Sea ice around Svalbard, Norway at the end of February 2020 is way above average, as the graph below shows – with more polar bear habitat now than there has been in two decades.
Some comparison charts below show that the graph above includes some very high ice years in the 1980s (reaching that dotted line above the mean) for which only global charts are available.
However, contrary to suggestions that more Svalbard ice is better for polar bears, there is no evidence that low extent of sea ice habitat in winter or summer over the last two decades harmed polar bear health, reproductive performance, or abundance. In fact, polar bear numbers in 2015 were 42% higher than they were in 2004 (although not a significant increase, statistically speaking) and most bears were found to be in excellent condition.
This suggests a return to more extensive ice to the Svalbard region in winter will have little impact on the health of the entire Barents Sea subpopulation, although it might change where pregnant females are able to make their maternity dens if ice forms early enough in the fall. In other words, the population should continue to grow as it has been doing since the bears were protected by international treaty in 1973.
UPDATE 3 March 2020: According to 28 February tweet by the Norwegian Ice Service, which I just saw today, “the last time there was this much sea ice around Svalbard on this day of the year [28 February] was 2004“. Somehow, I missed 2004 when I was looking through the archive, so I have modified the text below accordingly; see the 2004 chart below and here.
Posted in Life History, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Barents Sea, body condition, cub survival, denning, facts, Franz Josef Land, polar bear, science, sea ice, Svalbard
In the course of a manhunt for two murder suspects wanted in British Columbia, Royal Canadian Mounted Police posted a photo of a fat polar bear they spotted about 200 km north of Gillam, Manitoba.
This fat bear – as would any others that might be spotted in the area – is a pregnant female from the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation intent on finding a secure place to dig a den in the permafrost where she can stay cool over the summer and give birth this winter.
However, true to form, The Guardian (28 July 2019) ludicrously suggests those on the hunt for the murder suspects are now at risk of a polar bear attack:
The threat of a polar bear attack has become a reality for the huge Canadian police and military contingent searching for the teenage duo suspected of shooting dead Australian tourist Lucas Fowler, his US girlfriend and a university botanist.
Posted in Life History, Polar bear attacks
Tagged denning, dens, fat bears, Gillam, Hudson Bay, manhunt, Manitoba, maternity den, polar bear, pregnant, Wapusk National Park
January is the first month of the Arctic winter, the season when most polar bears really struggle to find enough to eat.
Here is what the sea ice looked like around the Arctic at the end of this month.
Compare to last year:
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic, Barents Sea, Canada, denning, Derocher, East Coast, Franz Josef Land, polar bear, sea ice, Svalbard, winter
Canadian biologist Andrew Derocher was called upon to promote his particularly pessimistic viewpoint on polar bear survival in a story published in the New York Times yesterday (2 December 2018: “Drilling in the Arctic: Questions for a Polar Bear Expert”). However, decades of evidence suggests that onshore oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is unlikely to harm the few female bears that come ashore in Alaska to make maternity dens.
Here is my rebuttal to Derocher’s claims, all of which I’ve dealt with previously.
Posted in Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Alaska, analogy, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, climate change, denning, disturbance, multiyear ice, onshore, polar bear, sea ice, soil
As the seasonal minimum for Arctic sea ice approaches, the media get carried away by hyperbole. Tha’t been true since 2007. This year, other outlets will need to work hard to beat yesterday’s bit of nonsense from The Independent trying to out-do The Guardian: it not only includes false polar bear facts (from sea ice researcher Peter Wadhams) but leads with last year’s controversial SeaLegacy video of an emaciated polar bear. Sea ice silly season has truly begun.
Wadhams (described as “one of the UK’s leading sea ice scientists” although not a particularly respected one) was interviewed about the small area of open water that opened up over the last few days in northern Greenland (see NSIDC photo below), driven by offshore winds (not melt). This region is the eastern-most part of the area that is considered the “last holdout” for Arctic sea ice: an immense band of very thick (4-20m) multiyear ice that stretches across the Arctic Ocean shores of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
The open water is expected to last a few days at most but Wadhams was absolutely breathless with dire warnings of what this might mean for the future of polar bear in the region (about which he knows nothing), rhetoric ramped up even further by the news outlet with quotes from co-director of the Grantham Institute (London), Martin Siegert, and predictions on how low the sea ice minimum might be.
