Tag Archives: Ian Stirling

New information on the fatal polar bear attack at Arviat, Western Hudson Bay

Additional information is available regarding the fatal mauling of a young Arviat father two weeks ago that may answer the question of why the bear left the Hudson Bay sea ice well before it was necessary. Was it lack of sea ice (blamed on global warming), as biologist Ian Stirling recently insisted — or did natural food attractants lure the bear ashore prematurely?

Aaron Gibbons_fishing_Gibbons family photo

I would also like to appeal to readers to consider a donation to the Go Fund Me campaign set up to support the widow and children of Aaron Gibbons, who was only 31 years old. So far, there has not been an overwhelming response (less than 1/2 of the modest goal of $5,000 met after two weeks) and that saddens me deeply.

I have contributed myself but each individual can only do so much. Imagine losing your spouse in this most vicious manner (the children witnessed the attack and were the ones that called for help) and think of the challenges of healing your family and keeping it afloat financially. Please see the GO FUND ME page and contribute if you can.

What I’ve learned over the last week is that the polar bear that killed Aaron Gibbons was a big male in poor condition but he was not the only bear onshore at the time. In addition, the Arctic tern nesting colony on Sentry Island was undoubtedly an enticing natural attractant that seems to have encouraged these bears to leave the ice far north of where they might otherwise have come ashore.

UPDATE 20 July 2018: I’ve added the most recent (19 July) map of collared WH polar bear locations on Hudson Bay to the “Condition of the Sea Ice” discussion below. Also, I am pleased to see that the GO FUND ME campaign has now gone above the half-way mark (~$2800.00 as of 2:00 PM Pacific time). My personal thanks to every one who was able to contribute. I hope to see the goal reached within the next few days.

UPDATE 6 September 2018: A news announcement today revealed that the necropsy done on the bear that attacked Aaron Gibbons was an adult male in “fair” condition (thin but not skinny). See my report here and the news story here. And I’m pleased to report that the GoFundMe goal of $5000 for Aaron’s family has been reached: thanks to all PolarBearScience readers for their support.
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Colleague says EATEN possibly a real service to polar bear conservation

My last post, on the up-coming International Bear Conference in Anchorage, presents the perfect backdrop for highlighting a wonderfully unbiased review of my polar bear attack thriller, EATEN, penned by a prominent Canadian polar bear researcher who is utterly convinced that future sea ice loss is the biggest threat to the species (and a former student of the grand-daddy of all polar bear researchers, Ian Stirling).

June summer reading sale image3

Here is what polar bear-human interaction specialist Douglas Clark had to say about my novel in his Amazon review (note I did not send Doug a review copy because he did not request one – he bought it himself – so I had no idea this was coming):

Thought-provoking, and possibly a real service to polar bear conservation

His detailed thoughts on the book below.
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“Polar bears miss the message on global warming” – my article in RANGE Magazine

Here’s an excerpt of my article “Polar bears miss the message on global warming,” just out in the Fall 2014 issue of RANGE Magazine.

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PBI Facebook posts on Stirling’s polar bear that “died of climate change” have disappeared

It seems the two PBI Facebook posts about polar bear expert Ian Stirling’s bear that supposedly “died of climate change” last summer, which included some scathing comments and links to this blog, were removed sometime between late August 2013 and yesterday, when I happened to look for them.

See the screen-caps below. The first one, posted August 6, linked to the original Guardian article on the Svalbard bear and added some activist spin for good measure!

Polar Bears International Facebook_Aug 6

The second one, posted August 8, linked to an PBI news item that introduced a PBI blog post written by Stirling, in which he attempted some damage control.1

PBI link to Stirlings blog post on the bear that died of climate change_with activist spin_Aug 8 2013

[Reprise: Stirling speculated that a 16 year old bear found emaciated and dead in Svalbard, three months after it had been captured by researchers in good condition, had died of starvation due to lack of sea ice caused by global warming. Guardian writers transformed this into a bear that “died of climate change.” No mention from in the original story that 16 years is near the maximum life expectancy for male bears in the wild, that death by starvation is the usual cause of death for very old bears, or that other bears in the area were doing just fine (based on the fact that the Norwegian team working that area had just posted their data online). See my original post here, followup here, Featured Quote #44, here and footnote below]

Stirling himself (a “scientific advisor” to Polar Bears International, PBI), and the-polar-bears-are-dying message generally, took a big hit over that incident. But attempting to rewrite history? See the screen-cap below, taken yesterday (pdf here):

PBI_Fan Photo Day Aug 6 to Aug 13 gap_Svalbard bear story gone_April 29 2014

The deletion of these two entire entries suggests that PBI and Ian Stirling would rather their faithful Facebook followers and donors not have a chance to revisit the scathing comments and links to this blog. I assume it is the comments and links that were the offending parts, since Stirling’s blog post at PBI is still there, and of course, the news stories carried elsewhere are still out there. So instead of deleting comments, they removed the entire posts.

