Tag Archives: Derocher

Western Hudson Bay polar bears in great shape after five good sea ice seasons

Polar bear researcher Andrew Derocher says it takes four years of good sea ice conditions to recruit a polar bear from birth but implies that 2019 is the first year in decades that conditions for bears have been ‘good’ in Western Hudson Bay. He thinks he can get away with saying this because he hasn’t published any of the data on body weight and body condition he’s collected on these bears over the last 25 years (apparently, whatever funding agency pays for his research does not require him to publish the data he collects).

But independent observations such as dates of ice freeze-up in fall, ice breakup in summer, dates and condition of bears recorded onshore, suggest he’s blowing smoke: at least five out of five of the last sea ice seasons for WH bears have been good. That means we should be seeing more bears in the next official population count.

Churchill Seal River Lodge triplets_30 Sept 2017

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First polar bear spotted off the ice in Western Hudson Bay is fat and healthy

One of the first of hundreds of polar bears expected to come off the sea ice of Hudson Bay along the west and south coasts was captured on video on 5 July. This is only the first wave, as there is still so much ice remaining that most of the bears are likely to remain offshore: not because there is so much food available (few seals are caught at this time of year) but because the ice is where they are most comfortable.

Churchill_first polar bear at Cape Churchill 5 July 2019 on explore dot org cam screencap

 

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Abundant polar bear habitat across the Arctic at the start of winter

January is the first month of the Arctic winter, the season when most polar bears really struggle to find enough to eat.

Polar bears feeding_Shutterstock_sm

Here is what the sea ice looked like around the Arctic at the end of this month.

masie_all_zoom_4km 2019 Jan 31

Compare to last year:

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Derocher admits Western Hudson Bay polar bear population may not be declining

Earlier this year, I challenged a journalist to ask to see the data used by Andrew Derocher and his colleagues to support their repeated claims that Western Hudson Bay polar bears are having trouble surviving. It almost happened.

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

David Rose, writing for The Mail on Sunday, has produced an excellent feature on the conflict between Nunavut Inuit and biologists about polar bear management, got Andrew Derocher to tell the truth about current polar bear health and survival.

Or, to be more precise, to waffle a bit on his standard message of doom:

“Even Prof Derocher, who is convinced the bears’ long-term future is bleak, accepts that ‘the wheels are not coming off yet’, while ‘some bear populations are doing fine’. In West Hudson Bay, there has been ‘a recent period of stability’, he says, and though ‘we were seeing starving bears, starving cubs on land, that seems to have slowed down’. Then again, the computer models ‘are not great on the 5 – 10 year time-frame’, and it was possible that although the Arviat bears might look healthy now, they may be about to ‘fall off a cliff’.” [my bold]

This concession by Derocher suggests that Western Hudson Bay bears indeed are thriving, because he’s the guy who holds all the data. But he couldn’t help adding that disaster might be just around the corner.

But did he actually produce the data that show what’s been happening with cub survival or the body condition of females since 2004? Apparently not — but his admission that conditions are not as bleak as he continually portrays them suggests he is covering for data that says the same: polar bears in Western Hudson Bay are doing just fine and Inuit are right to be worried.

This may be as good as it gets unless the people of Nunavut can force Derocher to show his data.

Read the whole story here: “Why all you’ve been told about these polar bears could be WRONG: Animals driven to the edge of their natural habitat by shrinking ice have become one of the defining images of climate change, but Inuits who know the predators have a very different story.” (The Mail on Sunday, David Rose, 30 December 2018).

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No extirpation looms for Svalbard polar bears: no pending catastrophe in Norway

Despite a wild claim that a “slow Arctic freeze” this year increases the risk that polar bears will become extinct, sea ice charts show ice returning earlier than it has for decades everywhere except the Svalbard area of the Barents Sea. That’s good news for pregnant polar bears. Although Svalbard is without ice, that’s been true for so many years that pregnant Svalbard females long ago abandoned the use of islands they used in good ice years and now make their dens in the Franz Josef Land archipelago to the east (which is still within the Barents Sea subpopulation region).

Svalbard polar bear fall 2015_Aars

Polar bears give birth around 25 December each year, so pregnant females prefer to be snug in a safe den by around the end of November at the latest. That’s been possible for all regions of the Arctic this year, including the Barents Sea — because sea ice returned to Franz Josef Land weeks ago, even though Svalbard is still ice-free.

Franz_Josef_Land_location_wikipedia

Major denning areas in Russia, including Wrangel Island, have been surrounded by ice since the middle of the month, allowing pregnant females that did not remain on shore over the summer to return to make maternity dens. Elsewhere, bears that have been confined to shore over the ice-free season (such as along Hudson Bay and Baffin Island in eastern Canada) returned to the ice to hunt seals weeks ago after the earliest freeze-up in more than two decades.

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Nunavut government has a draft plan to deal with unsafe numbers of polar bears

In the news today: “Nunavut Draft Plan Says There Are Actually Too Many Polar Bears In Territory” (CTV News via The Canadian Press, Bob Weber, 12 November 2018).

Polar Bear seaweed_Lorraine Brandson Churchill_taken Nov 2012

Polar bear eating seaweed near Churchill, Manitoba (November 2012). Lorraine Brandson photo.

From the Canadian Press story:

“There are too many polar bears in parts of Nunavut and climate change hasn’t yet affected any of them, says a draft management plan from the territorial government that contradicts much of conventional scientific thinking.

The proposed plan — which is to go to public hearings in Iqaluit on Tuesday — says that growing bear numbers are increasingly jeopardizing public safety and it’s time Inuit knowledge drove management policy.

“Inuit believe there are now so many bears that public safety has become a major concern,” says the document, the result of four years of study and public consultation.”

I’ve noted previously that there were two fatal polar bear attacks in Hudson Bay this summer. Both of them happened outside local communities and both happened early during the ice-free period (when bears would have been onshore for only a few weeks). Neither incident can be reasonably blamed on lack of sea ice, an extended ice-free period, or lack of management of problem polar bears within or near communities. The bears involved in the August attack were described as being in good condition.

Update 13 November 2018: See The Guardian‘s take on this story, by a different writer. Despite potential to talk to other polar bear specialists about this issue, only Derocher is quoted. Is no one else talking? “Polar bear numbers in Canadian Arctic pose threat to Inuit, controversial report says” (The Guardian, 13 November 2018).

Update 14 November 2018: See a new CBC story on Inuit perspectives on this issue. “Nunavut community says Inuit lives need to be protected over polar bear population” (CBC News, 14 November 2018).

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Svalbard polar bear data 2016 through 2018 shows no impact of low ice years

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.

Svalbard polar bear_NP015991-isbjorn-JA

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).
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