Tag Archives: Cross Island

2019 Alaska aerial survey found the most polar bears since 2012 – dozens of fat healthy bears

This aerial shot of six fat polar bears lolling around on a sand beach on the coast of the Southern Beaufort Sea, Alaska, was taken by NOAA employees in July 2019. It exemplifies the reality that bears in this subpopulation are currently abundant and healthy, negating the suggestion that numbers have continued to drop since 2006 because bears are starving.

Six fat polar bear wallow in SB sand_NOAA summer 2019

The above picture of polar bear health is not an exception but the rule for all 31 bears recorded onshore last July, as the photos below from other locations testify. Those who would blame this abundance of bears on lack of sea ice in 2019 should note that ice retreated as early and as extensively in 2017 yet only 3 bears were spotted onshore. Results of a recent (2017-2018) population survey, which have not yet been made public, will of course not reflect conditions seen in 2019.

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New paper shows no harm from more time on land for S. Beaufort polar bears

polarbears-arcticnatlwildliferefuge-suzannemiller-usfws_labeled_smTake-home quote from a new polar bear paper by Todd Atwood and colleagues (2016):

“…there is no causal link between the patterns in polar bear vital rates and increased use of terrestrial habitat…”

In other words, there was no information to link the increased time polar bears spent onshore with either an increase or a decrease in body condition, survival or cub production. The authors did find that polar bears were strongly attracted to the bone piles that accumulated in the fall from 2010-2013 after Inuit bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) hunting at Barrow, Cross Island, and Kaktovik. Isn’t that a surprise?

The results also appear to confirm previous work that showed terrestrial (land-based) foods are not important to polar bears – a conclusion I totally agree with and which I discussed last year here. No wonder there was no press release issued by USGS about this study. It’s only “news” because someone the Anchorage Daily News interviewed lead-author Atwood yesterday as a way of promoting the International Bear Conference (see previous post here, now updated with a link to the Talk of Alaska radio podcast). Atwood implied there could be advantages to bears from feeding on the bone piles but admitted he had no data to support that assumption.
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