Good thing I saved screen caps of many of the more critical comments, from at least two PBI Facebook followers I’ve never heard of — have a look. [August 6th post was also captured by the cache machine]
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Polar bear cannibalism and sea ice, the spring of 1976

Remember Ian Stirling’s claim that late freeze up in Western Hudson Bay in 2009 was forcing polar bears to resort to cannibalism (here and here), with gut-wrenching images and video provided for the media? Or Steve Amstrup’s claim for a similar phenomenon in the Southern Beaufort in 2004?

I pointed out that Stirling’s claim was way overblown and that Amstrup’s incidents were almost certainly the result of heavy ice in the spring (not low ice in summer), similar to the heavy ice conditions and polar bear starvation documented in the same region back in 1974-1976.

It turns out that the heavy ice conditions documented in the Eastern Beaufort in the mid-1970s had much broader effects on polar bears and ringed seals than has been appreciated.
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Did polar bear numbers in E. Beaufort fluctuate each decade due to thick ice years?

Now that we have a plausible explanation (previous post here) for why shorefast ice in the Eastern Beaufort got too thick for ringed seals every ten years or so, it’s time to talk about the effect that this recurring sea ice phenomenon might have had on polar bear population numbers.

We know from the reports of polar bear biologists that without fat young seals to eat in the spring, some bears in those thick-ice springs came close to starving and many mothers lost all or most of their cubs (Amstrup et al. 2006; Stirling 2002; Stirling and Lunn 1997; Stirling et al. 1980; Stirling et al. 2008). This presumably had some impact on population numbers – the question is: how bad was it?

None of the reports on the effects of the thick ice have given us any indication of how many polar bears might have died or lost their cubs. However, Ian Stirling and colleagues (Stirling et al. 2011) recently published a paper on the Northern Beaufort subpopulation that looked, at first glance, to have done just that.

You have to keep in mind that the geographic area in question – the Eastern Beaufort – is not an official polar bear subpopulation region – at least, not any more. As Fig. 1 below shows, the Eastern Beaufort was once its own, strictly Canadian region (or at least, a strictly Canadian research region) see previous post here), but management is now shared between two subpopulations and managed by two governments (Canada and the USA). About half of the bears of the “Eastern Beaufort” reside in the ‘Northern Beaufort’ subpopulation and the other half live in the ‘Southern Beaufort’ subpopulation.

Figure 1. Re-jigging of polar bear subpopulations now splits what used to be an entirely Canadian segment, called the “Eastern Beaufort” (map on the left, from Stirling and Lunn 1997), into “Southern Beaufort” (shared with the USA) and “Northern Beaufort,” with the Canada-USA border at 141 W (map on the right, from Stirling et al. 2011). Labels added for clarity. Most of the polar bears sampled for the Stirling et al. paper were captured along the west and south coasts of Banks Island, although a few were captured north of Banks Island in M’Clure Strait and in Amundsen Gulf to the southeast.

Figure 1. Re-jigging of polar bear subpopulations now splits what used to be an entirely a Canadian research segment, called the “Eastern Beaufort” (map on the left, from Stirling and Lunn 1997), into management regions called “Southern Beaufort” (shared with the USA) and “Northern Beaufort,” with the Canada-USA border at 141 W (map on the right, from Stirling et al. 2011, Fig. 1). Labels added. Most of the polar bears sampled for the Stirling et al. paper were captured along the west and south coasts of Banks Island, although a few were captured in M’Clure Strait and in Amundsen Gulf.

Despite the changing boundaries, ringed seals and polar bears in the Eastern Beaufort have been the focus of research since the early 1970s. In part, this is because the region has been targeted for oil exploration and studies on both species have been part of the associated ecological impact assessments (Stirling et al. 1993).

Getting back to the point, did Stirling et al. 2011 find fluctuations in polar bear numbers in the Northern Beaufort that might reflect the periodic bouts of thick spring ice in the Eastern Beaufort? Unfortunately, no — the data lack necessary precision. You’ll see why, I think, from the summary below.  Continue reading