Cape Morris Jesup on 13 August 2018. W. Meier, NSIDC/NASA.
I think this is a truly spectacular example of the ignorance of scientists speaking outside their area of expertise used to mislead the public but decide for yourself.
Posted in Advocacy, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged advocacy, denning, experts, fake, Greenland, hype, media, misinformation, polar bear, Queen Elizabeth Islands, sea ice, Siegert, Wadhams
Last week, the Norwegian Polar Institute updated their online data collected for the Svalbard area to include 2017 and 2018 — fall sea ice data and spring polar bear data. Older data for comparison go back to 1993 for polar bears and 1979 for sea ice, showing little to no impact of the reduced ice present since 2016 in late spring through fall.
Here’s what the introduction says, in part [my bold]:
“…The polar bear habitat is changing rapidly, and the Polar Basin could be ice-free in summer within a few years. Gaining access to preferred denning areas and their favourite prey, ringed seals, depends on good sea ice conditions at the right time and place. The population probably increased considerably during the years after hunting was banned in 1973, and new knowledge indicates that the population hasn’t been reduced the last 10-15 years, in spite of a large reduction in available sea ice in the same period.”
See Aars et al. 2017 for details on the 2015 Svalbard polar bear population count, keeping in mind that the subpopulation region is called “Barents Sea” for a reason: only a few hundred individuals currently stick close to Svalbard year round while most Barents Sea bears inhabit the pack ice around Franz Josef Land to the east (Aars et al. 2009; Crockford 2017, 2018).
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Barents Sea, body condition, decline, denning, Derocher, Franz Josef Land, litter size, mothers with cubs, polar bear, population, sea ice, Svalbard
Two out of three polar bear females that were collared by USGS researchers near Barrow, Alaska last spring are hanging out on the northwest coast of Banks Island, Canada. The other bear (bright green icon) appears to have been collared on the ice off Prudoe Bay in April. And as I discussed last month, it’s unusual for bears from the western end of the Southern Beaufort subpopulation (or even the central region) to end up in the Northern Beaufort subpopulation territory.
Original caption: “Movements of 3 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of October, 2016. Polar bears were tagged in 2016 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All 3 of these bears have satellite collar transmitters. Polar bear satellite telemetry data are shown with AMSR2 remotely-sensed ice coverage from 29 October, 2016.” See full resolution image here and close-up below.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Alaska, Beaufort, denning, facts, females, freeze-up, ice growth, polar bear, satellite collars, sea ice, subpopulation boundaries, tracking, USGS
It’s just past the height of fall in the Arctic (Oct-Dec) and polar bear habitat is expanding day by day: according to NSIDC Masie ice charts, the ice has now surpassed 11 mkm2 in extent. Fall is the second most important feeding period for polar bears after spring.
Only the Barents and Kara Seas (north of Norway and western Russia) are short of ice right now, similar to conditions seen in the fall of 2013. Last fall (2014), conditions were much better and as a consequence, researchers saw a lot of females with healthy cubs in the spring of 2015.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged AMO, Barents Sea, Davis Strait, denning, fall feeding, Hudson Bay, polar bear, pregnant females, sea ice, spring feeding
Good news from Norway: polar bears around Svalbard are in excellent condition this spring and many females with new cubs have been spotted. This is a marked turn around from conditions just last year.
According to a Norwegian news outlet yesterday, Jon Aars (Fig. 1, below), from the Norwegian Polar Institute, confirms that this has been an excellent year for polar bear cubs around Svalbard because there has been abundant sea ice near denning areas on the east coast.
Figure 1. Biologist Jon Aars with a Svalbard cub.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged AMO, Arctic, Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, Barents Sea, body condition, cubs, denning, fall, Franz Josef Land, Jon Aars, Madden-Julian Oscillation, Norwegian Polar Institute, NSIDC, polar bear, science, sea ice, spring, Svalbard, winter