Just in time for Polar Bears International’s self-proclaimed fall Polar Bear Week (5-11 November 2017), here’s a new resource for cooling the polar bear spin. I’ve updated my 2015 summary of reasons not to worry about polar bears, which is now more than two years old. In this new version, you will find links to supporting information, including published papers and fully referenced blog posts of mine that provide background, maps and bibliographies, although some of the most important graphs and maps have been reproduced here. I hope you find it a useful resource for refuting the pessimism and prophecies of catastrophe about the future of polar bears. Please feel free to share it.
As global leaders meet in Bonn for COP23 (6-17 November 2017), it’s time to celebrate the proven resilience of polar bears to their ever-changing Arctic environment.
Twenty Reasons: the bullet points
- Polar bears are still a conservation success story: there are more polar bears now than there were 40 years ago.
- Fewer populations are in decline than in 2010 (only one, officially) and only six are data deficient (down from nine).
- Abrupt summer sea ice decline has not affected polar bear numbers as predicted: even though sea ice levels dropped to mid-century levels in 2007, the expected decimation of polar bears failed to occur.
- The Chukchi Sea population is thriving despite a pronounced lengthening of the ice-free season since 2007.
- Less sea ice in the summer in the Chukchi Sea has meant a healthy prey base for polar bears because ringed seals feed primarily in the ice-free season.
- Polar bears have shown themselves to be adaptable to changing ice conditions in several regions.
- Southern Beaufort numbers have rebounded since the last survey count.
- Barents Sea numbers have probably increased since 2005 and have definitely not declined despite much less sea ice cover.
- There is no evidence that record-low summer sea ice in 2012 had a harmful effect on Southern Beaufort bear numbers.
- Other species are being negatively impacted by high polar bear numbers, especially nesting sea birds and ducks.
- Western Hudson Bay population numbers have been stable since 2004, despite what scientists are telling the media.
- Hudson Bay sea ice has not changed since about 1999: breakup dates and freeze-up dates are highly variable but the ice-free period was not any longer in 2015 than it was in 2004. However, this fall freeze-up is shaping up to be the earliest in decades.
- Problem bears in Churchill are not lean or starving.
- Churchill Manitoba had the most problem bears in 1983 and 2016, which were late freeze-up years, but many of the incidents in 2016 can be attributed to increased vigilance on the part of patrol officers after an attack in 2013.
- There have been only marginal sea ice declines during the feeding period in spring, when polar bears need sea ice the most.
- The is no evidence that subsistence hunting is affecting bear populations.
- Stressful research methods have been curtailed in much of Canada.
- There have been no reports of polar bear cannibalism since 2011.
- Polar bears appear unaffected by pollution: studies suggest only that harm is theoretically possible, not that it has happened.
- Polar bears have survived past warm periods, which is evidence they have the ability to survive future warm periods.
- Polar bears are thriving: they are not currently threatened with extinction.
- Tens of thousands of polar bears did not die as a result of more than a decade of low summer sea ice, as was predicted.
- Polar bears don’t need sea ice in late summer/early fall as long as they are well-fed in the spring.
[full text below, pdf with footnotes and references here]
Walrus researchers from the US Geological Survey have a new report on the history of walrus haulouts in the Chukchi and Bering Seas – yet their media efforts (via press release and interviews) fail to mention the relationship between fluctuating size of walrus haulouts and fluctuating walrus population size that is evident in that history. In fact, overall population size is not mentioned at all.
Two articles came out over the weekend that announced the results of this new joint US-Russian initiative [PBS, Walrus beaching in Alaska might not be as harmful as it looks. Here’s why – 31 July 2016 and ADN, Alaska and Russia join forces to create 160-year database of walrus haulouts – 31 July 2016]
But neither articles nor the new USGS paper they are touting (Fischback et al. 2016) mention the huge summer/fall haulouts of females, calves, and juveniles that were documented in the 1970s that coincided with the huge population size at that time, which crashed in the 1980s.
Only now has the population grown (to at least 200,000) to the point that huge haulouts are again being reported – conservation has done it’s job. But when walrus numbers get too high the animals out-strip their food source and numbers plummet, as they did in the 1980s (Fay et al. 1989; Garlich-Miller et al. 2011). See my fully referenced summary paper, Crockford 2014 (On The Beach: Walrus Haulouts are Nothing New).
Here’s the concern: When (not if) a population crash happens again, will it be blamed on global warming rather than natural causes? According to the PBS article:
“The database is supposed to help federal officials with conservation, especially as more ships start sailing through the newly open waters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is determining whether walrus should be listed as a threatened species.” [my bold]
My GWPF video on the issue (The Walrus Fuss) below:
See excerpts from the USGS database below, with a map:
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat, walrus
Tagged Alaska, beaching, Bering Sea, change, Chukchi Sea, facts, Fischbach, global warming, GWPF, haul out, haulout, history, Point Lay, population size, report, St. Lawrence Island, threatened, USGS, video, walrus, Walrus Fuss
In The Arctic Journal, 7 October 2015: Unstable thinking about polar bear habitat [not my title choice]
This is a previously unpublished summary, written exclusively for The Arctic Journal, of my peer-reviewed, fully referenced essay on this topic that was published earlier this year by the Global Warming Policy Foundation in their “Briefing Paper” series (#16, June 8, 2015: The Arctic Fallacy: Sea Ice Stability and the Polar Bear), which includes a foreword by Dr. Matthew Cronin, Professor of Animal Genetics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Pdf here.
