Category Archives: Population

Derocher admits Western Hudson Bay polar bear population may not be declining

Earlier this year, I challenged a journalist to ask to see the data used by Andrew Derocher and his colleagues to support their repeated claims that Western Hudson Bay polar bears are having trouble surviving. It almost happened.

Polar bears_Gordon Court_Committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada Dec 2018

David Rose, writing for The Mail on Sunday, has produced an excellent feature on the conflict between Nunavut Inuit and biologists about polar bear management, got Andrew Derocher to tell the truth about current polar bear health and survival.

Or, to be more precise, to waffle a bit on his standard message of doom:

“Even Prof Derocher, who is convinced the bears’ long-term future is bleak, accepts that ‘the wheels are not coming off yet’, while ‘some bear populations are doing fine’. In West Hudson Bay, there has been ‘a recent period of stability’, he says, and though ‘we were seeing starving bears, starving cubs on land, that seems to have slowed down’. Then again, the computer models ‘are not great on the 5 – 10 year time-frame’, and it was possible that although the Arviat bears might look healthy now, they may be about to ‘fall off a cliff’.” [my bold]

This concession by Derocher suggests that Western Hudson Bay bears indeed are thriving, because he’s the guy who holds all the data. But he couldn’t help adding that disaster might be just around the corner.

But did he actually produce the data that show what’s been happening with cub survival or the body condition of females since 2004? Apparently not — but his admission that conditions are not as bleak as he continually portrays them suggests he is covering for data that says the same: polar bears in Western Hudson Bay are doing just fine and Inuit are right to be worried.

This may be as good as it gets unless the people of Nunavut can force Derocher to show his data.

Read the whole story here: “Why all you’ve been told about these polar bears could be WRONG: Animals driven to the edge of their natural habitat by shrinking ice have become one of the defining images of climate change, but Inuits who know the predators have a very different story.” (The Mail on Sunday, David Rose, 30 December 2018).

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Biologists escalate conflict over Inuit management of polar bear populations

Yesterday, two polar bear specialists and an inept freelance journalist poured gasoline on the already-volatile issue of polar bear management in Nunavut.

Quote of the day: “I think there’s a reasonable chance that the last polar bear in Canada will be shot by an Inuk hunter.” [Andrew Derocher, University of Alberta]

Polar bear Aug 2017 near area where June 19 2018 bear was spotted Gordy Kidlapik

You have to read it to believe how bad the Yale Environment 360 article by Gloria Dickie (19 December 2018) really is: “As polar bear attacks increase in the Arctic, a search for solutions.” [reprinted 26 December at PBS] The title suggests a balanced treatment of the issue but the reality is far from that: gross inaccuracies in the descriptions of the two fatal attacks that took place this summer that can only be explained by sloppy research and what struck me as unbelievably nasty and racist commentary by polar bear specialist Andrew Derocher. But decide for yourself.

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CBC hypes “bleak” Churchill polar bear fate with unsupported claims & falsehoods

Over the weekend in Canada, the CBC ran a polar bear news feature that is now available online (“Polar bears in peril: the bleak future of Churchill bears,” The National, CBC, 3 December 2018). It gave polar bear biologist Nick Lunn of Environment Canada free rein to spread unsubstantiated claims and outright falsehoods about the status of Western Hudson Bay polar bears and sea ice. Apparently, he and the CBC learned nothing from National Geographic‘s fiasco over their starving’ polar bear video last year: they still think the public will be swayed to “act” on human-caused global warming if a persuasive expert tells them that polar bears are on their way to extinction. I expect many were convinced otherwise, since the facts are available for all to see.

No triplet litters born since 1996? Nonsense, as the photo below (from 2017) shows.

Triplet litter at Seal River Lodge 2017 Quent Plett photo

The CBC video is described this way:

“They are a majestic icon of Canada’s North, but polar bears have also come to symbolize climate change. And scientists say the future for one particular population of polar bears in northern Manitoba is dire.

