Tag Archives: Derocher

Polar bear counts for W Hudson Bay: ‘core’ area numbers are not comparable

Polar bear population estimates for Western Hudson Bay have recently become contentious because one specialist has been making statements that confuse the issue. As we all wait for the release of the report on the WHB aerial survey of 2016, it’s worth going over the recent history of these counts and what they have revealed.

Churchill_Polar_Bear_2004-11-15 Wikipedia

The official count for bears in WHB (used by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, the IUCN Red List, and Environment Canada) is 1030, based on an aerial survey of the entire region conducted in 2011 (Stapleton et al. 2014).

Since last year, Andrew Derocher (University of Alberta) has been telling any media pundit who will listen that WHB polar bears have declined from about 1200 bears in the 1980s to only 800 or so bears today (one example here) — a statement that is clearly not true.  In recent months, however, whether due to complaints from the public or from his colleagues, he’s qualified that statement by saying it’s the number of bears in the “core” area of WHB that has declined.

But is Derocher’s revised statement a clear scientific interpretation of the facts? Have a look at the details below and see if you come to the same decision I have: that it’s not possible to compare WHB ‘core’ area polar bear population estimates over time.

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Southern Beaufort sea ice melt in May: good news for polar bears or catastrophe?

Last week biologist Andrew Derocher recently implied via twitter that less sea ice in the eastern portion of the Southern Beaufort (SB) this year at mid-May is harmful to polar bears (calling it “a hole in the ice where polar bears used to live“), but both long-term and short-term data don’t support such a glass-half-empty interpretation.

Not only does spring breakup of sea ice in the SB normally begin with such open patches of water (see the video above from last year) — driven by the powerful currents of the Beaufort Gyre, not ice melt (explained in detail here) — it may actually be necessary for the survival of local seals, polar bears and whales in spring and early summer (Citta et al. 2015; Crawford et al. 2015; Harwood et al. 2015; Stirling et al. 1981).

As I’ve pointed out before, the biggest threat to SB bears is thick sea ice in spring and its associated late breakup, a 2-3 year-long phenomenon unique to this region known to have occurred about every 10 years since the early 1960s (well documented in the scientific literature) but which has not (as far as I know) happened since 2004-2006.

In other words, a considerable patch of open water and less concentrated ice in the eastern SB around Cape Bathurst is almost certainly a good thing for this particular subpopulation (see previous post here for an in-depth discussion) because historically, when a polynya of some extent has not formed by April or May it has been devastating for local marine mammals.

The fact that an extensive patch of open water existed at mid-May in this region last year and the year before (2015 and 2016) — with no public hue-and-cry about a great dying of SB bears from Derocher or anyone else — suggests that open water in the eastern SB this year is likely to be beneficial for SB polar bears, or at least benign. Continue reading

Still lots of East Coast sea ice but prof tells CBC it doesn’t bode well for polar bears

Davis Strait polar bears around Newfoundland and Labrador are currently experiencing what one polar bear specialist refers to as “failed” sea ice conditions, causing bears to come ashore in droves. I’m not making this up.

Sea ice extent Canada 2017 April 21 CIS

The ice was so thick in the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland and southern Labrador last week that a ferry was stuck for 24 hours and had to be rescued by an icebreaker.

The boats of fisherman on the north shore of Newfoundland are stuck in thick ice that’s not expected to clear until mid-May at the earliest and they can’t get out to fish.

boats-in-ice-near-twillingate_CBC_19 April 2017

See this video posted on Twitter two days ago.

The same thing (perhaps even worse) happened in 2007, see Twillingate in the spring of 2007 below:

Twillingate-heavy ice-20070523_2007 CBC David Boyd photo

Yet, in 2007 there was not a single polar bear reported onshore in Newfoundland (as far as I am aware) but this year there were almost a dozen. And the photos show fat, healthy bears – not animals struggling to survive.

