Category Archives: Life History

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).

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“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.

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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.

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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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Scientific study finds polar bears excel at diving, contradicting previous expert opinion

A recent study by Norwegian biologist Karen Lone and colleagues, who tagged 57 polar bear females with sensors around Svalbard, discovered that polar bears can dive to a maximum depth of 13.9m and can swim long distances across open water without rest. Contrary to previous claims, polar bears are excellent divers and their breath-holding ability did not seem to limit how deep they could dive.

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From the abstract of the new paper by Lone and colleagues (Lone et al. 2018):

“Some bears undertook notable long-distance-swims. Dive depths up to 13.9 m were recorded, with dives ≥5 m being common. The considerable swimming and diving capacities of polar bears might provide them with tools to exploit aquatic environments previously not utilized.”

Compare the above statement to one made by Stirling and van Meurs (2015), after describing a 3 minute dive video-taped during an aquatic stalk of a bearded seal, also in the Svalbard area:

“…increased diving ability cannot evolve rapidly enough to compensate for the increasing difficulty of hunting seals because of the rapidly declining availability of sea ice during the open-water period resulting from climate warming.” [my bold]

These two papers really show the difference between using anecdotal accounts as if they were evidence of species-wide physical abilities and doing a scientific study on the physical ability of interest.

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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.

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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 Makers was 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.)” 

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White Lie: Polar bear starvation is virtually never caused by sea ice loss

Starvation due to natural causes is the leading cause of death for polar bears and loss of body condition (getting thinner) is therefore the first symptom of impending death for virtually all polar bears that die naturally. However, polar bear specialist Andrew Derocher claims that loss of body condition is also the first symptom of climate change for polar bears.

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But how do you tell the difference between polar bears made thin by man-made climate change and those who are thin due to natural causes?

You can’t. Even a necropsy will not be conclusive because there are so many natural reasons for a bear to lose weight — and even starve to death — that’s it’s virtually impossible to say that any thin bear is skinny due to a lack of sea ice.

Emaciated polar bears like the one above from Somerset Island in the Canadian Arctic,1 captured on camera in August 2017, are being used to promote the idea that polar bears are already dying of starvation due to climate change. That’s a big white lie, as the headline above suggests: seven months later, National Geographic has admitted as much. Here I show why it could not have been true in the first place (with references from the scientific literature).

UPDATE: 29 August 2018: See my op-ed in the National Post (29 August 2018) and the GWPF video below on this issue:

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