Tag Archives: Chukchi Sea

Most Chukchi Sea ice in 20 years means no walrus feasts for polar bears at famous Russian cliffs

After years of hype, including documentary over-reach by David Attenborough and his collaborators at WWF and Netflix, there has been relatively abundant ice in the Chukchi Sea this summer, particulary along the Russian coast and around Wrangel Island, which in recent years have been important summer refuge areas for polar bears and Pacific walrus.

Walrus carcasses at the base of the cliff at Cape Schmidt, September 2017. Credit: Y. Basov.

This year, there has been nothing like the complete retreat of ice into the Arctic Basin as happened in 2007, 2012, and 2020. The chart below shows the ice extent at 11 October 2021:

Wrangel Island was surrounded by ice in 2000 and 2001, which made access to walrus haulouts on the island impossible (Kochnev 2004). Most of the walrus haulouts along the Chukotka coast were also ice-covered in September in those years, as were all of the western locations in 2021 – as the ice charts below show. The extra ice will have drastically affected the distribution of walrus this year, which in turn will have meant no walrus carcasses for polar bears to feast on as they have done for many years now.

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Wrangel Island research team counted a record number of Chukchi Sea polar bears in 2020

Many Chukchi Sea polar bears spend the summer on Wrangel Island and a survey there conducted by Russian researchers in 2020 reportedly collected data on a record 747 bears, well up from the 589 reportedly counted in 2017 by the same team (photo below is from 2015).

Note the latest survey of the Chukchi Sea estimated about 3,000 bears inhabit the region (AC SWG 2018; Regehr et al. 2018), at least 1,000 more that the figure of 2,000 used in recent IUCN assessments and survival predictions (Amstrup et al. 2007; Regehr et al. 2016; Wiig et al. 2015). Wrangel Island is the primary terrestrial denning area in the Chukchi Sea (Garner et al. 1984; Rode et al. 2014) and a recently published study showed that the body condition (i.e. fatness) and litter size of Chukchi Sea polar bears has not been negatively affected by low summer sea ice (Rode et al. 2021).

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Abundant Chukchi Sea ice explains silence on walrus haulouts in Alaska and Russia so far

There has been abundant sea ice in the Chukchi Sea this summer: so much so that walrus herds have not found it necessary to use beaches on the Alaskan coast as resting haulouts. Now, in early September, almost the entire northern Chukotka coast is covered in ice, blocking use of those beaches that have been traditionally used in September through November. Wrangel Island (an important denning area for polar bears) is still almost surrounded by ice, which hasn’t happened in decades.

Just two years ago, a big deal was made of the fact that the entire coast of Alaska was ice-free by early August and that walrus herds had come ashore at Point Lay earlier than any year since 2007 – all put down to climate change. Last year, walrus started to come ashore one day earlier than in 2019, on July 29. Although no one has presented any evidence that the walrus are suffering in any way due to using beach haulouts during the ice-free season (MacCracken et al. 2017), the haulouts are still presented as bad news and portends of catastrophe to come.

Inset map above shows the location of Point Lay, Alaska where Pacific walrus haulout during the ice-free season.

This year is a totally different story and of course, the biologists are suddenly silent.

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New survey estimates 10x as many polar bears in Russian section of Chukchi Sea as in USA portion

A joint US/Russian aerial survey has estimated that a minimum of 3,435 polar bears (but possibly as many as 5,444) likely inhabited the Chukchi Sea in 2016, quite a bit more than a previous study that estimated a population size of 2,937 the same year (which used data from one small US area extrapolated to the entire region).

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More polar bear catastrophe hype: bears use four times more energy than expected

Last week (24 February 2021), The Guardian was promoting a study that claims polar bears now use four times more energy than expected to survive because of ‘major ice loss’ in the Arctic, as a way of suggesting that the animals are already on their way to extinction.

But like many papers of this type, this study by Anthony Pagano and Terri Williams (Pagano and Williams 2021) is yet another model describing what biologists think may be happening based on experimental data collected from individual bears, not a conclusion based on evidence collected from subpopulations with the worst amounts of ice loss.

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Polar bear habitat update for late November

Sea ice formation is ahead of usual in some regions and behind in others but overall, sea ice habitat is abundant enough for this time of year for virtually all polar bears across the Arctic to be back out on the sea ice hunting seals.

Overall, there was more sea ice at 24 November 2020 than there was on the same date in 2016, which was the last year that a number of polar bear subpopulations were surveyed, including Western and Southern Hudson Bay, Southern Beaufort, Chukchi Sea (Crockford 2019, 2020), see graph below from NSIDC Masie:

Northern Hemisphere sea ice at 24 November, 2016-2020.

UPDATE 27 November 2020: Problem bear report published today (for week 13, Nov. 16-22) has been added below.

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New footage reveals Netflix faked walrus climate deaths

Netflix faked ‘Our Planet’ walrus deaths in order to blame them on climate change – polar bears actually were the cause of walrus falling to their deaths from a Siberian cliff, independent video evidence from Russia shows.

A new video published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation Forum on this new evidence. h/t Mark.