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Chukchi Sea polar bears number almost 3000 according to new survey results: update

The Chukchi Sea finally has a polar bear population estimate! According to survey results from 2016 only recently made public, about 2937 bears (1522-5944) currently inhabit the region, making this the largest subpopulation in the Arctic. This is exciting news — and a huge accomplishment — but the US Fish and Wildlife Service responsible for the work has been oddly mum on the topic.

beaufort-bears_-suzanne-miller-usfws-3-af-2c-on-spit-1.jpg

Not only that, but an extrapolation of that estimate calculated by USFWS researchers for Chukchi plus Alaska (the US portion of the Southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation) was estimated at 4437 (2283-9527), although with “significant uncertainty.” Nevertheless, it means the 2016 estimate for Alaska could be roughly three times what it was in 2010: a whopping 1500 or so, up from about 450 (or about 225-650) for the same area estimated during the last survey (Bromaghin et al. 2015: Fig. 5a).

Even if the real number for Alaska is only twice as large (~1000), that’s still a huge improvement. It would eliminate the Southern Beaufort as the only polar bear subpopulation in the Arctic to have shown a significant decline blamed on human-caused global warming (Crockford 2018). If the recovery is real, it means the 2004-2006 decline was a temporary fluctuation after all, just like previous declines in the region. I expect, however, that it will take a dedicated SB population survey for officials to concede that point.

There is not yet now a detailed report to cite (Regehr et al. 2018 in prep, see update below), but the numbers were announced at the 10th meeting of the Russian-American Commission on Polar Bears held at the end of July this year (AC SWG 2018) by Eric Regehr (formerly of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, as of 2017 at the University of Washington). [h/t to G.H.] This was the same report that raised the quota for subsistence hunting in the Chukchi from 58 to 85, based on these new figures, as I discussed last week.

Wrangel Island polar bear with cubs 2015 news story

From “Military bases to open on Wrangel Island and Chukotka” 22 October 2015.

Regehr was quoted as saying:

“Chukchi bears remain larger and fatter and have not seen downward trends in cub production and survival, according to new preliminary information on the health and numbers of bears.”

UPDATE 15 November 2018: The scientific paper describing the entirely new method (yes, yet another one: see Bromaghin et al. 2015) used to estimate the size of the Chukchi Sea population is now available (University of Washington press release here), in an open-access paper: Regher et al. 2018. News reports (see one here) spin the positive outcome as something that researchers expected all along but that’s simply not true. They expected Chukchi Sea bears and Southern Beaufort Sea bears to respond similarly to reduced amounts of summer sea ice, as explained here and in Crockford 2017).
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Nunavut government has a draft plan to deal with unsafe numbers of polar bears

In the news today: “Nunavut Draft Plan Says There Are Actually Too Many Polar Bears In Territory” (CTV News via The Canadian Press, Bob Weber, 12 November 2018).

Polar Bear seaweed_Lorraine Brandson Churchill_taken Nov 2012

Polar bear eating seaweed near Churchill, Manitoba (November 2012). Lorraine Brandson photo.

From the Canadian Press story:

“There are too many polar bears in parts of Nunavut and climate change hasn’t yet affected any of them, says a draft management plan from the territorial government that contradicts much of conventional scientific thinking.

The proposed plan — which is to go to public hearings in Iqaluit on Tuesday — says that growing bear numbers are increasingly jeopardizing public safety and it’s time Inuit knowledge drove management policy.

“Inuit believe there are now so many bears that public safety has become a major concern,” says the document, the result of four years of study and public consultation.”

I’ve noted previously that there were two fatal polar bear attacks in Hudson Bay this summer. Both of them happened outside local communities and both happened early during the ice-free period (when bears would have been onshore for only a few weeks). Neither incident can be reasonably blamed on lack of sea ice, an extended ice-free period, or lack of management of problem polar bears within or near communities. The bears involved in the August attack were described as being in good condition.

