Tag Archives: Alaska

Most polar bear hybrids said to exist have not been confirmed by DNA testing

Although there are only two confirmed polar bear X grizzly hybrids (see recent posts here and here) – one in 2006 and a 2nd generation back cross in 2010 – there have been a few other unconfirmed sightings and/or hunters reports in addition to the Arviat animal shot last week, but how many?

Hybrid sightings Victoria Island spring 2012 Jodie Pongracz_GNWT

In a CBC radio interview today (27 May 2016), polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher claimed there have now been 9 polar bear/grizzly hybrids reported in Canada (with the Arviat animal shot last week being the 9th).

I think I’ve tracked down the details on those six unconfirmed Canadian sightings, plus another from Alaska. But as you will see, some of the reports are so vague it’s hard to know whether these are the animals Derocher counts as hybrids or not.
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Challenging Alaska polar bear research sound bites and bewildering ESA status

Beaufort Sea male polar bear USGS_2005 Amstrup photo

It’s easy to take polar bear research papers at face value but it’s not very scientific. The snappy sound bites provided for the benefit of the media – whether they’re embedded in press releases or in published abstracts – don’t cut it with trained scientists. Trained scientists read the whole report, critically examine the evidence it contains and assess that evidence within the context of previous knowledge. That’s what they are trained to do.

I challenge the superficial summary on the status of Alaskan polar bear populations provided by FactCheck.org journalist Vanessa Schipani.  Schipani disputed a comment made by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski that, according to the latest research Alaskan polar bear population numbers are strong and healthy. I’m not especially interested in the political context of the statement, only Schipani’s bald claim that Murkowski’s declaration is false.

I’ve read all the relevant papers in full and I contend that the evidence supports Murkowski’s statement. Schipani is confusing the issue by regurgitating ‘facts’ that don’t tell the truth of the matter. By the sum of accounts, Alaskan polar bear populations are indeed healthy and strong – whether or not this status will continue is an entirely different question. Continue reading

A new count planned for Southern Beaufort polar bears

I know I was not the only one that thought the last polar bear count conducted by the US Geological Survey (USGS) in the Southern Beaufort generated an untenable result but it appears that some of those challengers are in a position to demand a recount.

polar_bear_usfws_no date_sm

CBC News ran a story late last week announcing a plan is in the works to do an aerial survey of Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears across their entire range over two years starting in 2017 (11 March 2016, “Joint U.S.-Canada Beaufort Sea polar bear survey planned“).

With luck, this period will not include another bout of the same thick spring ice conditions that decimated the population in the mid-2000s (which many reporters concluded was due to reduced summer sea ice because that’s what leading biologists implied). Even if it does, lucky timing will not negate the fact that this population is routinely subjected to devastating population declines caused by natural changes to spring sea ice conditions from which they have recovered on numerous occasions. Continue reading

Tracking polar bears – 3 out of 4 S. Beaufort bears on the ice during September 2015

The shore of Alaska is not very important to Southern Beaufort polar bears – most of them stay on the sea ice during the summer and early fall, where they may or may not continue eating. These results of on-going satellite tracking studies by USGS1 confirm results of previous studies.

Tranquilized_pb570_S Beaufort March 2014_USGS

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Pacific walrus herd hauled out in Alaska during August was as large as last year’s

So, I guess they didn’t all die because of lack of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea. I said back on 28 August, just after the some unauthorized photos were publicized, that this haulout looked just as large as last year’s, if not larger (walruses are occasional prey of polar bears).

Walruses_USFWS photo_030515_March 2015

Now confirmed by an official US Fish and Wildlife Service estimate of 35,000 – not 36,000 mind you, or 34,000 – it was definitely 35,000. Odd, that. And surprisingly, they didn’t bother going out to count them until the day President Obama came to town. Would FWS have even bothered to get a count if there hadn’t been something newsworthy to tie it to?

Even more strange is the fact that this year, there was no accompanying hype. There were no links in any of the stories to FWS or USGS propaganda website pages, like there were last year (nor even a link to a press release). No mention of the FWS plan to have walruses declared ‘threatened with extinction because of global warming. And no mention of prosecution of the photographer who took the photos on 23 August, from the required distance, but without a permit. Note the permit number stamped on the official NOAA photo provided below (taken 2 September 2015), which few outlets carried, probably because it looks nothing like a photo of walruses on a beach:

walrus haul out NOAA Sept 2 2015

It appears that this year 35,000 walruses on a beach is a non-story. Go figure. Excerpts from the one, widely-circulated story below, from three days ago. See previous post for more walrus background, map, and video.
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Pacific walruses hauled out at Point Lay Alaska again this year

A photo of a mass walrus haulout at Point Lay, Alaska taken a few days ago from a distance show thousands of animals. But no one’s counting because apparently, no one’s interested.