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Polar bear cubs play on the thin ice that supposedly threatens them with extinction

This video tweet deserves a post of its own: two relatively inexperienced cubs-of-the-year in Russia deliberately break through thin ice, fall into the icy water and crawl back out – over and over again, for fun, as their mother watches in the background. Play is one way animals learn important survival lessons and for polar bears, this is one of them:

Thin ice was a natural component of the Arctic long before polar bears evolved to live there: it is nothing new but dealing with it requires a strategy that cubs must learn.

UPDATE 1 August 2020: here is the same video, better quality, on Youtube:

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Ryrkaypiy ‘over-run’ by >50 polar bears is probably due to more Chukchi Sea bears

A scary-sounding headline from the BBC today screams “Ryrkaypiy: Far-north Russian village overrun by polar bears“. A little research would have shown (as I do below) that this sort of event is not unusual for this village, there is adequate sea ice off the coast to allow polar bears to hunt for seals if they choose to do so, and the photos provided do not support the claim that almost all of the polar bears “appeared to be thin” (see photo below and others). Similar incidents happened in 2013 and 2006. Increasing numbers of Chukchi Sea polar bears is the most plausible explanation for the recent abundance of bears at this village.

BBC Russian village Chukotka over run by polar bears BBC 5 Dec 2019 headline

BBC headline, 5 December 2019. Does that look like garbage these fat bears are feeding on or the frozen remains of dead walruses at the base of the Cape Schmidt cliff?

UPDATE 8 December 2019: A Daily Mail version of the same story (6 Dec) confirms the photo above is of bears feeding on walrus remains (not garbage) and has many more photos (plus a video) of a large number of bears, not a single one of which that I saw was ‘skinny’ (see quotes from the story below). See also the Siberian Times version (6 Dec) with the same pictures. My source for the story was an article published by the BBC, which ran the day before (5 Dec).

UPDATE 9 DECEMBER 2019: Now it’s apparently 63 polar bears threatening the village of Ryrkaypiy on the Chukotka coast, according to the Siberian Times yesterday and repeated by the Daily Mail (with more pictures and video). Russian media getting lots of mileage out of this one. The story now says the bears are feeding on “seals”, not walrus (to deflect attention over their long history of walrus/polar bear problems? Or just a bad translation?). Both stories repeat the claim that most of the bears are “skinny” despite the photos showing just the opposite: lots of fat, healthy bears.

Also, uniquely (and rather bizarrely), the Daily Mail piece claims the bears are being deprived of the “fish” they should be consuming:

Instead of hunting for fish in deeper waters , the bears are eating seal carcasses left in autumn.

Last year army servicemen cleared the village’s shore of remains of dead seals on which the bears are feeding.

Obviously written by someone who knows absolutely nothing about polar bears, who rarely, if ever, eat fish and certainly would not be eating fish at this time of year. Sea ice map below for 8 December 2019 from the Alaska Sea Ice Program for 8 December shows, as noted below, that there is enough ice offshore for the bears to hunt seals if they chose to do so (since eating long-dead walrus is much easier than going hunting):

Chukchi Sea ice stage of development 8 Dec 2019 Alaska Sea Ice program

UPDATE 14 December 2019: Apparently, the number of invading bears is now 72 (number gets higher every time someone asks, even though they are still talking about “about a week ago”: who exactly is doing the counting?), according to a story today in The Times (UK). Residents say they move walrus carcasses “away” from the village to a “feeding point” for the bears but it’s apparent the distance is insufficient to prevent problems with bears coming into town. While a local cleaner working for the polar bear patrol (well indoctrinated by the WWF who sponsor the program), proclaims the problem is “definitely” due to climate change, there is finally the admission in this article that the bears coming into town are young bears driven away from the walrus carcasses by larger, older animals (i.e. intra-specific competition). This piece also has a few new photos, including one (below) of fat bears getting into garbage (still no photos of the so-called “skinny” bears said to dominate this “invasion”) and also is the first I’ve seen that doesn’t state that there is no sea ice (only that the ice extent is lower than usual). Some progress, but balanced by the hype promoted earlier this week (at “Treehugger” – what a surprise) by former WWF activist Geoff York (now at Polar Bears International), who is still blaming this incident on lack of ice.

Ryrkaypiy bears in local garbage_The Times UK 14 Dec 2019

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Activist biologist filled with eco-anxiety shares unfounded fear of polar bear catastrophe

Misplaced eco-anxiety that kids have about polar bears starts with activist biologists like Steven Amstrup, spokesperson for an organization devoted to raising climate change alarm – and media outlets like The Guardian who help them spread fears unsupported by scientific evidence.

Kaktovik AK fat adult male polar bear mid September 2019_Ed Boudreau photo permission to use

Fat healthy polar bear male at Kaktovik, Alaska in the Southern Beaufort Sea, September 2019, Ed Boudreau photo, with permission.

You can’t get much more over the top than these statements from Amstrup today but read carefully: it’s either opinion or factual aspects of polar bear life (“we know that the bears aren’t feeding”) made to sound like new, terrifying developments that can be blamed on climate change. Continue reading