Tag Archives: facts

Death by drowning: Al Gore told us this was the future of polar bears but it wasn’t

In this short interview clip with Friends of Science director Michelle Stirling, I talk about the drowning polar bears in Al Gore’s 2007 movie that he implied would lead to the extinction of the species. Except that it didn’t…

My new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, explains why.

Polar bear books for kids and young adults are the perfect antidote for climate anxiety

In this short interview clip with Friends of Science director Michelle Stirling, I talk about Polar Bear Facts & Myths (for kids 7 and up) and EATEN, my science-based polar bear attack thriller that’s appropriate for older teens and young adults. Both are available in paperback and ebook formats, while the paperback version of Polar Bear Facts & Myths is also available in French, German, Dutch, and Norwegian.

Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change is also suitable for teens and young adults and is fully referenced.

Walruses climbing cliffs and falling off them are natural events: 1994 video from Alaska

US Fish and Wildlife officials in 1994 explain walruses falling to their deaths from a cliff at Cape Pierce in the southern Bering Sea (a haulout for adult males during the ice-free season). Explanation? Overcrowding (too many walruses)!

Hype from the Netflix/Attenborough ‘climate change is gonna destroy the world’ fearmongers earlier this year notwithstanding – or the media this summer trying to stir up climate change fever – the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined in October 2017 that the Pacific walrus is not being harmed by climate change and is not likely to be harmed within the foreseeable future (USFWS 2017). The IUCN Red List (2015) lists the Pacific walrus as ‘data deficient.

Large herds onshore are a sign of population health, not climate change, and walruses have come ashore in the Chukchi Sea during the ice-free season in summer and/or fall for more than 100 years (Crockford 2014; Fischbach et al. 2016; Lowrey 1985). Those are the relevant scientific facts.

References

Crockford, S. J. 2014a. On the Beach: Walrus Haulouts are Nothing New. Global Warming Policy Foundation Briefing Paper 11. Pdf herehttp://www.thegwpf.org/susan-crockford-on-the-beach-2/

Crockford, S. J. 2014b.The Walrus Fuss: Walrus Haulouts are Nothing New https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwaAwsS2OOY  23 Oct 2014. [15,141 views at 31 Aug 2019]

Fischbach, A.S., Kochnev, A.A., Garlich-Miller, J.L., and Jay, C.V. 2016. Pacific walrus coastal haulout database, 1852–2016—Background report: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2016–1108. http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20161108. The online database is found here.

Lowry, L. 1985. “Pacific Walrus – Boom or Bust?” Alaska Fish & Game Magazine July/August: 2-5. pdf here.

MacCracken, J.G., Beatty, W.S., Garlich-Miller, J.L., Kissling, M.L and Snyder, J.A. 2017. Final Species Status Assessment for the Pacific Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), May 2017 (Version 1.0). US Fish & Wildlife Service, Anchorage, AK. Pdf here (8.6 mb).

USFWS 2017. “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Findings on Petitions to List 25 Species as Endangered or Threatened Species” [pdf] 4 October

 

Media and USGS biologist sensationalize recent report of a polar bear encounter in Alaska

It’s been a slow summer for polar bear news to hype, so we shouldn’t be surprised that a local report that polar bears this summer have descended on the town of Kaktovik, Alaska one week earlier than 2017 has morphed into an international story that makes a 2016 research report sound like this year’s news, with headlines trumpeting: “polar bear encounters are increasing” due to a longer open water period. Nevertheless, it was reported just two weeks ago that Alaska has not had a polar bear attack since 1993.

polar_bear-US FWS_young bear Alaska maybe Kaktovik no date

This is a particularly blatant example of how the media skew polar bear ‘news’ for public consumption, aided by scientists with a particular message to sell. Not surprisingly, a number of essential facts have been left out of this sensationized account, in part because the polar bear specialist the media consulted left those facts out of his statement.  This is the sort of bias displayed by polar bear specialists that I discuss in my new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.

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Not predicted: more sea ice than average in southern-most Arctic first week of August

Polar bear habitat update for the first week of August 2019 shows there is still more sea ice than average in Hudson Bay, the southern-most area of continuous habitation for this species. That certainly wasn’t part of the predictions of doom, especially since freeze-up in that region for the last two years has also been earlier-than-average which means a shorter ice-free season than we’ve seen for decades.

Hudson Bay weekly departure from normal 2019 Aug 5

Despite ice coverage for the Arctic ice as a whole being marginally lower than it has been since 1979 for this time of year, sea ice for the first week of August was also above average around Svalbard in the Barents Sea and higher than the last few years in the Central Arctic, which is a critical summer refugium for polar bears that live in the peripheral seas of the Arctic Ocean, including the Chukchi (see photo below, taken in early August 2018).

Chukchi Sea polar bear Arctic_early August 2018_A Khan NSIDC small

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Alaska waters with no sea ice are not a problem for Pacific walrus or polar bears

One of two alarming headlines that caught my eye this week was the ‘news’ on Monday that the waters off Alaska were now ice-free because of climate change, courtesy a story in the online media outlet Mashable that was later picked up by The Weather Channel and the UK mainstream paper The Independent. In addition, a large number of mainstream news outlets, including the New York Times and Newsweek, have reported that walruses came ashore this year at Point Lay, Alaska two weeks earlier than any year since 2007.

No one claimed this late July onshore movement of walruses was the beginning of the end of walruses but it was still blamed on human-caused climate change because it was associated with the  aforementioned ice loss in Alaska.

Walrus at Point Lay from trail camera in 2015 USFWS

Neither event was truly ‘news’. Moreover, neither an ice-free Alaska in early August or walruses onshore two weeks earlier than 2017 will have any negative impact on local polar bear or walrus populations, whether due to human-caused climate change or natural variation. Well-fed polar bears everywhere are quite capable of going 4-5 months without food in the summer and a few thousand walruses at Point Lay will feed happily from this shore-based haulout for a few days to a few weeks as they have done many summers since 2007 before moving on to other Chukchi Sea beach locations – although the ‘leaving’ events never seem to get any media attention. Walruses will haul out on beaches in Alaska and Russia until the ice returns in October.

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Sea ice adjacent to all major polar bear onshore summer refugia at 31 July 2019

For all the hand-wringing over sea ice extent this year and its supposed similarity to 2012, what is truly remarkable is that at the end of July ice remains adjacent to every single major terrestrial summer refugia known to be important for polar bears. Those refugia sites include (from west to east, starting in the Chukchi Sea): Wrangel Island, western Chukotka, Severnaya Zemlya, Franz Josef Land, East Greenland, virtually all the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (including Southampton Island in Foxe Basin and the southwest and eastern coasts of Baffin Island), and Western Hudson Bay.

masie_all_zoom_4km 2019 July 31

Few bears spend the entire summer onshore along the Alaska coast: most still spend the summer on the sea ice and move with it as it contracts toward the Arctic Basin, as do many bears in the Barents, Kara, East Siberian, and Chukchi Seas. Until a few weeks ago, however, there was enough ice present that Beaufort Sea bears could go ashore if they wanted to do so. Continue reading