The most positive thing that US National Snow and Ice Data Center sea ice experts could say about this year’s winter sea ice maximum was that it wasn’t a record breaker. But it provides ample polar bear habitat when the bears need it most: just before the critical spring feeding season.
In fact, they said: “The 2020 maximum sea ice extent is the eleventh lowest in the 42-year satellite record, but the highest since 2013.” All that winter ice is essential polar bear habitat just before the critical spring feeding season (Crockford 2019, 2020) and it’s one of the reasons that polar bears are thriving.
The Sun ran a photo-essay yesterday (22 March 2020, below) taken by a UK photographer who went to Wapusk National Park just south of Churchill, Manitoba in order to get much-coveted images of polar bear mothers and cubs newly emerged from winter maternity dens. The photos were said to have been taken “early last week” (16-17 March?).
The trees in the photos are a give-away to the location: no other subpopulation regions except Western and Southern Hudson Bay are below the treeline. Scrubby little spruces but ‘trees’ nonetheless. Mothers in more northern regions won’t come out with their cubs until April.
The question is: what was this photographer thinking to travel to a remote Arctic location in the middle of a global pandemic?
UPDATE 24 March 2020 820am PT. I have just heard from photographer Brian Mathews and he had this to say about his trip to Wapusk National Park:
“Context and facts are key as ever. I left the U.K. before any of the measures where in place. I’ve just got back after being in Canada for nearly a month. When I returned to Churchill I self isolated then returned to the U.K. the coverage I got is good for the bears and the positive uplifting feedback I’ve had about the joy they brought into people lives had be brilliant.”
I noted in my response to him that I realize the tour company in Canada bears some responsibility for continuing to operate under the circumstances.
On Tuesday 17 March 2020, several polar bears were reported in and around the community of St. Anthony on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, adding another threat on top of coronavirus concerns in the province. The photo below is from a 2018 Newfoundland sighting from the same region: none are available for the current report.
There have been no reports of trouble but locals will have to stay vigilant to remain safe, which since 2008 has been a common concern from late winter to early spring. In 2012 in this area, a bear was shot after it destroyed homes and attacked livestock; another bear was shot the next week in the same area. And in 2016 and 2017, a bear had to be shot to protect residents. Bears at this time of year are in hunting mode, which is why my polar bear attack thriller novel, EATEN, is set in March.
Current sea ice conditions below.
UPDATE 22 March 2020: “Just after 1 p.m. on March 21, the RCMP St. Anthony advised they blocked off Goose Cove Road, St. Anthony, as a polar bear has been sighted in the area. Wildlife is en route to assess the situation. In the interest of public safety residents are asked to stay away from this area.” From Saltwire here. Another report on the same sighting here.
Posted in Life History, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged attacks, coronavirus, feeding, harp seal, hunting, Newfoundland, polar bear, sea ice, sightings
On this first anniversary of the publication of The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, it’s a day of celebration for me. The book has informed thousands about how and why the scary stories about the imminent demise of polar bears due to human-caused global warming failed so miserably. It is a story of the triumph of facts over assumptions and a perfect example of why scientific observations trump model predictions. It is also a study of science at its worst: how a close-knit community of scientists groomed by a few senior researchers was able to cast out an insider who refused to tow the line on their climate change agenda – and mobilized mobs to attack outsiders who questioned their authority.
If you haven’t read it, now may be the perfect time. Many of you will be forced or encouraged to stay at home because of Covid-19 concerns, so here is one way to put the time to good use. Ebooks are perfect for this situation. If you don’t like Amazon, Smashwords has an ebook version here.
Smashwords also has an ebook version of my novel, EATEN. This polar bear attack thriller is a timely read for a number of reasons but primarily because it’s the story of an animal epidemic with horrific consequences quite different from the one we are facing at the moment.
My polar bear science book for kids, Polar Bear Facts and Myths in ebook form might be the perfect diversion for kids at home who need interesting educational material.
You’ll find links to all of my books, in all countries and all outlets, at my personal website here.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Life History, Polar bear attacks, Population, Summary
Tagged catastrophe, ebooks, epidemic, extinction, models, polar bear, population, predictions, science, sea ice, thriller, winter
Sea ice around Svalbard, Norway at the end of February 2020 is way above average, as the graph below shows – with more polar bear habitat now than there has been in two decades.
Some comparison charts below show that the graph above includes some very high ice years in the 1980s (reaching that dotted line above the mean) for which only global charts are available.
However, contrary to suggestions that more Svalbard ice is better for polar bears, there is no evidence that low extent of sea ice habitat in winter or summer over the last two decades harmed polar bear health, reproductive performance, or abundance. In fact, polar bear numbers in 2015 were 42% higher than they were in 2004 (although not a significant increase, statistically speaking) and most bears were found to be in excellent condition.
This suggests a return to more extensive ice to the Svalbard region in winter will have little impact on the health of the entire Barents Sea subpopulation, although it might change where pregnant females are able to make their maternity dens if ice forms early enough in the fall. In other words, the population should continue to grow as it has been doing since the bears were protected by international treaty in 1973.
UPDATE 3 March 2020: According to 28 February tweet by the Norwegian Ice Service, which I just saw today, “the last time there was this much sea ice around Svalbard on this day of the year [28 February] was 2004“. Somehow, I missed 2004 when I was looking through the archive, so I have modified the text below accordingly; see the 2004 chart below and here.
Posted in Life History, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Barents Sea, body condition, cub survival, denning, facts, Franz Josef Land, polar bear, science, sea ice, Svalbard
Arctic sea ice at the middle of winter (January-March) is a measure of what’s to come because winter ice is the set-up for early spring, the time when polar bears do most of their feeding on young seals.
[Mid-winter photos of polar bears are hard to come by, partly because the Arctic is still dark for most hours of the day, it’s still bitterly cold, and scientists don’t venture out to do work on polar bears until the end of March at the earliest]
At 12 February this year, the ice was similar in overall extent to 2013 but higher than 2006.
A new paper on Baffin Bay polar bears reports data on body condition and litter sizes collected as part of a major study of the region completed in 2013 compared to sea ice declines since the 1990s; based on a computer model, the authors predict that in 37 years time (if sea ice declines continuously), the incidence of twin litters could “largely disappear.” However, no decline in population numbers was predicted and a critical caveat acknowledges that factors other than changes in sea ice could have affected the body condition and litter size data the authors analyzed, which means the conclusions are scientifically inconclusive.
The last (2013) polar bear population survey of Baffin Bay (SWG 2016) generated an estimate of almost 3,000 (2,826; range 2,059-3,593), which means that regardless of some slight changes in body condition and litter size over the last two decades (which may or may not have been caused by loss of sea ice), there are currently a lot of bears in Baffin Bay.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged baffin bay, body condition, causation, correlation, extinction, fatness, Greenland, litter size, NASA, polar bear, sea ice, weight