Category Archives: Life History

Late freeze-up for W. Hudson Bay polar bears at odds with ice conditions elsewhere

Sea ice is finally starting to form along the western shore of Hudson Bay, lagging well behind ice formation in the rest of the Arctic. Oddly, however, last year it was just the opposite: some WH bears were able to start hunting as early as 31 October (see photo below) while ice formation lagged behind in the Chukchi and Barents Seas.

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Chukchi Sea ice that didn’t melt this summer is now 2+m thick between Wrangel Island and the shore

Thick multiyear ice between Wrangel Island and the shore is now more than 2m thick, potentially impacting fall feeding for bears that routinely summer on Wrangel or the north coast of Chukotka.

Rapidly-forming sea ice in the Laptev and East Siberian Seas this fall – generated by cold winds from Siberia in late October despite warmer than ususal temperatures earlier in the month – has trapped a number of Russian ships that are being rescued by ice-breakers (below), according to a report in the Barents Observer earlier this week.

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Polar bear habit more extensive in most areas of the Arctic compared to previous years

Mid-November is half-way through the Arctic fall season (October-December) and polar bear habitat is expanding slowly. Here’s a look at fall conditions compared to previous years, so you can see where bears may still be ashore and fasting (i.e. Hudson Bay and southern Foxe Basin) and where others have already resumed feeding.

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Conditions were not golden for polar bears in the 1980s despite what activist expert claims

Does the following statement stand up to scrutiny – i.e. a fact check – of the scientific literature on polar bear ecology?

In the 1980s, “the males were huge, females were reproducing regularly and cubs were surviving well,” Amstrup said. “The population looked good.”

[Steven Amstrup, Anchorage Daily News (Borenstein and colleagues), 5 November 2021: ‘How warming affects Arctic sea ice and polar bears’]
Steven Amstrup

In short, it does not.

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‘Already too late’ to save Churchill polar bears claim a false NY Times climate change cliché for COP26

Not only is it prime polar bear viewing week in Churchill, Manitoba but it’s the week of the 26th international elite COP climate change gab-fest: every media outlet on the planet is eager to promote climate catastrophe talking points.

Hence totally expected that the New York Times would print someone’s unsupported claim that the polar bears of Churchill (part of the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation) are on the verge of extirpation due to lack of sea ice and other similar nonsense. Also not surprising to find that Canadian government biologist Nick Lunn used the occasion to again offer unpublished and misleading data to a reporter. However, this time it’s good news meant to sound like an emergency: if correct, the data he shared indicate polar bears are heavier now than they were in the 1990s and early 2000s.

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Polar bear watching in high gear near Churchill as everyone waits for the sea ice to form

All of the bears within view of the coastal web cams on the shore of Wapusk National Park near Churchill on Western Hudson Bay seem to be in very good shape this year, despite having come off the ice a few weeks earlier than they have over the last few years. Despite this, problems with bears in Churchill seem to have been below average this year. Some great action can be seen via several Explore dot org live web cams that are streaming from shore right now.

A sow with yearling cub; 1 November 2021

No ice forming yet along the west coast of Hudson Bay as of today, which is a bit later than it has been for the last few years. That means some of these bears will likely have spent almost 5 months onshore by the time they get back on the newly-formed ice and resume hunting seals.

Hudson Bay shows no ice forming along the west coast, closeup at 2 November 2021
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Caught on film: polar bear stalks, kills and eats a Svalbard reindeer but climate change is hardly to blame

The possibility that a polar bear somewhere in the Arctic might occassionally be successful at stalking and killing a reindeer (aka caribou) shouldn’t surprise anyone, let alone a biologist on Svalbard. But having video footage of the event makes it immediately newsworthy, especially when the researchers vaguely suggest that global warming might be to blame.

The title of the scientific paper that has generated the latest polar bear hype is called ‘Yes, they can: polar bears Ursus maritimus successfully hunt Svalbard reindeer Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus’ (Stempnlewicz et al. 2021).

Would any serious scientist really think they couldn’t?

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No signs of a climate emergency for W. Hudson Bay polar bears this year ahead of UN climate meeting

I’ve been told that another complete aerial survey of the Western Hudson Bay polar bear subpopulation (from the Nunavut to Ontario boundaries) was conducted in August this year and that the bears have been hanging out further south than usual. It will be years before the results of the population count are published, of course (especially if it’s good news) but my contacts also say virtually all of the bears are in great condition again this year.

This is significant because W. Hudson Bay bears are one of the most southern subpopulations in the Arctic (only Southern HB bears live further south) and older data from this region is being used to predict the future for the entire global population based on implausible model projections (Molnar et al. 2020). And scary predictions of future polar bear survival are often taken to be proxies for future human disasters (see ‘Polar bears live on the edge of the climate change crisis‘), a point that some activists will no doubt make in the coming weeks, as the long-awaited UN climate change bash #26 (COP26) gets underway in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31.

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Churchill problem polar bear reports finally completed and posted online

Although since 2015 at least the Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill Manitoba usually issued and published its problem bear reports weekly during the ice-free season, this year has been an odd exception. Two reports in early July, then nothing. Yesterday, there was a dump of reports that had been compiled on 1 September and 7 October, according to their metadata.

There are still a few weeks missing, including the two most recent weeks but at least now we have a more complete picture of what’s been going on with problem bears in The Polar Bear Capital of the World that can be compared to previous years. Such reports in various forms go back to the late 1960s, although only those from recent years have been publicly available (Kearney 1989; Towns et al. 2009).

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Alaska polar bear researchers claim poor sea ice limited spring field work in 2021 more than 2019

According to an Inside Climate News report, polar bear researchers at the US Geological Survey had trouble darting bears in the Southern Beaufort Sea in March-May of 2019 and 2021. They claim their research program was hampered by thinner-than-necessary ice for safely landing the nearly 4,000 lb. outfitted helicopter (with crew and gear) in 2019 but that conditions in 2021 were even worse (it is implied work proceeded in 2020 despite pandemic restrictions but no data for that year are discussed).

However, this claim of worse conditions in 2021 is not corroborated by reports from sea ice experts and ice charts for the Southern Beaufort this spring, where thick first year and multiyear ice was present from March through June. Ice didn’t begin to pull away from landfast ice to form patches of open water near the Canadian border until late April 2021 compared to early May in 2019 (as it did in 2016), as shown in the video and charts below. Moreover, the researchers oddly fail to mention that the presence of thin ice and open water in spring is essential for polar bear survival in the Southern Beaufort, a fact which has been documented and discussed in the scientific literature by their colleagues.

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