Here are the essential points, one by one:
Posted in Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic Journal, decline, GWPF, habitat, IUCN, polar bear, population size, sea ice, spring, summer, thick spring ice
I have a new paper out that explains a fundamental problem with polar bear conservation.
I’m convinced that a flawed and out-dated ecological concept — that sea ice, under natural conditions, provides a stable, predictable habitat — is what has allowed the present doom and gloom attitude of most polar bear specialists to develop.
Sea ice changes, of course, from season to season. However, the concept that sea ice is a stable habitat assumes that these seasonal changes are predictable and virtually the same from one year to the next – at least, similar enough that the differences are not responsible for causing marked declines in population size.
The assumption is that under natural, stable conditions populations of Arctic animals will either stay the same over time or increase. Biologists were taught at university that sea ice should be a stable habitat and as a result, they’ve glossed over evidence they collected to the contrary. [see recent posts here and here, for example]
Negative effects on populations of short-term natural variations in spring sea ice or spring snow cover on sea ice have been entirely ignored in modeled predictions of future conditions. The focus has been on summer ice extent.
I have summarized this evidence in a fully referenced, peer-reviewed essay that explores how the acceptance of this fallacy (“sea ice is a stable habitat”) has so skewed the conservation biology of polar bears that to outsiders it may look like a scientific integrity issue.
The summary and the essay are below (with embedded links and references). The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) has published the essay in their “Briefing Paper” series (#16, The Arctic Fallacy: Sea Ice Stability and the Polar Bear), which includes a must-read foreword by Dr. Matthew Cronin, Professor of Animal Genetics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Press release here, pdf here.
I think you’ll find it timely and thought-provoking.
Posted in Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Beaufort Sea, climate change, Cronin, ecology, global warming, GWPF, habitat, Hudson Bay, IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, K-selection, model, PBSG, polar bear, Polar Bears International, polarbearscience, population size, predictions, ringed seal, sea ice, snow depth, stable, summer, thick spring ice, variability
Not just anyone warrants the attention of the European rapid response team: only those who get media attention and refuse to stay ‘on message’ about global warming issues get the Carbon Brief treatment.
After years of being ignored, I have finally been acknowledged as a worthy adversary [a force to be reckoned with] by those who spin the science of polar bears.
Carbon Brief folks got their knickers in a knot over my “Twenty Good Reasons Not to Worry about Polar Bears” blog post that the Global Warming Policy Foundation released as a Briefing Paper (pdf here). All timed for release on International Polar Bear Day (27 February 2015), which got mainstream media attention galore in the UK.
Posted in Advocacy, Summary
Tagged Amstrup, BBC, Carbon Brief, declining population, declining sea ice, Derocher, GWPF, IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, Kara Sea, media attention, PBSG, polar bears, population estimates, rapid response team, The Times, threatened, vulnerable, Webster
Produced by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, there is now a short video summary of my recently-released GWPF briefing paper, which I wrote and narrated.
Watch it below:
Available also at GWPF TV: “The Walrus Fuss – Walrus haulouts are nothing new.”
The briefing paper is here.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat, Summary, walrus
Tagged Alaska, briefing paper, climate change, Dr Susan Crockford, global warming, Global Warming Policy Foundation, GWPF, haulouts, Point Lay, sea ice decline, stampedes, USGS, video, walrus, walrus mortality, WWF
I’ve written a briefing paper for the GWPF refuting claims that huge herds of Pacific walruses hauled out on land are a sign of global warming.
Here’s the GWPF press release:
London, 20 October: A briefing paper published today by the Global Warming Policy Foundation refutes claims that Arctic walruses are in distress and danger due to global warming.
The paper, written by Canadian zoologist Dr Susan Crockford, assesses the recent mass haulouts of walrus females and calves on the beaches of Alaska and Russia bordering the Chukchi Sea. The events have been blamed by US government biologists and WWF activists on lack of summer sea ice, amplified into alarming scare stories by news media around the world.
Such claims ignore previous haulouts that suggest a different cause. Scientific reports about large walrus haulouts that have occurred repeatedly over the last 45 years show that they are not new phenomena for this region.
At least two documented incidents of similar magnitude have occurred in the recent past: one in 1978, on eastern St. Lawrence Island and the other in 1972, on the western end of Wrangel Island. The 1978 event involved an estimated total of almost 150,000 walrus hauled out within in a small geographic area.
Moreover, sea ice maps for the months when known mass haulouts occurred, compared to years when they did not, suggest no strong correlation with low sea ice levels.
“The WWF and American walrus biologists have categorically linked the Point Lay mass haulout event to global warming, but available evidence suggests that’s alarmist nonsense,” Dr Crockford said.
“Blaming lack of sea ice for recent events ignores the documented factor – large population size – that drove walruses onto beaches en masse in the past, when plenty of ice was available. Conservation measures have almost certainly led to a spectacular recovery of walrus numbers over the last few years. This suggests that recent mass haulouts are more an indicator that Chukchi walrus are nearing maximum capacity than a sign of impending global warming catastrophe,” Dr Crockford added.
Here’s the paper. [Link fixed, h/t HO]
Posted in Advocacy, Sea ice habitat, Summary, walrus
Tagged briefing paper, Chukchi Sea, global warming, Global Warming Policy Foundation, GWPF, haulouts, minimum ice extent, on the beach, population size, sea ice, St. Lawrence Island, Susan Crockford, US Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS, walrus, Wrangel Island, WWF