Category Archives: Population

Silence of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group on the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment

It’s been six months and still the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group has not updated its website with a link to the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment for polar bears, which was made public with some fanfare in November 2015. They are not the only group still ignoring the Red List decision but their silence is the most damning – the IUCN is the parent body of their organization.

On May 7th, I wrote to the IUCN Red List folks (redlist@iucn.org) about this situation (excerpt below) but as yet have received no reply.

PBSG website banner May 10 2016

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US finally abandons unscientific bid to ban international polar bear trade

“The fight is over, for the time being. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided not to pursue an international ban on trade in polar bear products that the CITES COP17 gathering in South Africa this September.”

CITES 2017 US drops bid to ban polar bear trade_2 May 2016

From a news report at NunatsiaqOnline this morning (2 May 2016) – the only news outlet so far that has carried the news (U.S. drops bid to ban international trade in polar bear products).

You may or may not agree with the practice of sport hunting for polar bears but this move is huge.  For years, the US has been trying to bully the international community  into accepting their warped perception of Arctic species conservation (where what computer models say  might happen by 2050 trumps what is true today). Polar bear numbers have not declined due to global warming or over-hunting, and face no immediate threat of extinction.

Here is the only “announcement” made by US Fish & Wildlife, which came buried at the end of a lengthy blog post (dated 27 April 2016), which seems to indicate they have not really changed their minds but may not want to lose face by loosing again:

Regarding polar bears, though we remain concerned about the commercial use of polar bear hides as an additional threat to the species, we are not pursuing increased CITES protections at this time. We are putting our resources into working in collaboration with other polar bear range states to address climate change and mitigate its impacts on the polar bear as the overwhelming threat to the long-term future of the species.” [my bold]

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Climate Hustle knows: Ten dire predictions that have failed as global polar bear population hits 22-31k

[Reposted today from earlier this year in support of the 2 May release of the intentionally funny documentary, Climate Hustle (across the US and a few Canadian locations) because host Marc Morano knows that polar bear numbers have not declined as people have been led to believe, see the trailer below]

Climate Hustle_May 2 2016

Grim predictions of the imminent demise of polar bears – their “harsh prophetic reality” as it’s been called – have been touted since at least 2001. But such depressing prophesies have so widely missed the mark they can now be said to have failed.

While polar bears may be negatively affected by declines in sea ice sometime in the future, so far there is no convincing evidence that any unnatural harm has come to them. Indeed, global population size (described by officials as a “tentative guess“) appears to have grown slightly over this time, as the maximum estimated number was 28,370 in 1993 (Wiig and colleagues 1995; range 21,470-28,370) but rose to 31,000 in 2015 (Wiig and colleagues 2015, pdf here of 2015 IUCN Red List assessment; range 22,000-31,000).

Here are the failed predictions (in no particular order, references at the end):
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More politics of polar bears courtesy WWF: impaled polar bear sculpture

The offensively tasteless “art” produced by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt, in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, for the specific purpose of influencing politics has reappeared.

‘Unbearable’ is a portable exhibit originally designed for the Paris COP21 climate talks in December 2015 but here it is again in Copenhagen. [h/t Tom Nelson]

It’s simply the Politics of Polar Bears on a global scale that has no basis in science: polar bear numbers have not declined as CO2 has risen. Jens Galschiøt’s tasteless and costly message funded by WWF is not much better than Plane Stupid’s 2009 ad of polar bears falling from the sky (see below). It’s just about as asinine and not supported by science. Continue reading

Both sides now: New paper critiques Canadian polar bear population status

Demographic and traditional knowledge perspectives on the current status of Canadian polar bear subpopulations. 2016 (in press). Jordan York, Martha Dowsley, Adam Cornwell, Miroslaw Kuc and Mitchell Taylor. Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.2030

York et al 2016 fig 1_numbers 2013

Take home quote:

“We see reason for concern, but find no reliable evidence to support the contention that polar bears are currently experiencing a climate crisis. We suggest that the qualitative projections for dramatic reductions in population numbers and range are overly pessimistic given the response of polar bears, climate, and sea ice to the present.”

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Polar bears onshore in winter – will more bears mean more deadly attacks?

Incidents of polar bears causing problems onshore this winter (January & February) – including one that killed a horse in Greenland and another that threatened a resident in western Hudson Bay (only weeks after several incidents in southern Labrador) may be the tip of a very scary iceberg. I’ve taken a look at what records exist of this phenomenon, which in the past often involved deadly attacks. The large number of reports this winter appears to be a real increase, which is a rather terrifying prospect indeed.

Doug Clark photo polar bears onshore in Feb 2013 Wapusk NP

In winter, all polar bears except females in dens nursing newborn cubs are presumed by biologists to be on the sea ice hunting but it turns out that is not quite true. Although relatively rare over the last twenty years or so, it appears that in some areas, bears are now coming ashore in winter.

The photo above shows a polar bear photographed by a remote camera installed at Broad River Camp, Wapusk National Park, western Hudson Bay on 7 February 2013. It was visible to the camera for 40 minutes but apparently caused no trouble (camera installed and maintained by associate professor Doug Clark from the University of Saskatchewan and colleagues).

Given the fact that there are now many more polar bears than there were in the 1970s as well as more people living in many coastal Arctic communities, problems with bears in winter are likely to increase, as this winter’s events show. More bears out on the ice in winter (January-March) will almost certainly create more competition for the little bit of food that’s available (seals are hard to catch in winter), which means some bears might increasingly be looking for alternate sources of food onshore.

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Challenging Alaska polar bear research sound bites and bewildering ESA status

Beaufort Sea male polar bear USGS_2005 Amstrup photo

It’s easy to take polar bear research papers at face value but it’s not very scientific. The snappy sound bites provided for the benefit of the media – whether they’re embedded in press releases or in published abstracts – don’t cut it with trained scientists. Trained scientists read the whole report, critically examine the evidence it contains and assess that evidence within the context of previous knowledge. That’s what they are trained to do.

I challenge the superficial summary on the status of Alaskan polar bear populations provided by FactCheck.org journalist Vanessa Schipani.  Schipani disputed a comment made by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski that, according to the latest research Alaskan polar bear population numbers are strong and healthy. I’m not especially interested in the political context of the statement, only Schipani’s bald claim that Murkowski’s declaration is false.

I’ve read all the relevant papers in full and I contend that the evidence supports Murkowski’s statement. Schipani is confusing the issue by regurgitating ‘facts’ that don’t tell the truth of the matter. By the sum of accounts, Alaskan polar bear populations are indeed healthy and strong – whether or not this status will continue is an entirely different question. Continue reading