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: 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
Posted in History, Life History, Sea ice habitat, Uncategorized
Tagged Arctic, baffin bay, beluga, climate, climate change, Clint Wright, Disko Bay, entrapment, facts, global warming, narwhal, polar bear, Pond Inlet, predation, prey, risk, sea ice, threatened, trapped, unicorn, Vancouver Aquarium, weather, whales
This week (Tuesday 9 August), British Columbia’s Knowledge Network is re-running the 2015 documentary about the revitalization of Fogo Island, the Newfoundland location featured in my polar bear attack thriller, EATEN. It’s called Strange and Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island and highlights the Fogo Island Inn, where our recently elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apparently spent a weekend earlier this year – gambling he could avoid a lethal encounter with a hungry polar bear when fictional others haven’t been so lucky.
The Prime Minister and his family stayed at the Fogo Island Inn over Easter (25-28 March 2016). Did Justin Trudeau know they could have been EATEN by a polar bear at that time of year? Were members of his security detail actually prepared for a polar bear attack?
Did Trudeau’s advisors do any preparatory reading? I mean, seriously: aside from reading my terrifying science-based novel (where polar bear attacks take place right outside the Fogo Island Inn where the Trudeaus were staying), Fogo (see maps below) has a recent history of polar bear visits.
Most bears come ashore on Newfoundland in late March-early April, although this year one came ashore on Fogo in late January. Another was shot in early May this year as it advanced on an RCMP officer near one of the artist’s studios on Fogo. I guess I’ll have to send a complimentary copy to Ottawa…because next time, what with polar bear numbers increasing in that region, this high-profile family might not be so lucky.
“What-if” indeed…the risks they took are mind-boggling. Continue reading
Posted in Polar bear attacks, Uncategorized
Tagged architecture, Arctic, attacks, Davis Strait, documentary, Eaten, ferry, Fogo, Fogo Island Inn, harp seals, Newfoundland, novel, polar bear, prime minister, thriller, Trudeau
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.
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.
Posted in Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat, Uncategorized
Tagged anniversary, blogging, Christmas in July, Churchill, Dennis Fast, facts, Hudson Bay, ice extent, media, polar bear, posts, sea ice, stats, views, visitors
Even though it is well known that subadult male polar bears (≤ 4 years old) continue to grow in mass and bulk as they mature – so that their thick necks get even larger – in recent years Andrew Derocher and his students at the University of Alberta potentially endangered the lives of many subadult males in the Southern Beaufort in the process of learning relatively little they didn’t already know.
Money quote from a just-accepted paper by Master’s student Jody Pongracz and supervisor Derocher (“Summer refugia of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in the southern Beaufort Sea” Polar Biology, in press 2016):
“The number of bears tracked varied over time due to collar design, deployment, and both planned and unplanned collar retention.”
So, how much “unplanned collar retention” issues [collars that did not fall off as expected] went on during this 2007-2010 study? They don’t say.
Is this paper saying U of A researchers knew they had ‘collar retention’ issues as far back as 2010 but continued to deploy them on subadult males after that study was over? It seems so, because they had an issue with just such a bear last year.
The bear with an apparently tight collar that was photographed last fall (see photo above) went out onto the ice and no one knows what happened – there has been no more information on him since, although researchers have apparently been watching for him, updated just yesterday). The University of Alberta statement says (under the June 2 update):
“Ongoing research at the University of Alberta is shifting to ear tag radios as required”
So now they realize that putting collars on subadult males is not such a good idea. Brilliant!
CBC News (28 October 2015): “Photo shows polar bear injured by tight radio collar“. See previous posts here and here. In a Global News interview (23 November 2015), Derocher admitted his team had “likely” put the collar on that bear, prompting the University of Alberta to issue a “Q & A” statement on the incident – which continues to insist that failure of collars to release is “rarely seen.”
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat, Uncategorized
Tagged Andy, Derocher, failures, problems with collars, satellite collars, sea ice, Southern Beaufort, subadult males, thick spring ice, tight collar, University of Alberta
I watched an episode of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week last Friday and I have to admit, it gave me a terrifying déjà vu moment.
Specifically, it was the episode called “Shark Bait” (1 July 2016) – about the potentially explosive problem of booming populations of grey seals around Cape Cod (NE US, Massachusetts), the increasing numbers of great white sharks that are moving in to hunt them (see trailers here and here), and the thousands of relatively blasé humans that play and surf in the shallows nearby. UPDATE: video now available on Youtube, see below:
What could possibly go wrong?
I’ve already imagined what could go wrong – in my polar bear attack thriller, EATEN.
The parallels of EATEN with this developing shark situation are more than a little unnerving and makes it clear that my piece of speculative fiction may apply to more than polar bears. [ebooks still on sale for 99 cents – see direct links at bottom of this post]
See the details on the great white shark/seal conundrum below and decide for yourself.
Posted in Polar bear attacks, Uncategorized
Tagged Cape Cod, Eaten, epidemic, great white, grey seals, JAWS, population explosion, shark, Shark Bait, shark problems, shark week, speculative fiction, thriller
Surprise! US Geological Survey polar bear specialists have just published another opinion-based model that concludes – yet again – that there is no hope for polar bears of the future unless the world drastically reduces fossil fuel use. This appears to be the Amstrup-led rebuttal to the hated 2015 IUCN Red List polar bear assessment I have been expecting, written in tandem with the Red List document by two of the same co-authors (Steve Amstrup and Todd Atwood).
Really, no surprises here – just more of the same overwrought fear-mongering about polar bears that we’ve been hearing from USGS since 2007. I saw Atwood and Amstrup last week in a British-made TV film that expressed the same sentiments (The Great Polar Bear Feast – it oddly featured dozens of fat/very fat Kaktovik polar bears while mostly USGS ‘experts’ talked about impending starvation). On camera, Atwood and Amstrup were almost indistinguishable in their statements of doom, and even though the film aired 6 months ago in the UK, it has so far not garnered the angst it seems to have intended.
Some folks may be even more convinced than ever by this new PR strategy [TV movie plus a published paper] that the polar bears are all going to die unless we (not they) change our wicked ways and stop using fossil fuels, but chances are that many more will detect the desperation in their escalated pitch and continue to refuse to buy what they are so frantically trying to sell.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat, Uncategorized
Tagged activists, Amstrup, Atwood, climate change, fear-mongering, global warming, greenhouse gases, models, opinion, polar bear, Red list, sea ice, USGS
The air is thick with desperation on the polar bear front:
“[Andrew] Derocher said the polar bear population in the Beaufort Sea has fallen more than 50 per cent in the past 10 years.
“So it is a concern that this is probably one of the factors associated with the population decline,” he said.
As the CBC report in which this quote appears states immediately afterwards, there is no evidence for such a thing in the paper under discussion:
“The study found no direct evidence of that – all polar bears appeared to survive the swims recorded in the study.”
There is no truth to Derocher’s first statement either. Desperation – you don’t have to be a scientist to sense it. And the media wonder why people don’t trust them…
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Beaufort Sea, Derocher, desperation, Earth Day, facts, hype, Michaels, polar bear, population crash, sea ice, swimming