An article by CBC News today (3 March 2020) is a surprisingly well-balance report on a recently published paper by Kristin Laidre and colleagues on their work on Baffin Bay polar bears that I discussed last month. It presents the Inuit perspective that polar bears are currently abundant in the area and the population stable despite less summer sea ice and some documented declines in body weight and at least one scientist conceded this is indeed true.
However, the CBC writer still left out the most critical caveat included in the paper about the study: that factors other than changes in sea ice could have affected the body condition and litter size data that the authors documented but they didn’t look at anything except sea ice. This automatically means the conclusions are scientifically inconclusive.
See some quotes below from the CBC article and the caveat from the paper. Continue reading
Posted in Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged abundant, baffin bay, body condition, causation, caveat, correlation, polar bear, population size, sea ice, stable
Sea ice around Svalbard, Norway at the end of February 2020 is way above average, as the graph below shows – with more polar bear habitat now than there has been in two decades.
Some comparison charts below show that the graph above includes some very high ice years in the 1980s (reaching that dotted line above the mean) for which only global charts are available.
However, contrary to suggestions that more Svalbard ice is better for polar bears, there is no evidence that low extent of sea ice habitat in winter or summer over the last two decades harmed polar bear health, reproductive performance, or abundance. In fact, polar bear numbers in 2015 were 42% higher than they were in 2004 (although not a significant increase, statistically speaking) and most bears were found to be in excellent condition.
This suggests a return to more extensive ice to the Svalbard region in winter will have little impact on the health of the entire Barents Sea subpopulation, although it might change where pregnant females are able to make their maternity dens if ice forms early enough in the fall. In other words, the population should continue to grow as it has been doing since the bears were protected by international treaty in 1973.
UPDATE 3 March 2020: According to 28 February tweet by the Norwegian Ice Service, which I just saw today, “the last time there was this much sea ice around Svalbard on this day of the year [28 February] was 2004“. Somehow, I missed 2004 when I was looking through the archive, so I have modified the text below accordingly; see the 2004 chart below and here.
Posted in Life History, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Barents Sea, body condition, cub survival, denning, facts, Franz Josef Land, polar bear, science, sea ice, Svalbard
International Polar Bear Day is a good day to ask: Are polar bear researchers hiding good news? Extended lags in publishing polar bear counts and a failure to publish data on female polar bear body weights and cub survival in Western Hudson Bay for more than 25 years make it look like polar bear researchers are delaying and suppressing good news.
In particular, the failure to report the data on cub survival and weights of female bears suggests that these health measures have not declined over the last two decades as claimed. If these figures are indeed the strongest evidence that sea ice loss due to climate change is harming Western Hudson Bay polar bears, why on earth have they not been made public? And why won’t a single journalist ask to see that data?
Posted in Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged cub survival, deadly encounters, good news, International Polar Bear Day, invasions, polar bear, population counts, population size, report, sea ice, weights, western hudson bay
The Guardian today expanded on a story published in the Moscow Times that quotes a Russian scientist claiming cannibalism among polar bears is on the rise in the Russian Arctic. However, the scientist offered no numbers to support this claim and there is no suggestion he had done a study on this phenomenon.
As I’ve said before, incidents of cannibalism cannot be said to be increasing because there is no scientific baseline for which recent occurrences can be compared. Scattered anecdotal reports of any behaviour cannot be touted as evidence for a trend even though they may be of interest and worth recording.
Worth watching if you haven’t seen it – and a second look if you have – a rare balanced documentary produced by the CBC in 2014 on polar bear conservation, with interviews with biologists Mitch Taylor and Andrew Derocher.
“In The Politics of Polar Bears, Reg Sherren will pick his way through the message track to help you decide what is really happening with the largest land carnivore on the planet.”
Short version here (about 18 minutes):
Entire version (45:30):
Online summary by the producer of the film, Reg Sherren (see excerpt below).
The most up-to-date discussion of polar bear numbers and the politics of polar bears are in my popular new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Andrew Derocher, CBC, Churchill, condition, documentary, jail, Mitch Taylor, polar bear, Polar Bears International, politics, sea ice, weights
Arctic sea ice at the middle of winter (January-March) is a measure of what’s to come because winter ice is the set-up for early spring, the time when polar bears do most of their feeding on young seals.
