Tag Archives: Barents Sea

Polar bear habitat update: abundant sea ice across the Arctic, even in the Barents Sea

Abundant ice in Svalbard, East Greenland and the Labrador Sea is excellent news for the spring feeding season ahead because this is when bears truly need the presence of ice for hunting and mating. As far as I can tell, sea ice has not reached Bear Island, Norway at this time of year since 2010 but this year ice moved down to the island on 3 March and has been there ever since. This may mean we’ll be getting reports of polar bear sightings from the meteorological station there, so stay tuned.

Walking bear shutterstock_329214941_web size

Sea ice extent as of 11 March 2019, from NSIDC Masie:

masie_all_zoom_4km 2019 March 11

Much of the ice that was blown out of the Bering Sea early in the month has returned and ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the East Coast of Canada is the highest its been in years, threatening to impede ferry traffic between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, as it did in 2015 and again in 2017. The fishing season off Newfoundland might also be delayed by the heavy ice, as it was in 2017.

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Polar bears driven out of Novaya Zemlya town onto the ice by persistent harassment

The state of emergency in Belushya Guba on Novaya Zemlya is over, according to a report yesterday from the Russian news agency TASS (18 February 2019), as no bears had been spotted over the previous 24 hours.

Belushaya Guba garbage dump_Daily Mail_11 Feb 2019

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Polar bears have been terrorizing a Russian town on the Barents Sea since December

Since early December, a group of 52 polar bears have terrorized the Russian village of Belushaya Guba on southern Novaya Zemlya. The aggressiveness of some of the bears, their boldness in entering local buildings and fearlessness in the face of the usual deterrents has caused the local government to call a state of emergency to help the town residents. Global warming is blamed for the problem but as is so often the case, that claim does not stand up to scrutiny.

Belushaya Guba garbage dump_Daily Mail_11 Feb 2019

Large group of polar bears at the Belushya Guba town dump on Novaya Zemlya, Russia. From the 11 Feb. 2019 story at The Daily Mail.

Belushaya Guba is located on the southwest coast of Novaya Zemlya in the eastern Barents Sea. It is a town of mostly military personnel and their families:

Belushya_Guba_on_map_of_Novaya_Zemlya_SM wikipedia

The predictable claims that this situation is due to global warming are confounded by the fact that the region has not had abundant sea ice by December in more than 30 years, yet this is the first time the town has had such a problem with polar bears. Polar bears in winter can be very dangerous, as they are often lean and desperately hungry. [except these ones are not, see update below]

UPDATE 11 February 2019: The international media have gone mad for this story and some photos are now available. Best series of photos and video is at The Daily Mail, UK (11 Feb 2019: State of emergency is declared after more than 50 polar bears invade Russian town and ‘chase terrified residents’). No new information is available on the story itself but plenty of hyperbole has been added. The photos show how fat and healthy these so-called ‘desperate’ bears are, which makes the claims that global warming is to blame for the crisis even more ludicrous (see the ice charts below). So far, the most over-the-top take on this goes to the Washington Post (11 Feb 2019: A ‘mass invasion’ of polar bears is terrorizing an island town. Climate change is to blame): they went to the most trouble to make the link to climate change and bring up the vilified ‘starving polar bear’ video that National Geographic was forced to apologize for last August and the debunked 2007 prediction that 2/3 of the world’s bears would be gone by 2050 (Crockford 2017). The Guardian‘s effort is weak by comparison, as is CNN‘s. The news outlet (not a blog) Daily Caller has some quotes from this page. Competition amongst bears for scarce natural resources in winter makes dump sites and stored food available around Arctic communities all the more attractive. When polar bear numbers are high, as they are now, this competition can get fierce. It’s no wonder the bears don’t want to leave.

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Abundant polar bear habitat across the Arctic at the start of winter

January is the first month of the Arctic winter, the season when most polar bears really struggle to find enough to eat.

Polar bears feeding_Shutterstock_sm

Here is what the sea ice looked like around the Arctic at the end of this month.

masie_all_zoom_4km 2019 Jan 31

Compare to last year:

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Svalbard polar bears doing fine with much less sea ice say Norwegian biologists

“…despite the loss of good denning areas and a shrinking habitat for hunting, Svalbard’s bears seem to be doing fine.…The sea ice season is now several months shorter, and the ice edge typically lies several degrees further north than what was normal 20-40 years ago….Polar bears can survive long periods without food, provided they have accumulated a good fat reserve during the few months in spring and summer when sea ice is present, and seals are abundant.” [Jon Aars, Norwegian Polar Institute, 2018]

lying bear shutterstock_244419640_cropped_web size

Jon Aars from the Norwegian Polar Institute has written an update on the status of Svalbard polar bears for the general public (The Barents Observer, 8 January 2019, republished from a story published by The Fram Centre in their newsletter: Population changes in polar bears: protected, but quickly losing habitat).

franz_josef_land_location_wikipedia

Read the whole thing below (original has awesome photos). It reports the truth of the current situation with the usual caveats about what might happen decades into the future. Continue reading

No extirpation looms for Svalbard polar bears: no pending catastrophe in Norway

Despite a wild claim that a “slow Arctic freeze” this year increases the risk that polar bears will become extinct, sea ice charts show ice returning earlier than it has for decades everywhere except the Svalbard area of the Barents Sea. That’s good news for pregnant polar bears. Although Svalbard is without ice, that’s been true for so many years that pregnant Svalbard females long ago abandoned the use of islands they used in good ice years and now make their dens in the Franz Josef Land archipelago to the east (which is still within the Barents Sea subpopulation region).

Svalbard polar bear fall 2015_Aars

Polar bears give birth around 25 December each year, so pregnant females prefer to be snug in a safe den by around the end of November at the latest. That’s been possible for all regions of the Arctic this year, including the Barents Sea — because sea ice returned to Franz Josef Land weeks ago, even though Svalbard is still ice-free.

Franz_Josef_Land_location_wikipedia

Major denning areas in Russia, including Wrangel Island, have been surrounded by ice since the middle of the month, allowing pregnant females that did not remain on shore over the summer to return to make maternity dens. Elsewhere, bears that have been confined to shore over the ice-free season (such as along Hudson Bay and Baffin Island in eastern Canada) returned to the ice to hunt seals weeks ago after the earliest freeze-up in more than two decades.

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Fall polar bear habitat update: 3 mkm2 Arctic sea ice increase in the last two weeks

What a difference two weeks make! When the seasonal minimum Arctic sea ice extent occurs in September, polar bear doom-mongers always forget to tell you that within two months, sea ice will return to virtually all regions where polar bears have spent the summer on land, including Hudson Bay. Just as it did in 2007, when polar bears did not die by the thousands due to lack of fall sea ice, polar bear habitat is reforming.

Polar bear tests thin ice_Laidre_UW_no copyright_taken22August2015_sm

This year, the seasonal minimum came on 23 September. Despite the fact that the US National Snow and Ice Data Center proclaimed that “unusual warmth” in the Arctic continued during October, over the last two weeks sea ice expanded from 6 mkm2 to 9 mkm2. At the current rate of ice growth documented by sea ice charts (see below), Arctic sea ice will be wide-spread by 23 November.

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