East Coast March April polar bear sightings 2017 V3_9 April

According to Andrew Derocher, that’s proof “failed” sea ice is the reason that polar bears came ashore this year but not last year (when there was also lots of ice in late March/early April, see additional maps and graphs below). Last year there were sightings in the middle of winter (January/February) in Labrador and Newfoundland (which I reported here) and one bear was shot in Newfoundland in early May when he advanced on local RCMP officers.

I think Derocher believes he’s set the record straight by offering an interview of his own to refute the things I said to the CBC last week (I talked on two Newfoundland radio stations, which generated a print CBC article). But Newfoundlanders have to deal with used car salesmen just like the everyone else, so I expect they are having a good laugh right now at the expert who’s blaming their polar bear troubles on a lack of sea ice.
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New paper updates lack of trend in W Hudson Bay breakup/freeze-up dates to 2015

A newly-published paper shows that there has been no trend in the time Western Hudson Bay polar bears spent onshore between 2001-2015 due to sea ice conditions at breakup or freeze-up (previously available to 2010 only), despite the marked decline of global sea ice since 2007.


Figure 3 from Castro de la Guardia and colleagues (2017) showing freeze-up and breakup dates and ice-free days 1979-2015 for Western Hudson Bay. Figure with caption, copied below, explains symbols.

Previously, a 2007 paper by Eric Regehr and colleagues for WHB bears up to 2004, which was used to support the US bid to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ with extinction, concluded that between 1984 and 2003, bears were spending 3 weeks longer onshore than they did in the 1980s.

The big news from Castro de la Guardia et al. (2017) is that polar bears spent longer onshore from 1979-2015 by … 3 weeks. That is, no change from the situation in 2004. Wow!

Note the population size of the entire WHB subpopulation has also not declined since 2004 and is currently estimated at about 1030, based on a 2011 aerial survey (Stapleton et al. 2014).

Thanks to Andrew Derocher for the heads-up tweet.

From the abstract (my bold):

We found that the ice-free period in this region lengthened by 3 ± 0.8 wk over the period 1979−2015. Polar bears migrated onshore 2 wk earlier and offshore 1 wk later in the period 2005−2015 than in 1980−1989.

Here is the region in question, illustrated by Fig. 1 from the paper:

castro-de-la-guardia-et-al-derocher-2017-fig-1a-locationThe significant information contained in this paper is breakup and freeze-up dates and length of the ice-free period data for 2010-2015, which has been unavailable until now. More excerpts and comments below, including Figure 3 with its caption. Continue reading

As polar bear populations fail to decline with sea ice, message of doom intensifies

If 10 years of summer sea ice levels expected to kill 2/3 of the world’s polar bears by 2050 hasn’t had an impact, why would anyone expect a bit less summer ice will do the job?


The more the polar bears fail to die in droves, the shriller the message from activist polar bear researchers – via willing media megaphones – that the great death of the bears will soon be upon us, just you wait and see!

Some big media guns were out this past week spreading the prophesy of doom fed to them by the polar bear researchers most committed to the “threatened with extinction” narrative: The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian. The desperation is becoming palpable as the public catches on to their epic failure.

In 2007, the sea ice dropped to a level the experts said wouldn’t be reached until mid-century, and since then, it has remained at that low level (about 3-5mkm2, give or take some measuring error). And in 2007, US Geological Survey (USGS) biologists said with absolute confidence that when sea ice levels reached that point, 2/3 of the world’s polar bears would be gone.

No bears at all would remain, they said, in Western Hudson Bay (the Churchill bears), Southern Hudson Bay, Foxe Basin, Davis Strait, Baffin Bay, Southern Beaufort, Chukchi Sea, Barents Sea, Kara Sea, and the Laptev Sea:  ten out of 19 subpopulations would be extirpated if sea ice levels in most years dropped to the summer lows in the 3-5 mkm2 range.

