Posted onJune 5, 2022|Comments Off on China ruins Antarctic Treaty attempt to enact special protection status for Emperor penguins
China has thwarted an attempt by members of the Antarctic Treaty organization to enact special protection status for the Emperor penguin, which would have generated a ‘Species Action Plan’. Apparently, such a proposal required a consensus of all parties and China wouldn’t go along.
But as we know from past actions by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialists Group against former member Mitch Taylor, such impediments are easily sidestepped when a decision requiring consensus doesn’t go your way.
Posted onFebruary 10, 2022|Comments Off on Statement of polar bear population size estimates by polar bear scientists in 1965
Polar bear scientists in 1965 published a consensus statement on population size, with no caveats that these were ‘wild guesses’ or not to be taken seriously. They quoted some of the same authorities that I did when I suggested a plausible baseline figure. Andrew Derocher, Steven Amstrup and others who say there has never been population estimates for the 1960 or 1970s are not defending science, they are lying to protect their ‘polar bears are all gonna die because of climate change’ narrative. No other biologists do this, even those who insist the species they study are at risk from human-caused global warming. You should ask why.
Posted onSeptember 8, 2021|Comments Off on 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 increasedsignificantlybetween 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.
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.
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
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Posted onSeptember 1, 2021|Comments Off on 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.
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.
Posted onAugust 18, 2020|Comments Off on 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.
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.
Posted onJune 19, 2020|Comments Off on 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.
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:
Posted onMay 14, 2020|Comments Off on 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.
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).
Highlights, quotes, and figures from the harp seal report below. Continue reading
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Posted onJanuary 26, 2020|Comments Off on 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.
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
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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.