The newest polar bear science paper making the rounds courtesy the US Geological Survey, is a perfect example of a statistically-significant result with no biological significance. While the results are rather lame, the paper is dangerous because it repeats the disingenuous claim (see Crockford 2017) that Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear numbers declined in recent years due to summer sea ice loss.
The USGS authors (Durner et al. 2017) know this harm-from-summer-ice-loss assertion is not true for the Southern Beaufort subpopulation but the more papers they can get into print that say so, the more likely it will be believed — and the less likely readers will check older literature that documents the recent decline in polar bear numbers was due to a three year period (2004-2006) when thick ice conditions in spring made seal hunting a challenge, a repeat of a well-known phenomenon (e.g. Stirling et al. 1980; Stirling 2002) unique to this region that has been documented since the 1960s.
The Durner paper (USGS press release “Increased Sea Ice Drift Puts Polar Bears on Faster Moving Treadmill” published online 6 June ahead of print) spins the research results as potentially significant bad news but in so doing reveals how desperate they have become to make the public and their biology colleagues believe that Southern Beaufort polar bears, among others, are being negatively affected by summer sea ice loss (as per Stirling and Derocher 2012).
Durner, G.M., Douglas, D.C., Albeke, S.E., Whiteman, J.P., Amstrup, S.C., Richardson, E., Wilson, R.R. and Ben-David, M. 2017. Increased Arctic sea ice drift alters adult female polar bear movements and energetics. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13746 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.13746/abstract [paywalled]
In fact, the Durner et al. paper does not document any harm to polar bears from the proposed ‘treadmill’ effect of more rapidly moving ice for the period 1999-2013 compared to 1987-1998, but instead uses models to suggest bears might have to eat one to three more seals per year to compensate for the extra energy needed to walk against the moving ice. That’s right: perhaps only 1 more seal per year out of the 50 or so they would usually consume (see Stirling and Øritsland 1995). In my opinion, that’s a pretty lame result for what one of the co-authors described as an immense amount of work.
News outlets have essentially used the USGS press release as a click-bait lede for another round of Trump-bashing with respect to the Paris climate change agreement, see here and here: the stories are hardly about polar bears at all. And predictably, polar bear activist and co-author Steven Amstrup (paid spokesperson for Polar Bears International, famous for their “Save Our Sea Ice” campaign) appears to be using the same approach: an up-coming call-in talk radio program at NPR’s Anchorage affiliate KSKA for Tuesday 13 June at 10:00 (Alaska time, see “Talk of Alaska”) is being billed as a discussion of “polar bears, climate change, and the Paris Accord” (h/t AK geologist). Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Alaska, Amstrup, Durner, endangered, energy, loss of summer ice, moving sea ice, polar bear, population decline, sea ice, seals, Southern Beaufort, spring feeding, summer sea ice, thick spring ice, threatened, treadmill, USGS
Viewers outside the UK can now watch polar bear scientist Steve Amstrup live (Episode 2, filmed 2 November 2016), state that there are “20,000-25,000” polar bears in the world, almost a full year after the IUCN Red List put the worldwide polar bear population size at 22,000-31,000.
[even though Amstrup (now chief scientist and spokesperson for Polar Bears International) was a co-author of that 2015 Red List report, Wiig et. al. 2015]
Watch Steve Amstrup, live (Episode 2, filmed 2 November 2016) state that sea ice is only “usually” present in March/April when females with cubs emerge from their dens to feed – as if there has ever not been sea ice present at this critical time of year!
Watch Amstrup , live (Episode 2, filmed 2 November 2016) not point out that the prediction he was responsible for making in 2007 (that got polar bears listed as ‘threatened’ in the USA) has been a total failure: even though the USGS models predicted that polar bear numbers worldwide would decline by 67% and Western Hudson Bay polar bears (as well as nine others) would be wiped out completely when summer sea ice reached the levels they’ve been at since 2007, he pretends that prediction was scientifically valid.
We’ve had sea ice levels not predicted to occur until 2050 for 8 out of the last 10 years and polar bears are still going strong. If Amstrup had been right about the relationship of summer sea ice and polar bear numbers, there would have been no polar bears in Churchill for the BBC to film this year.
Watch all three hour-long episodes below as these two organization team up to promote fear of future global warming with polar bears (or polar bears, as Humble says it). Decide for yourself if polar bear science is being fairly represented.
Posted in Advocacy, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged advocacy, Amstrup, BBC, carbon footprint, ESA, PBI, polar bear, population size, predictions, Red list, threatened, USGS, youtube video
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
With a few big guns on one side and some fringe folk on the other, a dichotomy of opinion has developed amongst polar bear researchers regarding whether or not consumption of land-based foods is making a difference to polar bear survival (or is likely to in the future).