On the basis of that prediction, polar bears were declared ‘threatened’ with extinction by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

But nothing of the kind happened. There are still lots of polar bears – and not even struggling-to-survive bears but lots of fat healthy bears everywhere across the Arctic, in what were considered by USGS biologists to be the most vulnerable regions of all: Western Hudson Bay (i.e., Churchill), Chukchi Sea and Southern Beaufort (Alaska) and the Barents Sea (Norway).

This is the truth the world needs to hear: the experts were wrong. Polar bears have not been driven to the brink of extinction by climate change, they are thriving. This is the message of each of my two new books (one of which is appropriate for kids of all ages, see the sidebar).

In turns out that polar bears are much more resilient to changing levels of sea ice than data collectors assume and the proof is in the current healthy populations everywhere. Continue reading

No correlation between freeze-up dates for WHB sea ice & Churchill temperatures

This is a follow-up to my last post and this time, I’ll address the implied correlation between freeze-up dates for Hudson Bay and Churchill temperatures in November that is being made by folks who should know better .


Monday, 14 November 2016 a.m, over at Polar Bears International [my bold]:

“As a new week starts in Churchill, the weather is the warmest we’ve ever seen at this time of year. The tundra is muddy, with remnant patches of snow, and the bay is ice-free.” PBI Blog (no author designated)

Well, that may be true for the last few years – the high on 14 November 2016 (-1.20C) was the highest since 2012.

Andrew Derocher made a similar statement on the 4th (my bold):

There’s no sea ice anywhere in Hudson Bay yet—not even in the northern part of the Bay where ice should be forming. It’s above freezing today and if the forecast holds, it will be a record high for this date. It was 10 degrees colder last year at this time.”

Derocher is being unscientifically vague here and also misleadingly cites highs and lows as if they were the same. In fact, according to weather records kept by Environment Canada, for 4 November 2016 at Churchill, the daily high was +1.50C (compared to –1.50C in 2015). The daily low in 2015 was -15.30C, a 10 degree difference. The next-highest temp. for that date since 2012 was +0.70C in 2014 – hardly an earth-shattering difference.

However, if you are trying to draw conclusions about climate, you should go back at least 60 years (two climate periods of 30 years each). Temperature records for Churchill go back to 1943, which can be used to assess the claim for the 14th of November made by PBI.

According to weather records kept by Environment Canada, for 14 November at Churchill, the year with the highest temperature was 1975 (+2.20C):


That was Monday. But as of yesterday, the weather recorded – and the forecast for the following week (17-23 November) was quite different, as the screencap below shows:


The final recorded max. for yesterday (Thurs. 17 Nov) was -9.70C vs. a min. of -17.70C. So, a bit warmer during the day than predicted but as cold as expected overnight.

And for today, the current temperature in Churchill, as I write this is, is -190C (-310C with the wind chill) and the year with the highest temperature recorded for 18 November was 1944 (0.00C) – which was also the highest temperature for the 19th, recorded in 1943.

Ice maps and historical background below. See last post for recent multi-year comparison.
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No correlation between freeze-up dates for Hudson Bay & total Arctic ice cover

Guess which year between 2006 and 2016 had the latest start to freeze-up on Hudson Bay, given that 2012 had the lowest September average and 2007 and 2016 tied for second-lowest (see graph below, from NSIDC), and that sea ice in the Arctic right now is the lowest it’s been for this date since 1979?


If you guessed anything other than 2010, you guessed wrong – in addition, 2006 (not 2016) was second latest.

There is no correlation between Arctic sea ice coverage and freeze-up dates for Western Hudson Bay.

Yet, Polar Bears International (“Save Our Sea Ice”) –  who were surely in and around Churchill in 2010 and 2006 watching polar bears – just posted an alarming statement about local conditions, implying that slow freeze-up of Hudson Bay this year is a reflection of the fact that “sea ice is at a record low across the Arctic.”

They also claim that “…the weather is the warmest we’ve ever seen at this time of year.” That may be true, but if so, it is also meaningless with respect to the progress of freeze-up.

Does no one at PBI remember the very late freeze-up of 2010 or 2006? Odd, that.

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