Category Archives: Sea ice habitat

Narwhal and beluga ice entrapment is natural – not caused by global warming

A part-time Arctic researcher eager for media attention suggested earlier today that the ice entrapment of narwhals in 2008 and again in 2015 at Pond Inlet (that made headlines around the world) was the result of “sudden changes in temperature” caused by climate change. This grossly misleading claim ignores the facts: ice entrapment of narwhals is an entirely natural feature of the Arctic that has been known about for hundreds of years.

Narwhals_at risk from climate change_CBC 13 Aug 2016 headline

Narwhals: the ‘giant unicorn of the sea’ at risk from climate change” (CBC, 13 August 2016), a print version of a CBC Radio interview with Clint Wright that aired 8 August 2016. Wright is the general manager at the Vancouver Aquarium and apparently has “joined a team of researchers to tag and study” narwhals for several years – but does not seem to know much about the history or circumstances of natural ice entrapment.

Ice entrapment of small whales is nothing new. The first formally documented incident – in English – occurred in 1915 (Porsild 1918) and the phenomenon has probably occurred as long as there has been ice in the Arctic (millions of years).

Animals routinely become trapped in a few specific areas due to local geography: when ice that forms in the north moves south quickly, it blocks the entrances to inlets or coastal bays that still have open water. The presence of the pack ice causes nearby  temperatures to drop quickly. Rapid development of ice on the bay proceeds from the mouth toward the head of the bay. Any whales present cannot escape to open water and will eventually die or be eaten.

Pond Inlet at the north end of Baffin Island is one such place but Disko Bay in western Greenland is another. In fact, Pond Inlet and Disko Bay are almost identical in geographic layout even though they lie on opposite sides of Baffin Bay, so it’s not surprising that both are locations of repeated entrapment events.

Three highly informative journal articles on the phenomenon of ice entrapment of narwhals and beluga are open access documents that reveal some fascinating details of such incidents, including polar bear predation on trapped whales. h/t T. Nelson Continue reading

Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea in July & sea ice comparison with 2007/2012

Only four Alaskan polar bear females had USGS satellite collars left transmitting locations in the Beaufort Sea and all four of these bears were on the ice during July, 2016. The same was true in June and May.

Beaufort tracking USGS bear-movements-July 2016 sm

Original caption: “Movements of 4 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of July, 2016. Polar bears were tagged in 2015 and 2016 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All 4 of these bears have satellite collar transmitters. Polar bear satellite telemetry data are shown with AMSR2 remotely-sensed ice coverage from 31 July, 2016.” Original here.

 

There looks like a lot of open water for this time of year but in terms of absolute extent there is somewhat less ice than there was in 2007 and only slightly less than 2012, according to NSIDC Masie charts. And of course, what we know is that polar bears of the Chukchi Sea and the Southern Beaufort not only survived the low ice summers of 2007 and 2012, they thrived: CS bears were in great condition and reproducing well, and BS bears were recovering from the devastating thick ice conditions of the 2004-2006. Have a look at the maps below. Continue reading

Polar bears off the ice in W. Hudson Bay are “well fed and in great shape” this year

Churchill_Polar_Bear_2004-11-15 Wikipedia

Reports from Seal River, just north of Churchill at Churchillwild, at July 26 were crowing about seeing lots of bears onshore, with a veritable beehive of activity the weekend of 16/17 July:

“This has without a doubt been Churchill Wild’s most spectacular start to the summer polar bear watching season. …Bear numbers are up spectacularly this year and all are looking very fat and healthy, perhaps much to the chagrin of climate change “experts.” Our best day for the seductive white carnivores over the past week featured 21 polar bears sighted between the Lodge and our whale swim spot!

The ice pack, which was still visible a week ago [i.e, 17 July or so], has finally dissipated and pushed a large number of bears on to our coastline here at Seal River, with the end result being many very happy cameras!” [my bold]

And in Churchill proper, the Polar Bear Alert program has issued three reports so far this season (courtesy the Town of Churchill), which confirm that bears in the Polar Bear Capital of the World are also in great shape.

For the week of July 11-17, 2016:

“Bears are off the sea ice and on land. They are looking well fed and in great shape.”

See all three PBA reports below, compared to one from last year at this time (as well as a map and some ice charts).

More fat, healthy bears than last year, enough to keep the Polar Bear Alert folks hopping and tourists in the north happy. Sure doesn’t sound like a suffering population to me. Continue reading

USGS report on history of walrus haulouts leaves out correlation with population size

Walrus researchers from the US Geological Survey have a new report on the history of walrus haulouts in the Chukchi and Bering Seas – yet their media efforts (via press release and interviews) fail to mention the relationship between fluctuating size of walrus haulouts and fluctuating walrus population size that is evident in that history. In fact, overall population size is not mentioned at all.