Update 13 November 2018: See The Guardian‘s take on this story, by a different writer. Despite potential to talk to other polar bear specialists about this issue, only Derocher is quoted. Is no one else talking? “Polar bear numbers in Canadian Arctic pose threat to Inuit, controversial report says” (The Guardian, 13 November 2018).

Update 14 November 2018: See a new CBC story on Inuit perspectives on this issue. “Nunavut community says Inuit lives need to be protected over polar bear population” (CBC News, 14 November 2018).

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Churchill’s polar bear problems took time and money to resolve

Churchill, Manitoba is proud of its management of problem polar bears and rightly so. But it took time and money to implement the solutions that allowed Churchill to function as it does today, and that should be a lesson for other Arctic communities that have only really started to have problems with polar bears in recent years.

Churchill polar bear_mother_with_cub 2009 Wikipedia

For those who want to understand the problems facing other communities, including Arviat (formerly “Eskimo Point”), a town 260 km north of Churchill. Arviat has a population more than three times the size of Churchill and has been having significant problems with bears since about 2007. I’ve made an excerpt of an excellent paper written by Ian Stirling and colleagues that was published back in 1977 (Stirling et al. 1977).

It describes in detail the problems Churchill had with polar bears in the 1960s and 70s when bear numbers were on the rise — and the various steps that were taken to try and resolve them (even by the time the paper was written, not all of them had been adequately resolved, see Kearney 1989).  It’s a fascinating read — see it here.

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Chukchi Sea polar bears number almost 3000 according to new survey results

The Chukchi Sea finally has a polar bear population estimate! According to survey results from 2016 only recently made public, about 2937 bears (1522-5944) currently inhabit the region, making this the largest subpopulation in the Arctic. This is exciting news — and a huge accomplishment — but the US Fish and Wildlife Service responsible for the work has been oddly mum on the topic.

beaufort-bears_-suzanne-miller-usfws-3-af-2c-on-spit-1.jpg

Not only that, but an extrapolation of that estimate calculated by USFWS researchers for Chukchi plus Alaska (the US portion of the Southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation) was estimated at 4437 (2283-9527), although with “significant uncertainty.” Nevertheless, it means the 2016 estimate for Alaska could be roughly three times what it was in 2010: a whopping 1500 or so, up from about 450 (or about 225-650) for the same area estimated during the last survey (Bromaghin et al. 2015: Fig. 5a).

Even if the real number for Alaska is only twice as large (~1000), that’s still a huge improvement. It would eliminate the Southern Beaufort as the only polar bear subpopulation in the Arctic to have shown a significant decline blamed on human-caused global warming (Crockford 2018). If the recovery is real, it means the 2004-2006 decline was a temporary fluctuation after all, just like previous declines in the region. I expect, however, that it will take a dedicated SB population survey for officials to concede that point.

There is not yet now a detailed report to cite (Regehr et al. 2018 in prep, see update below), but the numbers were announced at the 10th meeting of the Russian-American Commission on Polar Bears held at the end of July this year (AC SWG 2018) by Eric Regehr (formerly of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, as of 2017 at the University of Washington). [h/t to G.H.] This was the same report that raised the quota for subsistence hunting in the Chukchi from 58 to 85, based on these new figures, as I discussed last week.

Wrangel Island polar bear with cubs 2015 news story

From “Military bases to open on Wrangel Island and Chukotka” 22 October 2015.

Regehr was quoted as saying:

“Chukchi bears remain larger and fatter and have not seen downward trends in cub production and survival, according to new preliminary information on the health and numbers of bears.”

UPDATE 15 November 2018: The scientific paper describing the entirely new method (yes, yet another one: see Bromaghin et al. 2015) used to estimate the size of the Chukchi Sea population is now available (University of Washington press release here), in an open-access paper: Regher et al. 2018. News reports (see one here) spin the positive outcome as something that researchers expected all along but that’s simply not true. They expected Chukchi Sea bears and Southern Beaufort Sea bears to respond similarly to reduced amounts of summer sea ice, as explained here and in Crockford 2017).
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