Tag Archives: Alaska

Two dead in fatal polar bear attack in Alaskan village of Wales on the Bering Strait

Two people tragically died yesterday afternoon after an attack by a polar bear in the village of Wales on the Bering Strait. Few details are available and bad weather apparently hampered officials getting to the village immediately.

As expected, virtually all news reports are implying that a generic ‘lack of sea ice’ can be blamed for the incident. As usual, the specifics of this case show this claim is not only nonsense, but dangerous.

With the loss of sea ice and the ocean staying open later in the year, polar bears have been spending more time on land, which increases the chance of human encounters, said Joseph Jessup McDermott.

Polar bear attacks in winter are almost always associated with a bear that has not been able to resume feeding in the fall. More bears and restricted hunting means more young bears (as well as old bears or sick ones) become food stressed because they can’t compete with big mature males for food. Mature bears often steal any seals that young bears are able to kill, making the youngsters desperate for food.

The Chukchi Sea polar bears are currently thriving and numbers may still be increasing (AC SWG 2018; Conn et al. 2021; Regehr et al. 2018; Rode et al. 2014, 2015, 2018).

More details to follow on this horrific incident as they become available.

UPDATE 18 January 2023, 5:30PM PT: According to an Associated Press account, the victims were a 24 year old woman and her one-year old son: “Summer Myomick of Saint Michael and her son, Clyde Ongtowasruk, were killed in the attack, Alaska State Troopers said in a statement.”

No more details were provided on the state of the bear involved (sex, age, body condition). Regarding the blame-game, even though recent studies have shown that ringed and bearded seals in the Chukchi Sea are doing very well (Adam et al. 2019; Crawford and Quakenbush 2013; Crawford et al. 2015), Geoff York from Polar Bears International suggests there may not be enough seals for polar bears or the something may be wrong with the sea ice:

In this case, even though there is ice in the Chukchi and northern Bering seas, the quality of that ice is not known that well. More importantly, York said they don’t know what’s going on under the ice — or what the availability of seals and other prey is for polar bears.

The changes are also happening in winter, when people assume they are safe from polar bears being on shore.

Communities may no longer be,” York said.

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A ‘mass exodus’ of polar bears from Alaska to Russia has taken place, local residents claim

An article in a UK newspaper yesterday contains a claim made by local residents that polar bears which used to hang around Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow) in western Alaska, are ‘moving to Russia’ (i.e. the Chukchi Sea) in a ‘mass exodus’. It’s certainly possible but if so, it should come as a surprise to no one and is good news for polar bears.

If the allegation is upheld by scientific evidence, polar bears will not have been pushed out of Alaska by lack of summer sea ice (i.e. ‘forced to migrate’) but rather pulled into the Chukchi Sea by abundant food resources that did not exist when summer ice cover was more extensive. It’s a big difference and it speaks to the benefits of less summer sea ice that no one wants to discuss.

Moreover, moving temporarily to where conditions suit them best is what polar bears do all the time: it’s not a new phenomenon, it’s a prominent feature of their biology (Crockford 2019).

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As much Beaufort Sea polar bear habitat at mid-July 2021 as there was in 1982

Beaufort Sea ice coverage is about average for this time of year, again failing to decline in lock-step with other Arctic regions. Will there be lots of fat bears onshore like there was in 2019? Only time will tell.

Healthy polar bear male at Kaktovik, Alaska on the Southern Beaufort Sea, September 2019, Ed Boudreau photo, with permission.
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Activist heads explode as USFWS says oil activities pose minimal risk to polar bears in AK

Apparently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under Joe Biden agrees with my conclusion that oil company activities in Alaska pose minimal risk to polar bears (Crockford 2019, 2020, 2021). Although this ruling is not yet final, they have proposed that oil exploration and extraction activities on the North Slope of Alaska can proceed over the next five years.

After noting that no major offshore oil spills have ever taken place in the Alaskan portion of the Beaufort Sea (see map below) and that all spills to date have been on land with no impact on polar bears, the proposed rule in the 200+ page assessment states:

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Risk to Alaskan polar bear cubs from oil exploration in coastal Wildlife Refuge is small

A bill recently introduced to US Congress (30 July 2020) is supposedly meant to “safeguard the Beaufort Sea polar bear’s denning habitat”.  However, the bill is named the “Polar Bear Cub Survival Act”, which tells us this is an appeal to emotions rather than a call for rational decision-making. In fact, few Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear cubs are born on land in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and the risks to them from oil exploration is not overwhelming.

Amstrup_only solution_with 3 cubs_Oct 8 2014

Despite a modest decline in summer sea ice since 1979, only about half of Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear females currently make their dens on the sea ice in late fall. Recent research confirms results from older studies that show denning females in Alaska are highly tolerant of the kind of disturbance associated with oil exploration and few dens are found more than about 1 km from the shore. This emotion-laden bill is not really about protecting polar bears: it’s a political move aimed at preventing oil exploration along the coast of Alaska after previous efforts failed. It comes ahead of an announcement today (18 August 2020) that the White House will begin to auction off leases for oil drilling in the ANWR.

