Tag Archives: conservation

Svalbard polar bear paper falsely assumes that loss of genetic diversity has negative consequences

A new paper published today deals with an animal conservation issue I’ve addressed twice before: the theoretical assumption that loss of genetic diversity must be detrimental to species survival despite there being little evidence that this has been the case in real life. For this new study, the authors carried out some complicated measuring of genetic diversity loss and inbreeding amongst and between Svalbard region polar bear populations between 1995 and 2016 (see map below), and then modelled what this could lead to in 100 generations (1210 years), with the over-anxious hand-wringing we’ve all come to expect from such prophesies. As far as I can see, it’s all meaningless number-crunching without relevance to the real world of polar bears.

To support their claim of harm from loss of genetic diversity, the authors of this paper (Maduna et al. 2021) cite four theoretical papers that assume as fact that loss of genetic diversity is harmful but not the evidence to back up the claim. They apparently never bothered to look at species that have actually suffered dramatic loss of genetic diversity. Northern elephant seals, for example, reduced to 20-30 animals more than 100 years ago, have rebounded to a population of about 170,000 with extremely low genetic diversity but no apparent health or survival repercussions. Similar genetic bottlenecks and recoveries have been documented in Guadalupe fur seals, San Nicolas Island foxes, mouflon sheep, and North Atlantic right whales (among others), which I discussed in detail here (with references). I discussed the issue again in regards to a similar polar bear ‘genetic diversity’ paper in 2016.

Conspicuous by its absence in this new publication is a citation of the recent paper that revealed the body condition of female Svalbard polar bears had increased significantly between 2004 and 2017 despite a pronounced decline in summer and winter sea ice extent (Lippold et al. 2019: 988). Nor did the paper cite data collected by the Norwegian Polar Institute that show the body condition of adult males in Svalbard has not changed since 1993 or that population numbers have not declined. Instead, the authors mention only that reduced numbers of pregnant females have reached traditional denning areas due to lack of ice and that bears have spent less time feeding at glacier fronts than they used to do (Maduna et al. 2021: 2), as if the only polar bear data available in relation to sea ice decline was negative.

Figure 1 from Maduna et al. 2021

Population bottlenecks during the Last Glacial Maximum when suitable habitat was scarce and another in the late 1800s/early 1900s due to wanton overhunting left polar bears with remarkably low genetic diversity but no apparent ill-effects to their overall heath. Oddly, this recent work by Maduna and colleagues assumes without evidence that a bit less genetic diversity could be devastating to Svalbard bears more than 1000 years from now. While the media expectedly promote this as scary new evidence of what climate change has wrought (here and here), I am not impressed.

This is conservation biology done WWF-style: loss of genetic diversity sounds bad to people who don’t know better, but real-world evidence shows it isn’t.

References

Lippold, A., Bourgeon, S., Aars, J., Andersen, M., Polder, A., Lyche, J.L., Bytingsvik, J., Jenssen, B.M., Derocher, A.E., Welker, J.M. and Routti, H. 2019. Temporal trends of persistent organic pollutants in Barents Sea polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to changes in feeding habits and body condition. Environmental Science and Technology 53(2):984-995. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.8b05416

Maduna, S. N., Aars, J., Fløystad, I., Klütsch, C. F. C., Zeyl Fiskebeck, E. M. L., Wiig, Ø. et al. 2021. Sea ice reduction drives genetic differentiation among Barents Sea polar bears. Proceedings of the Royals Society B  288 (1958): 20211741. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.1741 OPEN ACCESS

My new science book for kids Walrus Facts & Myths is available now!

I am thrilled announce that my new science book for kids, Walrus Facts & Myths is now available for sale on Amazon. This unique book fills an enormous need.

Thanks to media reports and television documentaries – here’s looking at you David Attenborough – many children around the world have been led to believe that walrus are dying in large numbers every year because of reduced sea ice. This has left kids feeling despondent and powerless. The relentless messaging that walrus are doomed (and that it’s all the fault of humans burning fossil fuels) is fortunately false. It’s time the children learned the truth and now, there’s a book for that!

This is a walrus science book for kids with lots of great photos and a format that readers of all ages will enjoy.

In the US, find it here and in Canada here.

In the UK, find it here. And if you want to know more, there is a review by Kip Hansen posted at WUWT.

My nonfiction book for adults Fallen Icon: David Attenborough and the Walrus Deception, will be released in a few weeks but here is a science book just for the kids. If the children in your life enjoyed Polar Bear Facts & Myths, I’m sure they’ll love this one too. The colour photos are beautiful and engaging. It’s also perfect for homeschoolers wanting to learn about Arctic ecology and walrus life history.

