No early breakup for W Hudson Bay sea ice again this year: polar bears still on the ice

No early breakup of Hudson Bay sea ice again this year: there is still extensive thick first year ice over most of Hudson Bay and all female polar bears fitted with tracking collars in Western Hudson Bay are still on the ice:

W Hudson Bay polar bears still out on the ice that’s packed together by winds. AE Derocher, 12 June 2020

Dercocher June 12 2020 tracking map Hudson Bay

Breakup of Hudson Bay sea ice as it relates to polar bear movement to land has been about the same since 1999 (about 2 weeks earlier than in the 1980s) and this year is shaping up to be no different: there is still no declining trend in date of sea ice breakup in Western Hudson Bay despite repeated predictions of imminent doom. An especially ‘early’ breakup year would have bears ashore before 15 June. Last year (2019) the first WH bear onshore was caught on film 5 July and problem bears were not recorded onshore in Churchill until the 2nd week of July.

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Spring feeding season almost over for polar bears & sea ice becomes less important

Here are ice conditions at the end of May, which signals the near-end of the critical spring feeding period for polar bears. This is because young-of-the-year seals take to the water to feed themselves, leaving only predator-savvy adults and subadults on the ice from some time in June onward (depending on the region).

masie_all_zoom_4km 2020 May 31_Day 152

Spring is the critical feeding period for polar bears (Crockford 2019, 2020; Lippold et al. 2020; Obbard et al. 2016):

“Unexpectedly, body condition of female polar bears from the Barents Sea has increased after 2005, although sea ice has retreated by ∼50% since the late 1990s in the area, and the length of the ice-free season has increased by over 20 weeks between 1979 and 2013. These changes are also accompanied by winter sea ice retreat that is especially pronounced in the Barents Sea compared to other Arctic areas. Despite the declining sea ice in the Barents Sea, polar bears are likely not lacking food as long as sea ice is present during their peak feeding period. Polar bears feed extensively from April to June when ringed seals have pups and are particularly vulnerable to predation, whereas the predation rate during the rest of the year is likely low. [Lippold et al. 2019:988]

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Expert reveals size of another Canadian polar bear subpopulation is increasing

In case you missed it buried in the details of my rebuttal two weeks ago about Facebook labelling a short PragerU polar bear video as “false information”, in his review of the video (18 May 2020) Canadian polar bear biologist Ian Stirling revealed that a recent survey of M’Clintock Channel polar bears documented a population increase. The problem is we have no scientific details about the survey – apparently completed four years ago, in 2016 – because the final report has not been made public (COSEWIC 2018, pp. 42-43; Crockford 2020).

bear-on-snowbank_Radstock_Stirling

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ClimateFeedback review of PragerU video challenges good news on polar bears

Facebook has labelled a recent short PragerU polar bear video as “false information” based on a ClimateFeedback review featuring statements by Andrew Derocher and Ian Stirling published 18 May 2020.

 

The video, posted on Facebook 5 May 2020, is also available here and here. Also here on the PragerU website.

I was approached yesterday by Nick Coltrain, a reporter for the Des Moines Register and USA Today, asking for a statement about the accuracy of the PragerU video, which cites me as a source for two of their three ‘inconvenient facts.’

My comments are below but I reminded Nick that what is going on is a classic conflict that happens all the time in science: it presents no proof that I’m wrong or that the PragerU video is ‘false information’. Climate Feedback is not ‘factchecking’: it is presenting its preferred side of a disputed science issue.

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Still pack ice around Bear Island in the Barents Sea on 15 May: last time was 2003

It’s very open drift ice (1-4/10th concentration) but still: Bear Island (Bjørnøya) in the southern Barents Sea was still surrounded by pack ice at 15 May 2020. As far as I can tell from the Norwegian Ice Service archived ice charts, this hasn’t happened since 2003.

Svalbard ice extent 2020 May 15_NIS

And last week, the island was surrounded by heavy drift ice, which hadn’t happened on 8 May since 1977.

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New report: Harp seal population critical to Davis Strait polar bears is still increasing

The report on the latest population estimate for harp seals off the east coast of North America was released in late March without fanfare and therefore no media attention. This was one of the missing scientific reports mentioned in my State of the Polar Bear Report 2019 released in February (Crockford 2020): results of surveys promised for months or years by early 2020 but not delivered.

