Tag Archives: IUCN

Terrestrial food fight amongst polar bear researchers reflects political differences

With a few big guns on one side and some fringe folk on the other, a dichotomy of opinion has developed amongst polar bear researchers regarding whether or not consumption of land-based foods is making a difference to polar bear survival (or is likely to in the future).

Polar bears eating terrest foods WHB_Rockwell press release

It’s been going on for a while now. Last year, two US Geological Survey members of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) apparently got fed up with the scatter-shot of papers promoting terrestrial foods as a possible salvation for polar bears (e.g. Iles et al. 2013;  Iverson et al. 2014; Rockwell and Gormezano 2013a, 2013b). In April, they published a canon volley of a paper meant to blow all that ‘polar-bears-might-survive’ talk out of the water once and for all (Rode et al. 2015).

Note that although the PBSG didn’t bother to update their website with the IUCN Red List assessment when it came out last November, they had a link up to the USGS terrestrial feeding paper within 16 days (with an editorial summary in the “NEWS” section as well as a listing of the paper in the “RECOMMENDED READING” section). As I suggest below, this difference in treatment may not be a coincidence.

However, another group of non-PBSG researchers  haven’t given up just yet, as shown by the title chosen for the most recent news report (Alaska Dispatch News, 16 June 2016) on the just-finished International Bear Conference:

Want to know how a changing climate is affecting polar bears? Look at what they’re eating.

Apparently, Jeff Welker, a University of Alaska Anchorage researcher who is co-author on two recent papers on the subject of polar bear consumption of terrestrial foods (Tartu et al. 2016 and Rogers et al. 2015), gave a presentation at the conference that raised this topic yet again. His talk came on the heels of an earlier presentation by Todd Atwood, who suggested Southern Beaufort polar bears might benefit from staying onshore to eat left-over whale scraps instead of staying on the sea ice during the summer (even though he had no data to support that opinion – as I discussed in this post).

Here’s the question: is this dispute really about what polar bears eat or don’t eat when they’re on land – or is it symptomatic of the underlying politics of polar bears? [CBC documentary video by that name here]
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PBSG failure to acknowledge 2015 IUCN polar bear update drives the public here

It is now past the 15 June 2016 mark and the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) has still not acknowledged the 2015 IUCN Red List update on the status of polar bears. See the screencap below, taken this morning.

PBSG at 16 June 2016

This notice has been up since 14 January 2016 and no reference or link to the November 2015 IUCN Red List update has been posted, even though PBSG members authored the report (pdf here)!

What they may not realize is that their silence just drives people who search the internet looking for up-to-date population and conservation status info on polar bears to this site. My posts on population size and conservation status have been the most popular posts since November.

It’s that kind of attention that has made this site so popular: PolarBearScience will reach 750,000 views within the next couple of weeks (see “Blog Stats” lower right) – that’s right, 3/4 million views in less than four years. More than 400,000 readers have come here since the end of July 2012 to find out what’s really going on in the world of polar bears. Continue reading

Silence of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group on the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment

It’s been six months and still the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group has not updated its website with a link to the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment for polar bears, which was made public with some fanfare in November 2015. They are not the only group still ignoring the Red List decision but their silence is the most damning – the IUCN is the parent body of their organization.

On May 7th, I wrote to the IUCN Red List folks (redlist@iucn.org) about this situation (excerpt below) but as yet have received no reply.

PBSG website banner May 10 2016

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Challenging Alaska polar bear research sound bites and bewildering ESA status

Beaufort Sea male polar bear USGS_2005 Amstrup photo

It’s easy to take polar bear research papers at face value but it’s not very scientific. The snappy sound bites provided for the benefit of the media – whether they’re embedded in press releases or in published abstracts – don’t cut it with trained scientists. Trained scientists read the whole report, critically examine the evidence it contains and assess that evidence within the context of previous knowledge. That’s what they are trained to do.

