Tag Archives: Kaktovik

Russian polar bear scientist critical of using radio collars

In an update to an earlier story from last month about a male polar bear spotted near Kaktovik with a tight satellite radio collar, a Russian biologist has voiced some some serious criticisms of the use of these devises.

polar-bear-radio-collar_CBC Oct 28 2015

In another news outlet, Andrew Derocher has finally admitted publicly that the Kaktovik bear with the tight collar is a male and is”likely his” (Global News, 23 November 2015; “Is this polar bear really being choked by a research collar?”). The male bear appears to have been fitted with a collar some time between 2007 and 2011. The collar should have fallen off by now but hasn’t. Derocher suggested maybe the collar isn’t really too tight and the blood might not belong to the bear. And that if the bear really wanted the collar off, he “…will be able to remove it himself.”

The criticisms of the use of collars are well worth reading.

UPDATE 25 November 2015: Another CBC report, not much more useful information except confirmation this is a male bear.
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Who tagged the Beaufort Sea polar bear with the tight collar?

I’ve updated my post from last week to reflect that an inquiry to USGS has generated a statement that the Beaufort Sea polar bear reported by CBC last week is NOT one of their bears. Apparently University of Alberta researchers were also tagging polar bears in the region.

polar-bear-radio-collar_CBC Oct 28 2015

See details in the updated post here.

Kaktovik, where the bear was photographed, is not too far from the Canadian border of the Southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation, see USGS tracking map below.

Original caption: "Movements of 3 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of October, 2015. Polar bears were tagged in 2014 and 2015 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All 3 of these bears have satellite collar transmitters. Polar bear satellite telemetry data are shown with AMSR2 remotely-sensed ice coverage for 31 October, 2015." Click to enlarge.

Original caption: “Movements of 3 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of October, 2015. Polar bears were tagged in 2014 and 2015 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All 3 of these bears have satellite collar transmitters. Polar bear satellite telemetry data are shown with AMSR2 remotely-sensed ice coverage for 31 October, 2015.” Click to enlarge.

How long is it going to take for the people responsible to own up to this situation – and more importantly, remove the tight collar from the bear?

Sickening effect of satellite radio collars polar bear researchers don’t want you to see

A report at CBC News (Photo shows polar bear injured by tight radio collar,” Martin Zeilig, 28 October 2015) shows the bloodied neck of a male Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear, taken near Kaktovik, Alaska, whose radio collar is too tight.

polar-bear-radio-collar_CBC Oct 28 2015

Researchers should not be putting collars on young animals and male bears – they know the problems! Who did the USGS have working for them that did not know this or couldn’t tell a male bear from a female? [see below] The other question is: how many more bears are in the same condition but out of sight on the sea ice – or dead due to their injuries? Don’t forget, this is a population that researchers claim is endangered because of climate change but which really declined recently due to thick spring ice in 2004-2006. [SJC – ambiguity fixed]

UPDATE 28 October 2015: 5:41 pm – in a comment under the CBC story, Churchill polar bear guide Kelsey Eliasson wrote (“4 hours ago”):

“This isn’t a he, it’s a she. Saw this bear during our trip, its a female with one cub.

Male polar bears are not radio collared.”

The statement in the CBC article that the bear with the collar is a male thus seems to be an error.  That makes more sense but does not negate the suffering of the animal.

UPDATE 5 November 2015: 8:30 am – I just received an email from a reader who contacted USGS about this bear and with their permission, I have copied the response below (leaving out the USGS contact person’s details), my bold:

Hello xxxx,

I do not believe USGS banded the bear. I have talked with staff at the USGS Alaska Science Center and found that the polar bear in the news was an adult male. The USGS scientists will band female polar bears, but not male bears. If you have questions, see this site. there is a link to the staff on the left. Click it and you will see a list with the project manager at the top. http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/polar_bears/tracking.html

It may be that USGS is accepting the word of one of the experts quoted in the story [Vince Crichton] that the bear is a male and have denounced their involvement on that basis. Obviously, other polar bear researchers must be working in the area, and Geoff York statements (below) suggest a crew from University of Alberta, led by Andrew Derocher.  But if Kelsey Eliasson is right that this is a female with a cub (see above update), it may indeed be a USGS bear, perhaps one who’s collar has stopped transmitting. The plot thickens.
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Beaufort Sea polar bear habitat highest since 2008 at this date

Good news for Southern Beaufort polar bears! Sea ice converging on the north shore of Alaska earlier than any year since 2011 at least, according to NSIDCs regional ice plots (below).

r01_Beaufort_Sea_ts_4km

But wait, their Masie ice maps show it’s actually the earliest since 2008 (although the ice movement onshore was also earlier than 2006 and 2007, see below). And it’s still a full week before the end of October, the first month of Arctic fall (October-December). Lot’s of seal hunting habitat.

This emphasizes the fact that the primary problem faced by Southern Beaufort sea polar bears is not scarce summer ice but by thick sea ice conditions in the spring. Bears photographed near Kaktovik this year were in excellent condition (see here and here, taken by Kelsey Eliasson, Polar Bear Alley). If folks have been seeing starving bears, they haven’t said anything that I’ve been able to find.

Ice maps below.
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Tracking polar bears – 3 out of 4 S. Beaufort bears on the ice during September 2015

The shore of Alaska is not very important to Southern Beaufort polar bears – most of them stay on the sea ice during the summer and early fall, where they may or may not continue eating. These results of on-going satellite tracking studies by USGS1 confirm results of previous studies.

Tranquilized_pb570_S Beaufort March 2014_USGS

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Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea – September 2014 map

Here is the September 2014 follow-up to my post on the July 2013 track map for female polar bears being followed by satellite in the Beaufort Sea by the US Geological Survey (USGS) – “Ten out of ten polar bears being tracked this summer in the Beaufort Sea are on the ice.”

See that post for methods and other background on this topic, and some track maps from 2012 (also available at the USGS website here).

The USGS track map for September 2014 is copied below (Fig. 1).

At the end of September, with sea ice starting to rebuild, it appears there were 8 bears on the ice and three on land.

The situation for September was not very much different from August, except that two of the 11 bears (up from one) were on the ice in the Chukchi Sea in September, a phenomenon that was recently acknowledged to have affected the last population estimate for the Southern Beaufort subpopulation.

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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