Harp seal on ice around PEI _DFO 2017

Not surprisingly then, we find the report has good news: the population estimate of harp seals in the NW Atlantic has risen to about 7.6 million (range 6.55-8.82) animals (DFO 2020), up from 7.4 million in 2014 (DFO 2014).

Note that the survey was done in March 2017, a low ice year for the Gulf of St. Lawrence (see discussion below) and while this may have resulted in some increased mortality for pups born there, it is also known that many ‘Gulf’ pregnant females will instead have given birth off Newfoundland and Labrador in a whelping region called ‘The Front’. Apparently, these factors were accounted for in the population model.

Harp seal pups born at the Front are an important food for Davis Strait polar bears. This increase in the prey base for Davis Strait polar bears suggests the bear population may have grown substantially since the last survey in 2007 (Peacock et al. 2013; Rode et al. 2012). Davis Strai is the only subpopulation of polar bears officially considered to have ‘likely increased’ at 2018 by Environment Canada. A new Davis Strait population size survey was apparently completed in 2018 but the results are not yet available (Crockford 2020).

Harp seal pup_DFO Newfoundland

Highlights, quotes, and figures from the harp seal report below. Continue reading

Sea ice more than 1.2m thick over Hudson Bay portends a good year for polar bears

The chart below shows what sea ice thickness over Hudson Bay was like at the first week of May in a so-called a ‘good year’ (2019) – when polar bears came off the ice in excellent condition late in the summer and left early in the fall (‘thick first year ice’ is dark green and indicates ice greater than 1.2m thick):

Hudson Bay weekly stage of development 2019 May 6

Hudson Bay ice conditions this year appear to be shaping up to be as good or better than last year for polar bears yet specialist researchers and their cheerleaders have still been claiming that bears in this region – Western and Southern Hudson Bay – are doomed because of poor ice conditions. It’s no wonder they still haven’t published the data they’ve been collecting on polar bear body condition and cub survival over the last 15 years or so (Crockford 2020). With most field work cancelled for this year, what’s their excuse for not getting that done?
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New Paper: Body condition of Barents Sea polar bears increased since 2004 despite sea ice loss

A recent paper that attempted to correlate pollution levels and body condition in Barents Sea polar bears reports it found body condition of female bears had increased between 2004 and 2017 despite a pronounced decline in summer and winter sea ice extent.

Svalbard polar bear Jon Aars_Norsk Polarinstitutt

“Unexpectedly, body condition of female polar bears from the Barents Sea has increased after 2005, although sea ice has retreated by ∼50% since the late 1990s in the area, and the length of the ice-free season has increased by over 20 weeks between 1979 and 2013. These changes are also accompanied by winter sea ice retreat that is especially pronounced in the Barents Sea compared to other Arctic areas” [Lippold et al. 2019:988]

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Svalbard at end of April again has 6th-7th highest sea ice extent & a lot of very thick ice

For the second time this month, sea ice around Svalbard Norway was the 6th or 7th highest since records began in the late 1960s. Pack ice at the end of April still surrounds Bear Island (Bjørnøya) at the southern end of the archipelago, which is a rare occurrence at this date. These conditions document a recurrent pattern of high ice extent and especially extreme ice thickness in the Barents Sea since last summer.

Bear island 8 March 2019_first bear seen since 2011_Bjørnøya Meteorological Station photo SVALBARDPOSTEN

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New report: Change coming to the Canadian Arctic — but it’s no looming catastrophe

A review of a newly-released (22 April 2020, on Earth Day) report commissioned by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans on the state of the Arctic seas published today in the National Post is a must read. It highlights the report’s emphasis that while the changes going on in our northern seas are indeed marked, they do not necessarily spell doom.

2019 DFO Arctic Report_Polar Bears from Summary document sent to media

Oddly, polar bears are primarily represented in the report by an overview account of the special case of Western Hudson Bay – an outlier among Canadian subpopulations – that puts special emphasis on the claimed decline in body condition blamed on recent sea ice changes that is not supported by any recent data (Crockford 2020).

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