Walrus Pt Lay ADN story Aug 27 screencap
The picture on the left (above, courtesy Alaska Dispatch News) was taken 23 August by global warming activist photographer Gary Braasch, the day after a news report appeared about the US Fish & Wildlife Service and aviation authorities asking the media to approach USFWS about walrus photos and information that gave no hint that a large haulout of walruses was already in place (22 August 2015, “Federal agencies, Point Lay seek to minimize walrus disturbances” ):

“Federal agencies are stepping in to shield a North Slope village from the possibility of a deluge of international attention should a large walrus haulout develop nearby, as it has in years past — agreeing to act as an information clearinghouse on behalf of the Native Village of Point Lay.” [my bold]

Here is what the global warming activist site that published the pictures says about the haulout:

“Thousands of Pacific walrus are coming ashore near Point Lay, NW Arctic coast of Alaska. The huge sea mammals and young began coming up on this barrier island along Kasegaluk Lagoon about August 20, according to local natives. This is one of the earliest known summer haul outs of the walrus along the Alaska coast of the Chukchi Sea, according to wildlife biologists.” [my bold]

They say “thousands.” But the photos taken, reproduced in the Alaska Dispatch News story I read, were taken from a greater distance than the famous photo of ~35,000 animals released by government officials last year and looks like the total could be as large, or larger, than the 2014 haulout.

Said a Washington Post story (27 August 2015):

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed to the Post Wednesday evening that a mass of walruses had “hauled out,” or gathered on shore, near the remote community of Point Lay. The service did not estimate the number or provide images. But photojournalist Gary Braasch has posted dramatic photographs, taken during an Aug. 23 flyover, of what appear to be at least several thousand walruses crowding onto a barrier island.” [my bold]

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Pacific walrus sob stories begin again

Now we have poor hunting conditions in the Bering Strait touted as evidence that “walrus migration patterns have changed” with the implication that this is because “…the past eight years have had the eight lowest amounts of summer sea ice on record” due to man-made global warming.

Walrus 2012 July USGS

A subsistence lifestyle is hard, particularly so if it depends on a highly mobile, migratory herd animal. Think Barren-ground Inuit caribou hunters, who often starved because herd sizes declined for a few years or moved unpredictably.

Many factors – seasonal weather, last year’s winter conditions, size of the herd, food supply – all affect where and when a migratory herd will move and the likelihood it will be positioned for optimal harvesting by hunters. Add another highly variable factor into that – Bering Sea ice – and you have a highly unpredictable food supply, especially if you sit in one spot (like on St. Lawrence Island) and expect that migratory herd animal to come within reach.

Hunting walrus from St. Lawrence Island depends on just the right combination of ice and winds. Too much ice is not good, too much open water is not good, and too much wind is not good.

Alaska Dispatch, courtesy the Associated Press, reports St. Lawrence natives are again short of walrus meat because of “warm temperatures”: “Warming temps push walrus north, leaving Alaska villages without traditional food source” (Rachel D’Oro, The Associated Press, August 6, 2015). And the caption of the above USGS (A. Sonsthagen) photo predictably implies all current hunting troubles can be blamed on climate channge:

“The walruses in this July 2012 file photo are hauled out in the Eastern Chukchi Sea. Walrus migration patterns have changed as sea ice and other environmental factors have shifted — and that’s spelled trouble for Alaska Native communities who hunt them for subsistence.”

The people of St. Lawrence Island and the Bering Strait that depend on walrus for subsistence have my sympathy, they indeed have a hard life – but this is not a tale of woe about the status of Pacific walrus and changing summer sea ice.

Bering Strait natives hunt walrus in spring, from mid-April to early June (Huntington et al. 2013). All indications are that walrus are moving differently than they used to in summer because the population is now very large.  As far as I know, there is no new population information on walrus that wasn’t available last year, when I covered this topic extensively (Crockford 2014; video below).


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New paper finds experts were wrong: polar bears are not “walking hibernators”

A polar bear paper just out in Science concludes the experts were wrong, polar bears are not “walking hibernators” – in summer, they slow down and live off their accumulated fat just like other mammals. Take home message: experts are not infallible and spring fat is critical for polar bear survival over the summer.

polarbears-arcticnatlwildliferefuge-suzannemiller-usfws_labeled_sm

This paper presents no compelling evidence that Southern Beaufort polar bears, or those in any other region, lack the ability to survive predicted summer sea ice declines in future decades – although they claim it does. See what you think.
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Polar bear habitat looking good for early summer – last days before the fast

Some polar bears may already be living mostly off the fat put on over the spring but others may catch a seal or two on the sea ice before the summer fast begins – since the ice hasn’t left the coast in most regions quite yet. Polar bears eat little in summer, whether they spend their time on land or on the sea ice.

PolarBearCV1LG_USGS

Sea ice is still high over Hudson Bay – for this time of year, it hasn’t had this much polar bear habitat since 2009. Davis Strait and Foxe Basin are also above average – Davis Strait hasn’t had this much ice since 1992 (the Mt. Pinatubo cold year). Polar bear subpopulation refresher map below.

PB map-all-populations PBSG original plus Okhotsk
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Polar bears fine now but give us more money: US Fish & Wildlife Management Plan subtext

Between-the-lines message of the recently released (and hyped to death) Conservation Management Plan for polar bears by the US Fish & Wildlife Service is that the bears really have nothing to worry about except human-caused global warming but it will cost tens of millions of dollars over the next five years to study and manage them.

polar_bear_usfws_no date_sm

So filled with double-speak, misinformation, and obfuscation [including the newly-invented term, “quasi-extinction floor”] that it’s no wonder some news outlets got it wrong (nowhere in this document does it say that polar bears might go extinct within ten years“). The document does, however, lay out the FWS budget for polar bears over the next five years – and it’s a real eye-opener.

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