Don’t let the ‘trust my word, I’m an expert’ hyperbolic testimony from activist scientists like Steven Amstrup and others hold sway on this issue – see for example Alaska polar bear den disturbances part of ‘death by a thousand cuts,’ researcher says (biologist Wesley Larson on Alaska Public Radio, 14 July 2020), or activist conservation organizations Polar Bears International and World Wildlife Fund. Have a look at the facts on the matter taken from the published literature, which I summarize below (as many pdfs provided as possible).

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Polar bear habitat in Canada and eastern Alaska compared at end of June 2012-2020

Here is a quick compare and contrast of sea ice habitat for polar bears in Canada and the Southern Beaufort region of eastern Alaska near the end of June, 2012-2020.

Baffin Island Bylot Sound bear_smaller_shutterstock_1144169858

Similarities between Hudson Bay ice/open water in the sea ice charts below are striking. Ice cover at the end of June shown in these charts since 2012 reinforces the fact, documented in the peer-reviewed literature, that there has been no continued declining trend in dates of sea ice breakup for Western and Southern Hudson Bay since 1998 at least (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017; Lunn et al. 2016). WH bears are still on the ice.

As a consequence, recent declarations of impending doom for Hudson Bay polar bears, based on claims of reduced population size and health of these subpopulations – which in any case are statistically insignificant for WH and SH (Obbard et al. 2018; Dyck et al. 2017) – must be due to some other cause (Crockford 2020).

In all areas, winds rather than melt due to increased temperatures drive much of the expansion of open water at this time of year.

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Activist biologist filled with eco-anxiety shares unfounded fear of polar bear catastrophe

Misplaced eco-anxiety that kids have about polar bears starts with activist biologists like Steven Amstrup, spokesperson for an organization devoted to raising climate change alarm – and media outlets like The Guardian who help them spread fears unsupported by scientific evidence.

Kaktovik AK fat adult male polar bear mid September 2019_Ed Boudreau photo permission to use

Fat healthy polar bear male at Kaktovik, Alaska in the Southern Beaufort Sea, September 2019, Ed Boudreau photo, with permission.

You can’t get much more over the top than these statements from Amstrup today but read carefully: it’s either opinion or factual aspects of polar bear life (“we know that the bears aren’t feeding”) made to sound like new, terrifying developments that can be blamed on climate change. Continue reading

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

 

Media and USGS biologist sensationalize recent report of a polar bear encounter in Alaska

It’s been a slow summer for polar bear news to hype, so we shouldn’t be surprised that a local report that polar bears this summer have descended on the town of Kaktovik, Alaska one week earlier than 2017 has morphed into an international story that makes a 2016 research report sound like this year’s news, with headlines trumpeting: “polar bear encounters are increasing” due to a longer open water period. Nevertheless, it was reported just two weeks ago that Alaska has not had a polar bear attack since 1993.

polar_bear-US FWS_young bear Alaska maybe Kaktovik no date

This is a particularly blatant example of how the media skew polar bear ‘news’ for public consumption, aided by scientists with a particular message to sell. Not surprisingly, a number of essential facts have been left out of this sensationized account, in part because the polar bear specialist the media consulted left those facts out of his statement.  This is the sort of bias displayed by polar bear specialists that I discuss in my new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.

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Alaska waters with no sea ice are not a problem for Pacific walrus or polar bears

One of two alarming headlines that caught my eye this week was the ‘news’ on Monday that the waters off Alaska were now ice-free because of climate change, courtesy a story in the online media outlet Mashable that was later picked up by The Weather Channel and the UK mainstream paper The Independent. In addition, a large number of mainstream news outlets, including the New York Times and Newsweek, have reported that walruses came ashore this year at Point Lay, Alaska two weeks earlier than any year since 2007.

No one claimed this late July onshore movement of walruses was the beginning of the end of walruses but it was still blamed on human-caused climate change because it was associated with the  aforementioned ice loss in Alaska.

Walrus at Point Lay from trail camera in 2015 USFWS

Neither event was truly ‘news’. Moreover, neither an ice-free Alaska in early August or walruses onshore two weeks earlier than 2017 will have any negative impact on local polar bear or walrus populations, whether due to human-caused climate change or natural variation. Well-fed polar bears everywhere are quite capable of going 4-5 months without food in the summer and a few thousand walruses at Point Lay will feed happily from this shore-based haulout for a few days to a few weeks as they have done many summers since 2007 before moving on to other Chukchi Sea beach locations – although the ‘leaving’ events never seem to get any media attention. Walruses will haul out on beaches in Alaska and Russia until the ice returns in October.

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