Walrus Facts & Myths is available in paperback and ebook formats.

Risk to Alaskan polar bear cubs from oil exploration in coastal Wildlife Refuge is small

A bill recently introduced to US Congress (30 July 2020) is supposedly meant to “safeguard the Beaufort Sea polar bear’s denning habitat”.  However, the bill is named the “Polar Bear Cub Survival Act”, which tells us this is an appeal to emotions rather than a call for rational decision-making. In fact, few Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear cubs are born on land in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and the risks to them from oil exploration is not overwhelming.

Amstrup_only solution_with 3 cubs_Oct 8 2014

Despite a modest decline in summer sea ice since 1979, only about half of Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear females currently make their dens on the sea ice in late fall. Recent research confirms results from older studies that show denning females in Alaska are highly tolerant of the kind of disturbance associated with oil exploration and few dens are found more than about 1 km from the shore. This emotion-laden bill is not really about protecting polar bears: it’s a political move aimed at preventing oil exploration along the coast of Alaska after previous efforts failed. It comes ahead of an announcement today (18 August 2020) that the White House will begin to auction off leases for oil drilling in the ANWR.

Don’t let the ‘trust my word, I’m an expert’ hyperbolic testimony from activist scientists like Steven Amstrup and others hold sway on this issue – see for example Alaska polar bear den disturbances part of ‘death by a thousand cuts,’ researcher says (biologist Wesley Larson on Alaska Public Radio, 14 July 2020), or activist conservation organizations Polar Bears International and World Wildlife Fund. Have a look at the facts on the matter taken from the published literature, which I summarize below (as many pdfs provided as possible).

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My polar bear podcast interview with Anthony Watts from WUWT

A few days ago I had the pleasure of talking with Anthony Watts from WUWT as part of his new podcast series. Listen to it here.

Crockford podcast with Anthony Watts 19 June 2020

Below, I’ve copied a post from earlier this year that summarizes some misconceptions about polar bear conservation status and population size. I reiterate here (with links added for convenience) what I said last month:

The polar bear data are contradictory: contrary to predictions, several polar bear subpopulations (at least four of them) are indeed thriving despite much reduced summer sea ice [Chukchi Sea, Barents Sea, Kane Basin, M’Clintock Channel, as well as Foxe Basin and Davis Strait]. I have chosen to emphasis that good news, while Stirling and Derocher choose to emphasize the data that seem to fit their predictions [Western Hudson Bay and Southern Hudson Bay]. This is a classic conflict that happens all the time in science but presents no proof that I’m wrong or that the PragerU video is inherently ‘false’.

Note that Western Hudson Bay bears were last counted in 2016 but have had five good sea ice seasons in a row now, including this year by the look of it, so if ‘lack of sea ice’ is really the cause of the statistically-insignificant decline, then population numbers should be back up. And here is my video about the National Geographic video of the starving polar bear blamed on climate change mentioned by Anthony in the interview:

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New report: Harp seal population critical to Davis Strait polar bears is still increasing

The report on the latest population estimate for harp seals off the east coast of North America was released in late March without fanfare and therefore no media attention. This was one of the missing scientific reports mentioned in my State of the Polar Bear Report 2019 released in February (Crockford 2020): results of surveys promised for months or years by early 2020 but not delivered.

Harp seal on ice around PEI _DFO 2017

Not surprisingly then, we find the report has good news: the population estimate of harp seals in the NW Atlantic has risen to about 7.6 million (range 6.55-8.82) animals (DFO 2020), up from 7.4 million in 2014 (DFO 2014).

Note that the survey was done in March 2017, a low ice year for the Gulf of St. Lawrence (see discussion below) and while this may have resulted in some increased mortality for pups born there, it is also known that many ‘Gulf’ pregnant females will instead have given birth off Newfoundland and Labrador in a whelping region called ‘The Front’. Apparently, these factors were accounted for in the population model.

Harp seal pups born at the Front are an important food for Davis Strait polar bears. This increase in the prey base for Davis Strait polar bears suggests the bear population may have grown substantially since the last survey in 2007 (Peacock et al. 2013; Rode et al. 2012). Davis Strai is the only subpopulation of polar bears officially considered to have ‘likely increased’ at 2018 by Environment Canada. A new Davis Strait population size survey was apparently completed in 2018 but the results are not yet available (Crockford 2020).

