Is there a mutiny in the works between the IUCN Red List and the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) over polar bear population estimates or has there simply been a breach of ethics? What else explains the fact that some of the subpopulation estimates used by the PBSG to support the status of ‘vulnerable’ for the IUCN Red List in 2015 are unacceptable to them in 2017? And why are the PBSG refusing to embrace the Red List global estimate of 22,000-31,000?
The latest version of the IUCN PBSG status table was posted online 30 March 2017 without fanfare or even a note on their home page. It seems the result came from much discussion at their official meeting last summer (June 2016) that they say continued into early March 2017.
PBGS members voted to reject four subpopulation estimates used in the 2015 Red List polar bear status review — even though the inclusion of those numbers was required in order for the Red List status of ‘vulnerable’ to be upheld. The group has also chosen not to update their global population page with the Red List estimate of 22,000-31,000.
And surprise, surprise — now that only one subpopulation out of nineteen worldwide has shown a recent decline, the PBSG have removed the “trend” columns from their summary table for subpopulations.
Welcome to conservation ‘science’ practiced by IUCN polar bear specialists.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged Chukchi Sea, conservation, count, East Greenland, ethics, IUCN, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, polar bears, population size, Red list, science, status, unknown
At least a dozen polar bears that besieged a remote Russian weather station on an island in the Kara Sea during the first two weeks of September prompted a few media pundits to suggest that loss of summer sea ice due to global warming may be forcing polar bears to hunt humans for food. Headlines like the one below, from the IB Times, fueled such notions:
Eye-catching though such headlines might be, this is more sensationalism than reality. These particular bears have been onshore since early July this year (about the time some Western Hudson Bay bears come ashore) and sea ice conditions have been similar this time of year since 2007. In other words, despite what some writers are claiming, sea ice conditions this year are nothing new.
A few bears usually visit this station each summer when the sea ice leaves – but this year there were more than a dozen bears rather than a few. My opinion as a scientist is that more bears – more bears that are increasingly unafraid of people – are likely the cause of the sudden increase in numbers of bears being a problem at this location. Note that of the 14 bears, four were cubs, which is a good crop of youngsters.
In addition, hunting polar bears is banned in Russia and this incident shows to what lengths people must go to avoid killing them – the population must be booming and may be higher yet than the last population count (in 2013) of about 3,200 bears. More bears means more competition for food, which means more assertive bears get the goods. None of these bears were described as thin or starving – see more photos, like the one below, from the Russian weather station (Daily Mail, 18 September 2016).
While polar bears are always on the look-out for food (and thus always a potential threat to humans), they are most apt to be truly dangerous in winter (when they are at their lowest body weight) and in spring if seals are in short supply.
That’s why my new polar bear attack thriller EATEN is set in early spring, in a year when seals happen to be scarce. Imagine the damage those Russian polar bears could have done if they’d been truly desperate for food – a mere door or window would not have stopped them.
Imagine if dozens of truly ravenous polar bears stalk and ambush people across a great frozen landscape, taking them by complete surprise because no one considers a bear attack in spring to be a real possibility. What if dozens of people have been killed and eaten by hungry polar bears and there is no end in sight? That is the premise of EATEN – a science-based novel set in Newfoundland that will scare your pants off.
This is a great read for fall, when polar bear encounter stories abound. Hopefully the reports this year won’t include the kind of serious mauling that happened in 2003.
Posted in Polar bear attacks
Tagged attacks, besieged, climate change, facts, global warming, Kara Sea, polar bear, Russia, scientists, sea ice, weather station
Newborn harp seals are food for Davis Strait, East Greenland and Kara Sea polar bears but wildlife photographers see only cute furry babies with big eyes and trusting natures.
See these photos taken some unknown spring (early March) in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada (published 29 December 2015 by Mailonline): the pups are kind of skinny when first born but fatten up quickly on fat-rich milk from their attentive mothers. Ask yourself: does this photographer know that the fattest of these baby seals he oh’s and ah’s over in his commentary are just what polar bears depend on for their existence – and that the bears will eat as many of them as they can catch, peeling them like bananas so that they can eat the skin and fat first?
The title of the piece is: “Eye-eye! Cheeky seal cubs just a few days old wink and pose for the camera as they wait for their mother to feed them:
- The young Harp seal pups had never seen humans before the pictures were taken
- They were photographed in their habitat of Madeleine Island in Quebec, Canada
- Harp seals are solitary animals except during breeding season, when they congregate in their thousands“
“These seal-ebrities from Canada are pictured striking hilarious poses that even Cara Delevingne would be proud of.
The three Harp seal pups – just days old – were passing time while they waited for their mother to return from hunting.
One pup looked straight to the camera with a cheeky wink, while another lay on its back looking longingly at the lens.
The impressive poses were captured by photographer Gunther Riehle, who was lucky enough to get just feet away from the baby seals on Madeleine Island in Quebec.”
See the photos here. Harp seal and hooded seal distribution and breeding areas in the Eastern Arctic (from DFO Canada).
More polar bear seal prey info here. See potential consequences of lots of polar bears depending on abundant harp seals north of Newfoundland in my novel, EATEN.
Posted in Advocacy, Life History
Tagged baby seal, cute, Davis Strait, East Greenland, facts, food, Front, Gulf of St. Lawrence, harp seal, Kara Sea, newborn, photographer, polar bear, prey, pups, West Ice, White Sea
Activist polar explorer Børge Ousland’s told National Geographic that more polar bear encounters on land are due to reduced sea ice – without any reference to population changes over that time or revealing when or where these observations were made.
More vague anecdotal observations and opinions posing as scientific evidence.
Posted in Advocacy, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged activist, climate change, encounters, explorer, glaciers, Ice Legacy, Kara Sea, National Geographic, polar bear, population size, problem bears, sea ice, Severnaya Zemlya
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
The first-ever population estimate for polar bears in the Kara Sea is an astonishing 3,200 bears (range 2,700-3,500). Russian researchers report the results in a new paper (Matishov et al. 2014, in English).
Polar bear counts were made during late winter/early spring (approximately January to April) from ice-breakers between 1997 and 2013. Females with cubs (whether one or two) were noted. The counts were extrapolated to give a total for the entire region (as is usual for all such surveys).
The question is, will the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) consider this new polar bear count to be reliable or complete enough to include in their next IUCN assessment?
Oddly, it seems some people expect polar bears to sit around and suffer (or die) when local conditions deteriorate, rather than move elsewhere.
While there are perhaps a few places where moving is not really an option over the short term, over the long term (more than one season) polar bears are free to shift to another locale if ice conditions change (either too much ice or too little).
An announcement by the WWF last week (10 April) caught my eye, as it talked about bears moving from one area to another because of changing ice conditions — as if this was surprising, extraordinary and newsworthy. That said, at least they weren’t suggesting the bears are all going to die because of declining ice, which is a huge improvement.
See what you think of this part of the press release (below), in the context of what we know about the movement of bears between regions:
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged adaptation, AMO, Amstrup, Barents Sea, dens, Franz Josef Land, Kara Sea, Mauritzen, polar bear, polar bear resilience, pregnant females, satellite radio collars, spring ice conditions, Svalbard, WWF