Tag Archives: breakup

Polar bear habitat update at mid-June: more than enough for survival

Here we are at the middle of June, when most polar bears are pretty much done with hunting seals for the season. And despite hand-wringing from some quarters, sea ice extent is down only marginally from average at this time of year and certainly not enough to impact polar bear survival.

Polar_bear Bering Sea 2007 USFWS lg

Given the large expanse of open water in the Southern Beaufort so early in the season, one resident pessimist insists those polar bears are “challenged” by the lack of ice. If he is right, there should be reports of dozens upon dozens of skinny and dying bears along the coast of Alaska this summer. If not, he will pretend he never suggested any such thing.

So far, despite the early loss of ice in some regions, there have been no reports of polar bears ashore unusually early. Hudson Bay still has lots of thick first year ice, so despite the overall reduced Arctic ice coverage, none of the three Hudson Bay polar bear populations are facing the earlier-than-usual sea ice breakup this year as we keep being promised will show up. In fact, there hasn’t been a significantly early breakup in Western Hudson Bay since 2010 (see previous posts here and here).

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International Polar Bear Day: a time to admit the species is not threatened with extinction due to reduced sea ice habitat

Times have changed: where once many scientists worried that polar bears could not survive an Arctic with 40% less ice, now the concern is that people of the Arctic might not be able to keep themselves safe from growing numbers of increasingly fearless bears.

International Polar Bear Day is tomorrow, 27 February. It’s a good time to reconsider polar bear conservation in light of current realities. Polar bears are not threatened with extinction by loss of sea ice habitat but continue to thrive in spite of it (Crockford 2017).

Polar bear Aug 2017 near area where June 19 2018 bear was spotted Gordy Kidlapik

Fat bear in August 2017 outside Arviat, Nunavut. Gordy Kidlapik photo.

Tomorrow, the 2018 State of the Polar Bear Report will be released. But for now, see some of the failed claims below.

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CBC hypes “bleak” Churchill polar bear fate with unsupported claims & falsehoods

Over the weekend in Canada, the CBC ran a polar bear news feature that is now available online (“Polar bears in peril: the bleak future of Churchill bears,” The National, CBC, 3 December 2018). It gave polar bear biologist Nick Lunn of Environment Canada free rein to spread unsubstantiated claims and outright falsehoods about the status of Western Hudson Bay polar bears and sea ice. Apparently, he and the CBC learned nothing from National Geographic‘s fiasco over their starving’ polar bear video last year: they still think the public will be swayed to “act” on human-caused global warming if a persuasive expert tells them that polar bears are on their way to extinction. I expect many were convinced otherwise, since the facts are available for all to see.

No triplet litters born since 1996? Nonsense, as the photo below (from 2017) shows.

Triplet litter at Seal River Lodge 2017 Quent Plett photo

The CBC video is described this way:

“They are a majestic icon of Canada’s North, but polar bears have also come to symbolize climate change. And scientists say the future for one particular population of polar bears in northern Manitoba is dire.

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Hudson Bay sea ice update: more ice in the east than usual but less in the west

There’s almost more blue in the Canadian Ice Service “departure from normal” charts for this week than red, which means more sea ice than usual, especially in the eastern half of the bay and northern Labrador. Eventually, the melting ice will force polar bears ashore where they will fast for 4-5 months, living off the fat they’ve put on over the spring feeding season.

Hudson Bay weekly departure from normal 2018 June 25

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Hudson Bay ice update: more thick first year ice habitat for polar bears in 2018 than 2004

Despite pronouncements from one polar bear specialist that “ice in Hudson Bay is in rapid retreat” a look back in time shows that there is more thick first year ice over the Bay this year for the week of the summer solstice than there was in 2004 – and much less open water than 1998.

Lunn et al 2016 EA cover image WH bear

Below, 2018, June 18 (the week of the summer solstice):

Hudson Bay weekly stage of development 2018 June 18

Compare the above to the same week coverage chart for 2004, below:
Hudson Bay weekly stage of development 2004_June 21

Ice coverage for some other recent years are shown below compared to 1998, the year the ice breakup pattern on Hudson Bay changed. Speed and melt sequences vary according to the amount of thick first year ice present, discussed previously here.

PS. If you’re wearing white today, flaunt it! Tell your friends and colleagues that you’re celebrating the success of polar bears despite such low summer sea ice since 2007 that 2/3 of them were predicted to disappear.
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Southern Hudson Bay polar bear region shows slight decline after decades of low sea ice

A newly-published paper by Martyn Obbard and colleagues in the journal Arctic Science claims a 17% decline in abundance of polar bears in the Southern Hudson Bay region after years of reduced sea ice and declining body condition (Obbard et al. 2018). The decline in numbers was not statistically significant but an additional statistical analysis (“Monte Carlo simulation”) not applied to any other estimate in recent years suggested the decline could be real, so a real decline is what was reported to the press.

James Bay polar bear_ministry of Ontario_Walton photo

Only one Canadian Press story has so far been circulated amongst outlets in the media (published hours after the paper appeared online, not at the same time), suggesting there was no press release issued for this study. Odd, that — especially if the decline is as real and significant as the authors suggest.

While no evidence was provided for a correlation of this decline in numbers to recent (2012-2016) sea ice decline, previous evidence from the region (Obbard et al. 2016) showed a decline in body condition was correlated only with much later than usual freeze-up, a situation that did not occur from 2012 to 2015 (freeze-up was late in the fall of 2016 but occurred months after the Obbard et al. (2018) survey was completed).

Moreover, the paper reports that a decline in survival of yearling cubs (from 12% of the population in 2011 to 5% in 2016) was not associated with especially poor sea ice conditions in spring. We are likely to see a follow-up paper next year reporting the body condition and sea ice data from this study (as for the previous survey: Obbard et al. 2015, 2016), but there is no suggestion in this paper that body condition declined further from 2011/2012 levels or that sea ice conditions deteriorated markedly enough after 2012 to precipitate a population decline.

UPDATE 11 June 2018: See below, more recent versions of population and status assessment maps has been issued by Environment Canada that conclude Southern Hudson Bay is “likely declined.”

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Does thick first year ice on Hudson Bay mean a late date ashore for WH polar bears in 2018?

Following up on my previous post, it appears sea ice conditions on Hudson Bay this year might be headed for a late breakup due to the dominance of thick first year ice. That would mean a relatively longer on-ice season for polar bears in Western and Southern Hudson Bay.

James Bay female and cub_Ontaro Govt

As of the 1st week in May 2018, most of Hudson Bay, Foxe Basin and Hudson Strait were covered with thick 1st year ice (dark green, >1.2 m thick):

Hudson Bay weekly stage of development 2018 May 7

Compare that to the 1st week of May 2016, which had much less thick first year ice than 2018 and more medium first year ice (70-120cm, bright green):

Hudson Bay ice stage of development weekly at 9 May 2016

To update the situation, at the end of May this year (week of 28 May), thick first year ice covered even more of the bay with a large patch of open water in the NW corner:

Hudson Bay weekly stage of development 2018 May 28

Thick first year ice does not melt as quickly as medium or thin first year ice (lime green) under most conditions, so the amount of thick first year ice present in May strongly affects the rate of breakup of the ice over the summer (temperature and wind also contribute). Here are some charts of ice melt sequences from the past (2016 and a couple others) that give a hint at what might be in store for Hudson Bay polar bears this year.

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