Tag Archives: anecdotal observations

New paper provides no evidence that polar bears ate whale carcasses to survive Eemian interglacial

Contrary to what the misleading press release implies, an entirely speculative new paper by polar bear specialists Kristin Laidre and Ian Stirling (among others) presents zero evidence that polar bear consumed whale carcasses during the last warm Interglacial (Eemian, ca. 115-130kya). And contrary to the impression that Eemian conditions were very challenging for polar bears, simulations from the single paleo sea ice simulation paper these authors cite show the ice-free season over most of the Eemian was less severe than today in the polar basin, with no reason for polar bears to scavenge extensively on large whale carcasses.

LaidreFEE_Wrangel Island scavenging_smaller

Polar bears are shown scavenging on the carcass of a dead bowhead whale that washed ashore on Wrangel Island, Russia. Credit: Chris Collins/Heritage Expeditions

This is yet another paper posing as science co-authored by Stirling that uses anecdotal accounts of behaviour to send a message about evolutionary capabilities of polar bears (Stirling and van Meurs 2015). With little or nothing to back it up, the paper’s real purpose is to convey Stirling’s opinion that past polar bear survival is irrelevant to understanding future polar bear survival — and that all the bears are gonna die unless we do something about carbon dioxide emissions generated by fossil fuel use.

Is it a coincidence that the Summary for Policy Makers was issued by the IPCC over the weekend (not the report with the science in it but the document that all politicians agreed were acceptable)? Look no further than the last sentence of National Geographic’s article on this story, which includes a quote from lead author Laidre and a link to the magazine’s interpretation of the new IPCC report:

“Laidre put it even more bluntly: “If you want polar bears around we need sea ice, and loss of sea ice closely tied to our activities and our fossil fuel emissions.” (Learn about the IPCC’s dire new climate report.)” 

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Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea – May 2014 map and USGS video footage

Here is the May 2014 follow-up to my post on the July 2013 track map for female polar bears being followed by satellite in the Beaufort Sea by the US Geological Survey (USGS) – “Ten out of ten polar bears being tracked this summer in the Beaufort Sea are on the ice.”

See that post for methods and other background on this topic, and some track maps from 2012 (also available at the USGS website here).

The USGS track map May 2014 is copied below (Fig. 1).

Compare this to April’s map (Fig. 2) – the 24 bears from April are down to 20 and the bears are spreading out a bit from the area on the central Alaskan coast where they were originally tagged. Fifteen of these bears have satellite collar transmitters [and therefore are females] and 5 of these bears have glue-on satellite transmitters [either males or subadult animals].

Some comments on the polar bear video cam footage released June 6 by USGS and stories on it run by the media follow.

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Human-polar bear conflicts: Stirling 1974 vs. Amstrup 2013

What a difference a few decades makes to attitudes about human-polar bear conflicts:

Ian Stirling, 1974:

Dr. Stirling felt that complete cessation of hunting, such as exists in Norway, may increase bear-man conflicts. Dr. Reimers replied that the careful harvesting of polar bears was probably desirable, but the total ban now in effect was largely an emotional and political decision rather than a biological one. Last year four bears were killed in self-defense.” [my bold]
(1974 PBSG meeting “Norway – progress reported by [Thor] Larsen”; Anonymous 1976:11).

Stephen Amstrup, 2013:

“We have predicted in no uncertain times [sic – terms?] that as bears become hungrier as the sea ice absence period is longer, more and more of these animals are going to be venturing into communities, venturing into villages, raiding food caches, getting into garbage, and even attacking people. So we predict these kinds of events are going to be more frequent and more severe because of climate change. [my bold]
(The Guardian, November 4, 2013).

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Cannibalism in polar bears: spin and misrepresentation of fact galore

In my next to last post, I discussed some of the anecdotal reports of den collapses included in the peer-reviewed summary of facts presented by biologists Ian Stirling and Andrew Derocher (2012) that supposedly support the premise that global warming is already having an impact on polar bear populations (discussed previously here, here, and here), prophesied to be even greater in the future. While they admit that such reports are not based on scientific studies, they nevertheless include them in their published list of global warming impacts, and not surprisingly, that is how others have interpreted them.

The same is true for their treatment of the phenomenon of cannibalism in polar bears. In that same paper, Stirling and Derocher (2012:2701) have a section called “Anecdotal observations consistent with predictions of the effects of climate warming.” This section begins with a discussion of cannibalism:

“There have been several well-publicized observations that are consistent with predictions of the effects of climate warming on polar bears, but cannot be statistically linked. For example, intraspecific aggression and cannibalism were predicted to increase in polar bears with climate warming (Derocher et al. 2004, Table 1). Observations of infanticide and cannibalism by thin adult males on land during the open water period have been documented (e.g., Lunn & Stenhouse, 1985; Derocher & Wiig, 1999; Amstrup et al., 2006; Stone & Derocher 2007). Such events have been known to occur for many years and, although their significance is unclear, there is some evidence suggesting the frequency of occurrence is increasing in areas where bears fast on land for extended periods. ” [my bold]

And this is the evidence for the supposed increase in occurrence:

“For example, in late summer and autumn 2010 [sic], there were eight observations of cannibalism on the western coast of Hudson Bay compared to one or two in the previous 5 years (I. Stirling, unpublished data).” [my bold; 2010 should be 2009 – more on this later.]

Were these observations of cannibalism made by polar bear researchers or someone else? Were there as many observers in the area in each of the five years prior to the year they occurred, as there were when these incidents were observed? We don’t know, because it’s unpublished data.

Stirling and Derocher have again included critical information in their list of facts that has not been published. I guess I’ll have to add “evidence for cannibalism” to my previous list of “Critical evidence on polar bears in W. Hudson Bay is unpublished” (see also “Stirling and Derocher’s sea ice trick) [there is more information available, but it’s not from peer-reviewed sources – more on this below]

In this post, I take a look at some of the evidence that is published, some of the media interviews and reports that followed, and the information that came from a press release issued by an advocate group. I’ve made a table summarizing the details of all recent papers and reported incidents, and some of them are described in more detail. In a footnote, I have a brief summary of why polar bears kill and eat each other.

These details reveal some rather shocking evidence of scientists misrepresenting evidence – in their peer-reviewed papers and in interviews with the media – and bathing their global warming prophesies in the blood-lust of cannibalism. It’s past time to shine a big bright light on the cannibal issue, so pardon the length of this post.

[See followup post April 19 here]

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