Tag Archives: fat

Fat healthy polar bear update: hundreds of not-starving bears attracted to dead whale

Are the hundreds of polar bears spending the summer on Wrangel Island in the Chukchi Sea starving and desperate for any scrap of food? Hardly! Photos taken by Russian tourists on a cruise ship (19 September 2017) show a huge number of already-fat, healthy bears converging on a dead bowhead whale washed up on a beach. Most of these bears would have been without food since at least early August, when the last sea ice disappeared around the island, and will return to the ice by November.

Wrangel Island bears on whale_29 Sept 2017 SUN

This is what The Sun reported (29 September), based on a Siberian Times story (my bold):

The extraordinary sight was witnessed by tourists on an Arctic cruise aboard the Finnish-built MV Akademik Shokalskiy.

A source at Wrangel Island Nature Reserve said: “There were at least 230 polar bears, including single males, single females, mothers with cubs and even two mothers with four cubs each.”

Experts called the sight of so many polar bears together “unique”.

The huge number could in fact amount to as much one per cent of the entire world’s population of the creatures.

Tourists initially thought the bears were a flock of sheep after viewing them from a distance, The Siberian Times reports.

But as the boat drew closer, the lucky holidaymakers realised what they were witnessing.

Fat cubs of the year are seen in the photo below, from the Siberian Times story:

Wrangel Island bears on whale_29 Sept 2017 Siberian TimesA self-proclaimed science-based news site (LiveScience, 29 September) that picked up the story of this unique event had the temerity to suggest the bears might have been “hungrier than usual” due to global warming.

It deliberately conflates predictions of future starving bears due to low sea ice levels with this observation of many obviously not-starving bears checking out an attractive food source (my bold):

“It’s unclear, however, whether climate change had made these particular bears hungrier than usual. The frequency of starving polar bears is expected to increase as the climate warms and sea ice declines — not just because of climate change directly, but because ice loss is taking away seals, their main food source, Steven Amstrup, chief scientist at Polar Bears International, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to studying polar bears, told Live Science in 2015.”

Except that there is no evidence that ice loss is “taking seals away” — certainly not in the Chukchi Sea. Chukchi Sea seals have been found to be doing better with less ice than they were when there was more ice in the 1980s.

More below, including the location of Wrangel Island and sea ice maps.

UPDATE 2 October 2017: Sea ice in the Chukchi Sea has been lower this summer than over the last few years but the polar bears spending the ice-free season on Wrangel Island are still in good to excellent condition:

r02_Chukchi_Sea_ts_4km at 2017 Oct 1

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Report of Hudson Bay polar bear onshore in winter is rare indeed – here’s why

Late February is still the dead of winter in the Arctic, a time when most polar bears are at their leanest and out on the sea ice trying to find seals – and that means yesterday’s report of a “very fat” polar bear onshore outside Inukjuak is unusual at face value – but my followup inquiry revealed details that make it even more startling.

bear-onshore-end-feb-2017_cbc-photo-facebook

CBC North facebook entry 27 Feb 2017

At my request, CBC North reporter Priscilla Hwang reached out to the hunter involved, who is the mayor of the community. She was told the incident took place on Saturday 25 February 2017 and the very fat bear in the story was actually a young, subadult female.

Subadults are more likely to be in poorer condition than adults at any time of year, due to their lack of hunting experience and competition with adult males. So to see a young bear that’s very fat before the feeding begins is quite astonishing: it suggests that feeding opportunities out on Hudson Bay have been very good over the winter and/or this bear was a savvy hunter despite her youth.

According to the mayor’s report, this community hasn’t had a bear onshore in nearly 30 years. Polar bears in Hudson Bay travel with the retreating ice to the western and southern shores, so with some exceptions, bears usually only have access to the east coast during winter through spring.

Last winter saw an extraordinary number of reports of bears on shore in winter, most of them causing trouble (see summary here). This Inukjuak sighting is the second I’ve come across this year – the other was in Svalbard (a female with cubs). Whether this new pattern is due to more bears or lack of hunting leading to bears having less fear of people – or a bit of both – it’s not yet possible to say.

So under the circumstances, the mayor of Inukjuak’s decision to kill this bear for the protection of the community seems quite reasonable (given the extensive resources required in Svalbard to drive their problem bears away rather than kill them).

Excerpts from the CBC story, and some maps and charts, are below.
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Barents Sea polar bears in excellent condition say Norwegian biologists

Conditions this year (2015) in the Barents Sea were excellent according to the polar bear researchers who work there (“Polar bears were as fat as pigs”).

Barents Sea bear 2015 August Cobbing_NPI
A new survey just completed for a population count showed the bears were are in excellent condition – except the injured ones, of course, which some news organizations are promoting as evidence of harm from global warming-induced sea ice changes because an activist photographer  – not scientists – said so.

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Arctic Basin polar bears – researchers spot fat pregnant female from icebreaker

Researchers in the Arctic Basin yesterday spotted a hugely fat pregnant polar bear female on broken ice over water about 2,500 meters deep. Some people seem to find this surprising but it’s what I discussed last week.

Healy Aug 24 2015 Polar-Bear VI Tim Kenna

Photo above by Tim Kenna from aboard the Coast Guard cutter Healy. Researchers are in the area as part of the TRACES of Change in the Arctic” program. Another perspective on the bear and the location it was spotted on 24 August 2015 below, as well as some background on Arctic Basin bears.
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New paper finds experts were wrong: polar bears are not “walking hibernators”

A polar bear paper just out in Science concludes the experts were wrong, polar bears are not “walking hibernators” – in summer, they slow down and live off their accumulated fat just like other mammals. Take home message: experts are not infallible and spring fat is critical for polar bear survival over the summer.

polarbears-arcticnatlwildliferefuge-suzannemiller-usfws_labeled_sm

This paper presents no compelling evidence that Southern Beaufort polar bears, or those in any other region, lack the ability to survive predicted summer sea ice declines in future decades – although they claim it does. See what you think.
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Polar bear habitat looking good for early summer – last days before the fast

Some polar bears may already be living mostly off the fat put on over the spring but others may catch a seal or two on the sea ice before the summer fast begins – since the ice hasn’t left the coast in most regions quite yet. Polar bears eat little in summer, whether they spend their time on land or on the sea ice.

PolarBearCV1LG_USGS

Sea ice is still high over Hudson Bay – for this time of year, it hasn’t had this much polar bear habitat since 2009. Davis Strait and Foxe Basin are also above average – Davis Strait hasn’t had this much ice since 1992 (the Mt. Pinatubo cold year). Polar bear subpopulation refresher map below.

PB map-all-populations PBSG original plus Okhotsk
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Kaktovik polar bear photos, again no “starving” bears

A Southern Beaufort female with cubs, from the fall of 2007. Note how fat they all are.

A Southern Beaufort female with cubs, from the fall of 2007.
Note the non-starving condition.

Twenty-one amazing photos of polar bears feasting on the remains of a bowhead whale carcass outside of Kaktovik, Alaska, taken by wildlife photographer Michal Tyl, have been posted by the UK Daily Mail (December 12, 2013): Now that’s what you call a spare rib! Pack of bloody-faced polar bears spend day and night stripping a beached whale to its bones.”  Have a look and see if you can spot any “starving” bears! 

What you will see is the relative size of the bears: notice how much larger males are than females, how small cubs-of-the-year are relative to big males. Oh, and notice all the big fat polar bear butts. I can’t include any of the photos here because of copyright rules (the one above is from 2007) but I have included a map showing the location of Kaktovik, a quote from the article, and a link to my previous post on Kaktovik bears, which has a wealth of background information. Continue reading