It’s been going on for a while now. Last year, two US Geological Survey members of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) apparently got fed up with the scatter-shot of papers promoting terrestrial foods as a possible salvation for polar bears (e.g. Iles et al. 2013; Iverson et al. 2014; Rockwell and Gormezano 2013a, 2013b). In April, they published a canon volley of a paper meant to blow all that ‘polar-bears-might-survive’ talk out of the water once and for all (Rode et al. 2015).
Note that although the PBSG didn’t bother to update their website with the IUCN Red List assessment when it came out last November, they had a link up to the USGS terrestrial feeding paper within 16 days (with an editorial summary in the “NEWS” section as well as a listing of the paper in the “RECOMMENDED READING” section). As I suggest below, this difference in treatment may not be a coincidence.
However, another group of non-PBSG researchers haven’t given up just yet, as shown by the title chosen for the most recent news report (Alaska Dispatch News, 16 June 2016) on the just-finished International Bear Conference:
Want to know how a changing climate is affecting polar bears? Look at what they’re eating.
Apparently, Jeff Welker, a University of Alaska Anchorage researcher who is co-author on two recent papers on the subject of polar bear consumption of terrestrial foods (Tartu et al. 2016 and Rogers et al. 2015), gave a presentation at the conference that raised this topic yet again. His talk came on the heels of an earlier presentation by Todd Atwood, who suggested Southern Beaufort polar bears might benefit from staying onshore to eat left-over whale scraps instead of staying on the sea ice during the summer (even though he had no data to support that opinion – as I discussed in this post).
Here’s the question: is this dispute really about what polar bears eat or don’t eat when they’re on land – or is it symptomatic of the underlying politics of polar bears? [CBC documentary video by that name here]
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Life History
Tagged adaptation, Amstrup, Atwood, criticism, diet, extinction, grizzly, IUCN, PBSG, polar bear, politics, Red list, resilience, Rode, sub-standard science, terrestrial foods, threatened, Welker
The evidence that polar bears have not been harmed by recent declines in sea ice is contained in the scientific literature, no matter what some researchers say when they talk to the media.
Here’s a few of those facts (not all, by any means), with the references to back them up:
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat, Summary
Tagged Amstrup, Beaufort Sea, climate change, facts, global warming, polar bear, sea ice, Southern Beaufort, threatened, USGS
The 24th International Conference on Bear Research and Management is coming up mid-month (12-16 June, 2016) in Anchorage, Alaska, and local media outlets are already gearing up. This conference is about all species of bears but the Arctic icon is apt to get most of the attention.
First up on the media roster appears to be an APRN Talk of Alaska radio talk show entitled “The Science of Bears“ that will feature, among others, Steve Amstrup (spokesperson for Polar Bears International, of “Save Our Sea Ice” fame) and Margaret Williams (WWF, with a Masters in Environmental Studies), scheduled for Tuesday, June 7 at 10:00 AM Alaska time (that’s 11 AM Pacific).
Calls will be taken from the public and comments via email are invited (see below). It could be worth a listen, so mark your calendars. I’ll post a link to the audio podcast here if and when one gets published.
As for the ethics of such a close relationship of international bear scientists with the environmental activists at WWF – one of the richest ‘charities’ around (and one might suppose, plans to stay that way), you’ll have to make up your own mind. Maybe the radio host will ask…
UPDATE 8 May 2016: Here’s the link to the podcast of this Talk of Alaska program from yesterday, which is provided in iTunes format (if you don’t have an iPhone or Apple tablet, you’ll need to down the iTunes program to your PC – a link for which is provided automatically. I did it and it works just fine. On the list of programs provided at the link, just click on the forward arrow to the left of “The Science of Bears”): https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/talk-of-alaska/id264469515?mt=2
It was inevitable, I suppose, that the putative hybrid shot in Arviat, Nunavut last week (see my post here) would initiate the global warming blame game.
Washington Post, 23 May 2016, Adam Popescu: “Love in the time of climate change: Grizzlies and polar bears are now mating”
Here are the five points you need to know about polar bear hybridization, as there are several nonsense statements contained in this Washington Post article.
UPDATE 24 May 2016: References adding below regarding grizzly sightings south of Churchill on the west coast of Hudson Bay (H/T Doug Clark).
UPDATE 28 May 2016: See this 27 May 2016 follow-up post (Most polar bear hybrids said to exist have not been confirmed by DNA testing) for details on unconfirmed sightings or reports of hybrids.
Posted in Conservation Status, Hybridization, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Amstrup, Arviat, climate change, Derocher, global warming, grizzly, grolar bear, hybrid, northward expansion, Nunavut, pizzly, polar bear, range contraction