Tag Archives: declining sea ice

W Hudson Bay polar bear population no longer “declining” – where are the headlines?

Why are the #saveourseaice folks at Polar Bears International, who have being working in Western Hudson Bay for decades, not dancing in the streets of Churchill? Environment Canada’s Polar Bear Technical Committee upgraded the status of Western Hudson Bay polar bears from “declining” to “likely stable” four months ago (details here). Why has this fabulous news not made major headlines around the world?

Figure 4. Environment Canada's "Map 3: 2014 Canadian Polar Bear Subpopulation and Status Map," original here.

Figure 1. Environment Canada’s “Map 3: 2014 Canadian Polar Bear Subpopulation and Status Map,” original here. Western Hudson Bay is “WH.”

After years of being told by polar bear specialists and activists organizations like Polar Bears International and the World Wildlife Fund that the Western Hudson Bay (WHB) population is already suffering mightily because of global warming, it now appears that is far from the truth.

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Natural selection helps polar bears adapt to sea ice variability – which means some bears die

Evolution is not just for the long-term – natural selection also goes on over short time periods. In the case of polar bears, this adaptation is almost certainly critical for its long-term survival.

Hudson Bay female with cub_Wapusk_Thorsten Milse_Gov CA

Hudson Bay female with cub Wapusk National Park, Thorsten Milse, Government of Canada

Not all polar bears are identical — that is the reality that allows natural selection to operate.

I will argue that early breakup years in Western Hudson Bay weed out individual polar bears that do not have the physiological or behavioral characteristics necessary to be useful members of the population – and that this is a good thing for the entire population.

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Has the tide turned on polar bears as icons of global warming?

The CBC in Canada is pretty much a mirror image of the BBC in the UK, ABC in Australia and PBS in the US. So you might appreciate my shock at the almost unbelievable balance contained in the recently broadcasted CBC documentary, “The Politics of Polar Bears: Tracking the Celebrity Bear.

The film is a profound change from the hype and pessimism that has dominated the polar bear issue in Canada and abroad, supported unchallenged by the CBC. Finally, TV viewers were given some decently balanced perspective on the status of polar bears in  Western Hudson Bay.

If the take-away message tipped towards reason and optimism rather than panic over the status of polar bears, it’s because the evidence was strongly in that direction.

Politics of polar bears title

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Must watch – “The Politics of Polar Bears: Tracking the Celebrity Bear”

This powerful, balanced documentary, with a focus on the bears of Western Hudson Bay, can now be watched online. A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) production, it includes interviews with polar bear biologists Mitch Taylor (screen-cap below) and Seth Stapleton – juxtaposed with statements from outspoken polar bear conservation advocate Andrew Derocher.

Politics of Polar bears_Mitch Taylor

I was not mentioned by name (making me “she who cannot be named” yet again?) but host Reg Sherren did discuss the contents of the email I received from PBSG chairman Dag Vongraven earlier this summer about their proposed clarification to the global population estimate (and posted here).

Politics of polar bears title

It can be viewed online at “CBC Player,” in its entirety (45 minutes long), without commercials – see it http://www.cbc.ca/player/Shows/Shows/Absolutely%20Canadian/Absolutely%20Manitoba/ID/2499492515/?cmp=rss

I can’t guarantee those outside Canada will be able to view it but I watched it Sunday night (August 31) from British Columbia. It’s well worth the time.

[Aired originally on “Absolutely Manitoba” (Season 2014, Episode 5, Aug 30, 2014), by Reg Sherren. See announcement article here]

[Note: the “Sharon Crockford” interviewed in the film is no relation to me, as far as I know!]

Bearded seals in Alaska face no serious threat of reduction, let alone extinction, judge rules

Here’s a significant turn of events involving a story I reported on earlier: a US District Court judge ruled on Friday 25 July 2014 that the Bering/Chukchi Sea population of bearded seal (Erignatha barbatus) was improperly given ‘threatened’ species status in 2012. Judge Beistline ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to correct deficiencies in its study of the population.

