Category Archives: Life History

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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Hudson Bay polar bear habitat is highest in more than two decades for this time of year

More ice in Hudson Bay and adjacent regions than we’ve seen at this time of year for more than two decades: not since 1993 has there been as much polar bear habitat in the 2nd-last week of November.

Sea ice Canada 2018 Nov 22

The anomaly chart for this week is almost all blue:

Hudson Bay weekly departure from normal 2018 Nov 19

Other years back to 1994 had much less ice for the 2nd-last week in November, as the charts below show. Colour charts are only available from 2004.

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W Hudson Bay freeze-up earlier than average for 2nd year in a row, polar bear hunt resumes

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.

Tundra Buggy Cam_10 Nov 2017_bear headed offshore pm

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:

Sea ice Canada 2018 Nov 10

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.

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Polar bears waiting for ice on Russian coast of Chukchi Sea threaten village residents

Ryrkaypiy on the Chukotka coast of Russia is similar to Churchill, Manitoba: both human settlements are of similar size and are close to where polar bears wait for sea ice to form in the fall and where some pregnant females make their maternity dens in preparation for the birth of cubs over the winter (Durner et al. 2018:xxii). Sea ice advances from the west along the Chukotka shore and bears cannot move offshore to resume hunting until the sea ice reaches the village of Ryrkaypiy. According to the Siberian Times, the village is again having problems with local polar bears, as they have for the last several years (including 2013).

Mother with cubs Russia_shutterstock_71694292_web size

“At least twelve polar bears are inside the village, with some of them paying daily visits.

The rest are within three kilometres away.

‘We have to constantly scare the bears away with signal rockets, so far thanks to efforts of the Bear Patrol we manage well’, said acting head of Ryrkaypiy Yevgenia Malakhova.

The large group of bears started to form a month ago when they came close to Cape Kozhevnikov.

‘Now the bears moved close to the village, they also walk back and forth all along the shore line. The animals are irritated because they are ready to leave the area and start hunting in the deep sea, but ice is too thin’, said Malakhova.

All 760 locals are aware of the dangerous situation and take extreme care when moving around the place.”

More below, including map and ice chart.

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Fabulous polar bear science book for kids now available in Dutch

Given my strong Dutch heritage through my maternal grandfather (via Middelharnis), I am especially proud to announce that the Dutch translation of my popular science book, Polar Bear Facts and Myths (suitable for children aged seven and up), is now available through Amazon worldwide in paperback.

Crockford FM cover Dutch Translation 2 Nov 2018_Final_2 inches

The translation was done by native Dutch speaker Marcel Crok who is a journalist and science writer in The Netherlands (see @marcelcrok on twitter). In Dutch the book is called Feiten en Mythes over IJsberen.

Please pass along to your friends, relatives, and colleagues in North America and abroad. The English version is still available in paperback and ebook formats, and the Norwegian translation will be available shortly. Other translations in French and German are already available.

Why this book is important

Children around the world have been led to believe that only a few hundred polar bears are left in the world. However, the relentless messaging that polar bears are doomed (and that this is all the fault of humans) is fortunately false. It is time that children learned the truth, including those that speak and read only Dutch.

Here is the good news the children need to hear: polar bears have not been driven to the brink of extinction by anthropogenic global warming. In fact, there are many more polar bears now than there were 50 years ago and the global population of polar bears is a healthy size, despite the fact that summer sea ice has been at levels predicted to cause catastrophe since 2007. Polar bears have managed just fine with low summer ice: against all expectations, their number have increased in recent years, not declined.

Polar Bear Facts & Myths is an uplifting science book about survival in the Arctic that is sure to please children and parents alike.

shutterstock_473571037 (2) purchased 3 November_smaller

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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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New ice on Hudson Bay a week earlier than 2017: another early freeze-up ahead?

Last year, an early freeze-up of Western Hudson Bay sea ice almost ruined the Polar Bear Week campaign devised by Polar Bears International to drum up donation dollars and public sympathy for polar bear conservation. Many bears were on the ice hunting by 7-8 November in 2017 before the celebratory week was done (the average date that bears left the ice in the 1980s): sea ice charts suggest the same may be happening this year.

Polar bears off Churchill_2000-11-20_wikipedia

Ice is forming along the Hudson Bay coast more than a week earlier than it was last year (barely discernible on the map below but detailed ice charts show it clearly), consistent with early build-up of ice in the Canadian Archipelago, East Greenland, and Foxe Basin since mid-September.

Sea ice Canada 2018 Oct 23

The question is: will the ice continue to build over the next few weeks or get blown offshore? See the ice charts below for this year and 2017.
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