[Mid-winter photos of polar bears are hard to come by, partly because the Arctic is still dark for most hours of the day, it’s still bitterly cold, and scientists don’t venture out to do work on polar bears until the end of March at the earliest]
At 12 February this year, the ice was similar in overall extent to 2013 but higher than 2006.
A new paper on Baffin Bay polar bears reports data on body condition and litter sizes collected as part of a major study of the region completed in 2013 compared to sea ice declines since the 1990s; based on a computer model, the authors predict that in 37 years time (if sea ice declines continuously), the incidence of twin litters could “largely disappear.” However, no decline in population numbers was predicted and a critical caveat acknowledges that factors other than changes in sea ice could have affected the body condition and litter size data the authors analyzed, which means the conclusions are scientifically inconclusive.
The last (2013) polar bear population survey of Baffin Bay (SWG 2016) generated an estimate of almost 3,000 (2,826; range 2,059-3,593), which means that regardless of some slight changes in body condition and litter size over the last two decades (which may or may not have been caused by loss of sea ice), there are currently a lot of bears in Baffin Bay.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged baffin bay, body condition, causation, correlation, extinction, fatness, Greenland, litter size, NASA, polar bear, sea ice, weight
My newest video released today summarizes the strong polar bear component to the terrorization of the world’s children about climate change, which began for many youngsters in 2006 with the BBC and Sir David Attenborough’s commentaries about the dire future of polar bears – and continues to this day. Kids get their climate change information from watching Attenborough documentaries at home and in school because they are trusted sources of information, but on the topic of Arctic victims of climate change, that trust has been betrayed.
Many children and young adults worldwide, including 16 year old Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunburg, have been presented with such emotionally-charged and deceptive information about the Arctic through Attenborough’s productions that many have lost hope for the future. These despondent kids, as well as their parents and teachers, need reminding that while summer sea ice has indeed declined over the last few decades, polar bears, walrus, and other Arctic species are thriving (Aars 2018; Boveng 2016; Crockford 2017, 2018, 2019a, b; Kovacs 2016; Lowry 2015; MacCracken et al. 2017; Obbard et al. 2016; Rode et al. 2014, 2018).
Here is the video (13 minutes):
The press release issued by the Global Warming Policy Forum states:
It is the responsibility of teachers and parents to reassure these worried youngsters that polar bears and walrus are not suffering because of sea ice loss blamed on climate change. Children need to be told the truth: that whatever scary stories some biologists come up with about what might happen in the future, Arctic species have demonstrated that they are much more resilient to changes in sea ice than Attenborough’s films suggest.
The GWPF is sending copies of this video to all head teachers of UK schools together with a letter, telling them that they are responsible for the mental health of their pupils and that they have a responsibility to provide their pupils with accurate information about the state of wildlife in the Arctic.
The letter sent to head teachers will include a list of verifiable facts, with references, listed here.
Below is my timeline, with references, and below the references is a list of previous videos on this topic.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat, Uncategorized
Tagged Arctic, Attenborough, BBC, children, documentary, eco-anxiety, Greta Thunburg, mental health, polar bear, starving, trust, video, walrus
This aerial shot of six fat polar bears lolling around on a sand beach on the coast of the Southern Beaufort Sea, Alaska, was taken by NOAA employees in July 2019. It exemplifies the reality that bears in this subpopulation are currently abundant and healthy, negating the suggestion that numbers have continued to drop since 2006 because bears are starving.
The above picture of polar bear health is not an exception but the rule for all 31 bears recorded onshore last July, as the photos below from other locations testify. Those who would blame this abundance of bears on lack of sea ice in 2019 should note that ice retreated as early and as extensively in 2017 yet only 3 bears were spotted onshore. Results of a recent (2017-2018) population survey, which have not yet been made public, will of course not reflect conditions seen in 2019.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Beaufort, Cross Island, fat bears, Kaktovik, observations, polar bear, population, Prudhoe Bay, sea ice, survey