Bearded seals are important secondary prey species for polar bears in some regions of the Arctic (Thiemann et al. 2008), after ringed seals (which were also listed as ‘threatened’ in 2012).

beardedseal-mspindler-usfws

Among other points made in his written decision, the judge is quoted as saying (reported here):

“A listing under the ESA based upon speculation, that provides no additional action intended to preserve the continued existence of the listed species, is inherently arbitrary and capricious.” [my emphasis]

Arbitrary and capricious — now that’s a slap-down. He also reportedly called the ESA listing “an abuse of discretion.”

The question is, how often have other ESA listings – not challenged in court – been based on similarly arbitrary and capricious decisions that also involved an abuse of discretion?

More quotes from Judge Beistline’s decision, and reaction to it, below.
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Record sea ice loss in 2007 had no effect on polar bears, Chukchi study confirms

One aspect of the recently published study on Chukchi Sea polar bears (Rode et al.2014 [now in print] 2013; see here and here) has not been stressed enough: their finding that the differences in overall condition between bears in the Chukchi and Southern Beaufort Seas came down to disparities in spring feeding opportunities and therefore, the condition of spring sea ice.

The fact that spring — not summer — is the most critical period for polar bears is something I’ve pointed out before (see here and here, for example) but it’s worth repeating at this time of year, when all eyes are on the annual ice minimum. It is often treated as a given that the decline in extent of summer sea ice in the Arctic since 1979 has been detrimental to polar bears. However, this is an assumption that we can now say is not supported by scientific evidence (see summary of that evidence here).

The results published by Rode et al. (2014 2013) not only add further support to the conclusion that declines in summer sea ice have not harmed polar bears, but should put the matter to rest – unless new evidence to the contrary is produced.

Chukchi bears, the report tells us, had more food available in the spring than Southern Beaufort bears (see map below) and this was the primary reason that bears were doing very well in the Chukchi and not quite as well in the Southern Beaufort. And because the polar bears for this study were captured and measured in mid-March to early May, from 2008 to 2011, they reflect spring-time conditions for 2008-2011 as well as year-round conditions from 2007 through 2010.

This means that the annual low ice extent for 2007 (record-breaking at the time), in the fall before this study began, had no discernible negative effect on either Chukchi or Southern Beaufort polar bears – and neither did similarly low annual minimums in two of the three remaining years of the study (Fig 1).

Figure 1. Sea ice extent at August 27, 2007 – the lowest extent that year (downloaded September 15, 2013 from IARC-JAXA, Arctic Sea-ice Monitor). At the time, it was the lowest extent recorded since 1979 (2012 broke that record). This (2007) was the fall before the Rode & Regehr study on Chukchi/Southern Beaufort polar bears began (2008-2011). The ice was almost as low in September 2008 and 2010, while 2009 was more like 2013.

Figure 1. Sea ice extent at August 27, 2007 – the lowest extent that year (downloaded September 15, 2013 from IARC-JAXA, Arctic Sea-ice Monitor). At the time, it was the lowest extent recorded since 1979 (2012 broke that record). This (2007) was the fall before the Rode & Regehr study on Chukchi/Southern Beaufort polar bears began (2008-2011). The ice was almost as low in 2008 and 2010, while 2009 was more like 2013.

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Cooling the polar bear spin

I’ve had quite enough of the obfuscation of facts and model-based extrapolations into the future with regards to polar bears. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who is interested in what polar bears are doing now and, as much as can be determined, get some understanding of what the biological, geological and evolutionary history of polar bears and their habitat looks like. Spare us the emotional media hype, icon-peddling and fear-mongering about the future — we’d just like some information about the bears!

Polar bears at the Stanley Park Zoo, Vancouver, taken with my first camera in the early 1970s.

I’ve been looking at the scientific literature produced by polar bear and Arctic seal biologists for some time and I’ve found it contains some rather interesting and potentially important facts that are being left out, glossed over, or misrepresented in statements and publications generated by polar bear advocates of all kinds. It’s past time for these issues to be brought to light and publicized in one easily-accessible, up-datable forum. Hence, PolarBearScience.com — a new blog in which I discuss the science of polar bears while throwing cold water on some of the spin. Continue reading