Harp seal pup_DFO Newfoundland

Highlights, quotes, and figures from the harp seal report below. Continue reading

Activist Norwegian makes more false claims that trophy hunting threatens polar bears

An anti-hunting Norwegian activist-photographer has again made unsupported claims about legal polar bear trophy hunting in Canada and its impact on the survival of the species, promoted by two UK tabloid newspapers (The Sun and The Mirror) over the weekend. The reality is that polar bears are no more being driven to extinction by trophy hunting than they are battling to survive the effects of climate change: they are currently thriving.

According to the Mirror, “Awarding-winning wildlife photographer and conservationist Ole Liodden has warned the iconic Arctic species will die out if trophy hunting is allowed to continue” but no reputable biologist or conservation organization says this, including the IUCN Red List, CITES, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, or Polar Bears International. This should tell any rational individual that photographer Ole Liodden is misrepresenting the truth to support his rabid anti-hunting stance.

Liodden photo book cover alone lg

I understand that some people object to hunting (especially trophy hunting) and wish more people felt like they do – but Liodden’s opinion is nothing more than the emotional rant of a conspiracy theorist and should be ignored. Continue reading

Delingpole interview on the success of polar bear conservation & failed survival models

Tomorrow I will be giving a public lecture in Paris on polar bear conservation success and the spectacular failure of the polar bear survival models used to scare children senseless.

However, while I was in London a few days ago I spoke with James Delingpole, author and columnist at Breitbart who has recently taken to producing podcast and video interviews.

Chukchi Sea polar bear Arctic_early August 2018_A Khan NSIDC small

Yesterday, he posted a column summarizing our discussion, with a link to the entire podcast: “WATCH: Canadian Professor Lost Her Job for Telling the Truth About ‘Endangered’ Polar Bears.” Read it here.

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Polar bears are thriving despite global warming: this short essay explains why

This essay explains in simple terms why so many people still believe that polar bears are in peril when nothing could be further from the truth: it is an essential lesson that shatters the basis of the shameful indoctrination of young school children and undermines the baseless claims of activist protestors. It was written and translated into French for a special climate change feature issue (July) of the monthly French magazine Valeurs Actuelles (reviewed here) and reprinted by the French hunting magazine Chasses Internationales. It has also been translated into German for a dedicated climate change issue (11 July) of the Swiss weekly magazine Die Weltwoche.

Chukchi Sea polar bear Arctic_early August 2018_A Khan NSIDC

I have added a couple of figures to illustrate this English version of the essay.

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Even with Inuit lives at stake, polar bear specialists make unsupported claims

The standoff between Inuit and polar bear specialists regarding the status of polar bears in Canada is not going to end until someone in authority demands to see the data scientists insist contradict Inuit knowledge.

Macleans to kill a polar bear headline 21 April 2019

An article in Maclean’s Magazine (15 April 2019), entitled “To Kill a Polar Bear”, explores some of the feelings and opinions of folks involved but fails to ask whether the data support the rhetoric advanced by scientists. Author Aaron Hutchins takes the scientists at their word, that seeing more bears than 20 years ago is all because of lack of sea ice. However, from what I’ve seen, he might as well trust a fox in a hen house.

Ian Stirling is quoted by Hutchins insisting that polar bears in Western Hudson Bay continue to suffer from the effects of declining sea ice, without mentioning that ice cover has been essentially static on Hudson Bay since at least 2001 (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017; Lunn et al. 2016) and fall freeze up dates for the last two years were earlier than most years in the 1980s:

“This year saw the seventh-lowest Arctic sea ice levels since the National Snow and Ice Data Center first started gathering satellite data 40 years ago, with the long-term trend clearly downwards. And the negative effects on polar bears can be clearly seen in the science, says Stirling, pointing to the closely studied subpopulation along western Hudson Bay: “They’re losing body condition. Reproductive rates have dropped. Survival rates of young have plummeted. Every indication you would expect from a declining population is there.”

However, as I’ve pointed out previously (last year and in 2012), there are no recent data published that support these claims: the only information that exists is at least 25 years old. And the fact that no such data have been published suggests strongly that it either does not exist or does not show what Stirling claims it shows.

Yet, the government of Canada is willing to bet the lives of Inuit on their belief that polar bear specialists would never stretch the truth to qualify for government grants.

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Canadian polar bears still not threatened with extinction says conservation committee

At recent meeting of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), biologists decided to continue to list the polar bear as a species of ‘Special Concern.’ About 2/3 of the world’s polar bears live in Canada and the balance of all evidence (including Inuit knowledge) indicate the bears are not threatened with extinction. The bears have held this status since 1991.

Polar bears_Gordon Court_Committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada Dec 2018

Details from the 3 December 2018 press release below.

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