I challenge the superficial summary on the status of Alaskan polar bear populations provided by FactCheck.org journalist Vanessa Schipani.  Schipani disputed a comment made by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski that, according to the latest research Alaskan polar bear population numbers are strong and healthy. I’m not especially interested in the political context of the statement, only Schipani’s bald claim that Murkowski’s declaration is false.

I’ve read all the relevant papers in full and I contend that the evidence supports Murkowski’s statement. Schipani is confusing the issue by regurgitating ‘facts’ that don’t tell the truth of the matter. By the sum of accounts, Alaskan polar bear populations are indeed healthy and strong – whether or not this status will continue is an entirely different question. Continue reading

Biggest threat to polar bears reconsidered

What presents a bigger risk to current polar bear populations: natural hazards that have already proven deadly or potential, yet-to-be-realized threats prophesied to occur due to human activities? That’s a perfect question for International Polar Bear Day.

Natural ice_snow variation and polar bears_model_PolarBearScienceFeb 20 2016

Dag Vongraven, chair of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, remarked last year that “until 2001, everything was fine.

Polar bear researchers thus assume that 2001 was the year climate change became the new over-hunting – but is it true? What are the relative harms presented by proven natural causes, potential human-caused threats, and predicted threats due to sea ice declines blamed on global warming? Considered objectively, is climate change really the single biggest threat to polar bear health and survival right now?
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Zoos use polar bears to spur action on climate change – not to save them

Media outlets have recently been having collective organisms over photos and videos of a three month old polar bear cub born at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, which has again raised the issue of why it is now acceptable for polar bears to be held and bred in captivity.

Zoo bear at Columbus_after birth in November 2015

Newborn polar bear cub ‘Nora’ Columbus Zoo handout

The myth being propagated by zoos and their supporters is that it’s necessary to save polar bears from extinction.

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth – this is all about pressuring people to care about climate change. Polar bears are merely  a marketing tool to spur action on climate change.  That’s not my opinion but the plan put in place in 2012 by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Polar Bears International.

Oddly, few animal rights activists are objecting (or at least, not objecting very strenuously) to zoo displays of captive polar bear cubs – obvious money-making draws for zoos – which were so vehemently condemned in the 1970s that most zoos gave them up.

Now, the practice is defended and everyone seems to feel this is the greatest thing since the invention of the telephone. [Update 19 February 2016: courtesy the BBC, we can add Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland to the list of zoos using “we’re saving the polar bears” justification for breeding the bears in captivity]

The surprise is that disgraced climate scientist Michael Mann, promoter of the infamous hockey stick of global temperatures, is involved in all this.

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Polar bear myths perpetuate from the mouth of stuck-in-the-past Ian Stirling

In my last post, I complained about “vague and misleading statements” made by polar bear specialists and conservation advocates. Here’s a recent example of that phenomena, from veteran polar bear biologist Ian Stirling.

 

stirling_UA faculty page photo accessed July 22 2012

The magazine of Canada’s North, UpHere, published an interview with Ian Stirling this month. The piece begins:

“No fear-mongering. No exaggeration. For Ian Stirling, it’s purely about the science.”

Yeah, well – judge for yourself. Here’s a sample:

“We have lost on average about half the sea ice that we had in 1979, which is the first year that satellite coverage of the Arctic was taken [he’s talking about September ice here]. Places like Hudson Bay are breaking up three weeks earlier than they used to and freezing up a couple weeks later. We’re going to have even more significant effects over a much wider area in the Arctic. We’re likely to lose another 30 or 40 percent, or even half of the bears that we have today in the middle of the century, and unchecked, we will likely have very few bears left at the turn of the next century. In 2100, we’ll probably just have a few small remaining pockets in the northern Canadian Arctic islands and northern Greenland.”

Read the rest here.

Stirling’s opinion about polar bears and climate change hasn’t changed since at least 2004 despite the following scientific developments: Continue reading