Category Archives: Polar bear attacks

Polar bear at a walrus haulout with cliffs in Russia: Netflix scenario all over again?

In the news this morning is a report out of Russia that a team from WWF and a Russian documentary film crew were approached from the top of the cliff by a polar bear – at what looks suspiciously like the steepest part of the same Chukotka cliff that the infamous Netflix ‘Our Planet’ walrus video was filmed in 2017. The Netflix crew insisted that no polar bears were around when the walrus deaths occurred, despite strong evidence to the contrary (including a polar bear shown in the final seconds of the film!)

WWF and RT journalist fend off polar bear as they film walrus in Russia_13 Sept 2019 headline

Is the cliff above the same one we saw last year as walrus fell to a gruesome death on the rocks below, falsely blamed on lack of sea ice? It is mid-September, the same time of year as the 2017 walrus footage was filmed by the joint Netflix/WWF crew – and surprise, surprise, it looks like WWF are taking other filmmakers back for more of the same.

Or have they found another location with the same features?

Here is the original WWF Behind the Scenes video from the Netflix incident:

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Western Hudson Bay polar bears in great shape after five good sea ice seasons

Polar bear researcher Andrew Derocher says it takes four years of good sea ice conditions to recruit a polar bear from birth but implies that 2019 is the first year in decades that conditions for bears have been ‘good’ in Western Hudson Bay. He thinks he can get away with saying this because he hasn’t published any of the data on body weight and body condition he’s collected on these bears over the last 25 years (apparently, whatever funding agency pays for his research does not require him to publish the data he collects).

But independent observations such as dates of ice freeze-up in fall, ice breakup in summer, dates and condition of bears recorded onshore, suggest he’s blowing smoke: at least five out of five of the last sea ice seasons for WH bears have been good. That means we should be seeing more bears in the next official population count.

Churchill Seal River Lodge triplets_30 Sept 2017

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Churchill polar bear activity report for week 7 shows oddly few problems so far

It’s week 7 of the Churchill polar bear season that began in early July and it’s been remarkably quiet: compared to 208 and 2016, there were half as many problem bear incidents in 2019. A few bears have come off the ice near the community and they’ve been in good shape, as are the bears to the east at Cape Churchill (see one captured on live cam 23 August shown below) and the north at Seal River.

churchill-fat-bear-cape-east-23-aug-2019_explore-dot-org-cam.jpg

But it looks like many more bears than usual may have decided to ride out the slow-melting ice that lingered well past the first week of August and came ashore further south, towards the Manitoba/Ontario border.

Sea ice Canada 2019 Aug 7

If so, these bears will have to make their way north over the summer so they can intercept the first ice forming along the northwest coast off Wapusk National Park near Churchill. That’s why Western Hudson Bay bears are said to undergo a migration: no matter where they leave the ice in summer, most bears head to areas around Churchill so that they can resume seal hunting on the early fall ice.

Wapusk Nat Park_Hudson Bay_Google maps_w Churchill

A paucity of bears around Churchill in late summer/early fall is not unprecedented, however. Stirling and colleagues pointed out that in 1972 and 1973, for reasons they could not explain, there had been fewer bears than usual around Churchill well before freeze-up and therefore, fewer problem bears (Stirling et al. 1977:17).

Below is a comparison of the Polar Bear Alert Program report for last week (Week 7, Aug 19-25) to previous years.

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Media and USGS biologist sensationalize recent report of a polar bear encounter in Alaska

It’s been a slow summer for polar bear news to hype, so we shouldn’t be surprised that a local report that polar bears this summer have descended on the town of Kaktovik, Alaska one week earlier than 2017 has morphed into an international story that makes a 2016 research report sound like this year’s news, with headlines trumpeting: “polar bear encounters are increasing” due to a longer open water period. Nevertheless, it was reported just two weeks ago that Alaska has not had a polar bear attack since 1993.

polar_bear-US FWS_young bear Alaska maybe Kaktovik no date

This is a particularly blatant example of how the media skew polar bear ‘news’ for public consumption, aided by scientists with a particular message to sell. Not surprisingly, a number of essential facts have been left out of this sensationized account, in part because the polar bear specialist the media consulted left those facts out of his statement.  This is the sort of bias displayed by polar bear specialists that I discuss in my new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.

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Not predicted: more sea ice than average in southern-most Arctic first week of August

Polar bear habitat update for the first week of August 2019 shows there is still more sea ice than average in Hudson Bay, the southern-most area of continuous habitation for this species. That certainly wasn’t part of the predictions of doom, especially since freeze-up in that region for the last two years has also been earlier-than-average which means a shorter ice-free season than we’ve seen for decades.

Hudson Bay weekly departure from normal 2019 Aug 5

Despite ice coverage for the Arctic ice as a whole being marginally lower than it has been since 1979 for this time of year, sea ice for the first week of August was also above average around Svalbard in the Barents Sea and higher than the last few years in the Central Arctic, which is a critical summer refugium for polar bears that live in the peripheral seas of the Arctic Ocean, including the Chukchi (see photo below, taken in early August 2018).

Chukchi Sea polar bear Arctic_early August 2018_A Khan NSIDC small

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Polar bear spotted on Bear Island (Barents Sea) this winter for the first time in 8 years

A polar bear was spotted this year on Bear Island (Bjørnøya) in the southern Barents Sea on 8 March by the crew at the Meteorological Station. The last time these workers had seen a polar bear was 2011 but this year extensive Barents Sea ice literally brought a bear to their doorstep, similar to the way that sea ice brings bears to southern Labrador and Newfoundland in late winter and spring.

Bear island 8 March 2019_first bear seen by Meteorological Institute station crews since 2011_Bjørnøya Meteorological Station photo

After below-average ice cover around Svalbard for most of the winter months of January and February, by early March the ice had expanded so far to the south it reached Bjørnøya. It was the kind of ice that hadn’t been seen in decades and almost immediately, a polar bear was spotted on shore. Given the length of time that the ice surrounding the island persisted, it is likely more bears came ashore but were not seen: the Meteorological Station at the north end of the island is the only place that people live over the winter (see maps below).

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RCMP on manhunt spot a fat polar bear far from the coast of Western Hudson Bay

In the course of a manhunt for two murder suspects wanted in British Columbia, Royal Canadian Mounted Police posted a photo of a fat polar bear they spotted about 200 km north of Gillam, Manitoba.

Fat pb spotted by RCMP outside Gillam during manhunt 27 July 2019

This fat bear – as would any others that might be spotted in the area – is a pregnant female from the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation intent on finding a secure place to dig a den in the permafrost where she can stay cool over the summer and give birth this winter.

However, true to form, The Guardian (28 July 2019) ludicrously suggests those on the hunt for the murder suspects are now at risk of a polar bear attack:

The threat of a polar bear attack has become a reality for the huge Canadian police and military contingent searching for the teenage duo suspected of shooting dead Australian tourist Lucas Fowler, his US girlfriend and a university botanist.

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