Walrus 2012 July USGS

Two articles came out over the weekend that announced the results of this new joint US-Russian initiative [PBS, Walrus beaching in Alaska might not be as harmful as it looks. Here’s why – 31 July 2016 and ADN, Alaska and Russia join forces to create 160-year database of walrus haulouts – 31 July 2016]

But neither articles nor the new USGS paper they are touting (Fischback et al. 2016) mention the huge summer/fall haulouts of females, calves, and juveniles that were documented in the 1970s that coincided with the huge population size at that time, which crashed in the 1980s.

Only now has the population grown (to at least 200,000) to the point that huge haulouts are again being reported – conservation has done it’s job. But when walrus numbers get too high the animals out-strip their food source and numbers plummet, as they did in the 1980s (Fay et al. 1989; Garlich-Miller et al. 2011). See my fully referenced summary paper, Crockford 2014 (On The Beach: Walrus Haulouts are Nothing New).

Here’s the concern: When (not if) a population crash happens again, will it be blamed on global warming rather than natural causes? According to the PBS article:

“The database is supposed to help federal officials with conservation, especially as more ships start sailing through the newly open waters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is determining whether walrus should be listed as a threatened species.[my bold]

My GWPF video on the issue (The Walrus Fuss) below:

See excerpts from the USGS database below, with a map:

Continue reading

Four years of PolarBearScience and polar bear habitat for ‘Christmas in July’

The traditional gift for a 4th anniversary is flowers, so to celebrate 4 years of blogging at PolarBearScience, I’m highlighting a CBC article from last year that featured the work of photographer Dennis Fast, who captured some fantastic images of polar bears cavorting in a field of fireweed near Churchill (see screencap below from the 2015 CBC feature, more at the DailyMail for 21 August 2015). Great photography – it deserves another look.

Churchill pbs in wildflowers_CBC feature_August 2015

Hard to imagine that four years have passed! Cheers to Hilary Ostrov (who blogs at The view from here) for getting me over my initial frustrations with WordPress – without which I’d never have made it this far – and for her much-appreciated typo alerts [Hilary is still dealing with on-going health issues but we talk on the phone from time to time.]

And thanks of course to my readers, who’ve made it all worthwhile. I truly appreciate all your tips and feedback. The word is getting out, via tweets and retweets, reblogging, personal blog and Facebook discussions, as well as links back to particular posts in the comments of news articles and other internet content, and straight up media mentions. The sum of it all has brought us to this point: 495 posts, over 764,000 views, and more than 411,000 visitors. Not too shabby for a single issue science blog, eh?

I thought of adding a Tip Jar button for next year, but decided against it – instead, if you’d like to support my efforts here, you can buy my polar bear attack novel (give it as a gift if you’re not keen on this type of fiction). I’d be just as grateful. See the sidebar for the link.

But back to business – below find sea ice maps of polar bear habitat at 25 July (‘Christmas in July’), this year as well as some previous years.
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Sea ice habitat Canada update for 23 July 2016 vs. 2014 & the start of bear problems

Sea ice breakup is always a little bit different year to year but since I have the maps archived, take a look at the differences and similarities at this date for this year compared to 2014…

Sea ice extent Canada 2016 July 23_CIS

Sea ice extent Canada 2014 July 23 CIS

Is there evidence that any polar bears – say Western Hudson Bay bears, for example – were negatively affected by sea ice levels in 2014? Not that I’ve heard. In fact, quite the opposite.

Polar bear guide and blogger Kelsey Eliasson, writing from Churchill, Manitoba, had this to say about the condition of bears and freeze-up that year (16 Nov. 2014):

“With these families appearing [heading out to the ice], it really sums up at just what a productive season this has been for the western Hudson Bay population. Any guide who knows their stuff will tell you this was a banner year for cubs, one we haven’t seen in a long time.”

Meanwhile, bears are starting to come ashore and cause a bit of grief:

Southern Hudson Bay (two days ago): “Polar bear shot after wandering through Kashechewan” [see map below for location: the bear shot was a cub that appears to have been separated from its mother and sibling, who were spotted several km away not causing any trouble]

Iqaliut, Baffin Island (this morning): “Polar bear rips 6 tents pitched in Iqaluit park”

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Arctic melt ponds get media spotlight as Laptev Sea ice hits an 11 year high

PolarBearCV1_USGS_2009

Walt Meier, sea ice scientist at NASA Goddard, made a statement yesterday about this year’s ice conditions [2016 Climate Trends Continue to Break Records: July 19, 2016]:

“It has been a record year so far for global temperatures, but the record high temperatures in the Arctic over the past six months have been even more extreme,” Meier said. “This warmth as well as unusual weather patterns have led to the record low sea ice extents so far this year. [my bold]

Well, except for Davis Strait/Labrador Sea this spring. And Western Hudson Bay/Foxe Basin this month – plus the fact that late July sea ice in the Laptev Sea is higher than it’s been for more than a decade (more on that below).

r04_Laptev_Sea_ts_4km 2016 July 19

I guess totals matter for some things – just not for polar bears. However, it’s nice to see the issue of melt ponds get some attention, since they are such a prominent feature of polar bear habitat during the summer melt season.

Continue reading