mainstream media point out the irony?

See charts below for years back to 2004, on this date (2005 missing for some reason), to compare to the above 8 November image (2004 is as far back as the archive goes).

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