Category Archives: Sea ice habitat

Death by drowning: Al Gore told us this was the future of polar bears but it wasn’t

In this short interview clip with Friends of Science director Michelle Stirling, I talk about the drowning polar bears in Al Gore’s 2007 movie that he implied would lead to the extinction of the species. Except that it didn’t…

My new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, explains why.

Polar bear books for kids and young adults are the perfect antidote for climate anxiety

In this short interview clip with Friends of Science director Michelle Stirling, I talk about Polar Bear Facts & Myths (for kids 7 and up) and EATEN, my science-based polar bear attack thriller that’s appropriate for older teens and young adults. Both are available in paperback and ebook formats, while the paperback version of Polar Bear Facts & Myths is also available in French, German, Dutch, and Norwegian.

Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change is also suitable for teens and young adults and is fully referenced.

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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Walruses climbing cliffs and falling off them are natural events: 1994 video from Alaska

US Fish and Wildlife officials in 1994 explain walruses falling to their deaths from a cliff at Cape Pierce in the southern Bering Sea (a haulout for adult males during the ice-free season). Explanation? Overcrowding (too many walruses)!

Hype from the Netflix/Attenborough ‘climate change is gonna destroy the world’ fearmongers earlier this year notwithstanding – or the media this summer trying to stir up climate change fever – the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined in October 2017 that the Pacific walrus is not being harmed by climate change and is not likely to be harmed within the foreseeable future (USFWS 2017). The IUCN Red List (2015) lists the Pacific walrus as ‘data deficient.

Large herds onshore are a sign of population health, not climate change, and walruses have come ashore in the Chukchi Sea during the ice-free season in summer and/or fall for more than 100 years (Crockford 2014; Fischbach et al. 2016; Lowrey 1985). Those are the relevant scientific facts.

References

Crockford, S. J. 2014a. On the Beach: Walrus Haulouts are Nothing New. Global Warming Policy Foundation Briefing Paper 11. Pdf herehttp://www.thegwpf.org/susan-crockford-on-the-beach-2/

Crockford, S. J. 2014b.The Walrus Fuss: Walrus Haulouts are Nothing New https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwaAwsS2OOY  23 Oct 2014. [15,141 views at 31 Aug 2019]

Fischbach, A.S., Kochnev, A.A., Garlich-Miller, J.L., and Jay, C.V. 2016. Pacific walrus coastal haulout database, 1852–2016—Background report: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2016–1108. http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20161108. The online database is found here.

Lowry, L. 1985. “Pacific Walrus – Boom or Bust?” Alaska Fish & Game Magazine July/August: 2-5. pdf here.

MacCracken, J.G., Beatty, W.S., Garlich-Miller, J.L., Kissling, M.L and Snyder, J.A. 2017. Final Species Status Assessment for the Pacific Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), May 2017 (Version 1.0). US Fish & Wildlife Service, Anchorage, AK. Pdf here (8.6 mb).

USFWS 2017. “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Findings on Petitions to List 25 Species as Endangered or Threatened Species” [pdf] 4 October

 

The Death of a Climate Icon: the video

Two years old today, this polar bear video is more relevant than ever:

“The polar bear as an icon for climate change is dead because the distorted predictions made by polar bear specialists were wrong.”

Sea ice melt in the Arctic Basin leaves an area for polar bears larger than Greenland

Most polar bears that spend the spring feeding in the peripheral seas of the Arctic Basin (such as the Beaufort, Chukchi, Kara, and Barents Seas) remain on the persistent pack ice of the central Arctic during the summer and this August, that refugium is still larger than Greenland. Most of these bears do not use this July-September Arctic Basin ice as a hunting platform unless they are very lucky: the few seals available are hard to catch. For the most part, polar bears fast or eat very little during the summer whether they are on land or on ice (see references in this post).

Svalbard polar bear fall 2015_Aars

Since early June, sea ice experts have been wringing their hands over the melting of Arctic sea ice and offering breathless speculation that this year’s September minimum could be – gasp! – as low as or less than 2012 or even less. But now, as the graph of ice cover at 28 August shows below, that outcome is looking not just unlikely but virtually impossible (the blue line is 2019 extent, red dashed line is 2012, and the brown line is 2016):

Sea ice extent 2012 and 2016 vs 2019 with 2x deviation at 28 Aug_NSIDC interactive

As expected, the failure of the ice to remain on track to set a new record September low due to global warming is shrugged off with a reminder that summer ice extent “is sensitive to changes in daily weather conditions.”

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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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