Tag Archives: Lancaster Sound

Death of prominent Canadian polar bear biologist a tragic loss to science

Markus Dyck, a renowned Canadian polar bear biologist, died in a helicopter crash near Resolute Bay, Nunavut, along with two crew members on Sunday 25 April 2021. Dyck and the crew were beginning this year’s survey of the Lancaster Sound polar bear subpopulation (Crockford 2021), which hasn’t had a population count since 1997.

From the initial CBC News report on Monday 26 April:

Three people are dead after a helicopter crash near Resolute Bay, Nunavut, during a trip to survey the Lancaster Sound polar bear population, the premier says.

It happened near Griffith Island and involved a Great Slave Helicopters AS350-B2.

A news release on Monday morning from Yellowknife-based Great Slave Helicopters said there were two flight crew and one wildlife biologist on board. No one survived, the company says.

Crash site of helicopter was near Griffith Island, near Resolute in the Central Canadian Arctic.

The wildlife biologist was identified on Wednesday as Igloolik resident Markus Dyck, CBC News reported yesterday:

Dyck was surveying bear populations in Lancaster Sound for the Nunavut government on the day the helicopter crashed. Two other air crew also died.

Lemelin said Dyck was outspoken in his advocacy for community-based polar bear management.

“Markus was one of those individuals that fell in love with the bears and highly respected them and dedicated his life to them,” he said.

Lemelin said Dyck told him two weeks ago that he was heading out for field work.

“He was working for Nunavut and working with incorporating traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge and examining all types of research and doing those very important sample counts that are necessary.”

The Igloolik-based scientist challenged environmental groups that said the bears were disappearing. He also championed including traditional knowledge in research, Lemelin said.

“What he was concerned with is the ability of Inuit people and Cree people to live with the polar bears to continue traditional harvesting practices and to manage polar bears sustainably and respectfully, in the long-term,” Lemelin said.

The accident is a strong reminder of the dangers of Arctic research, which almost always now involve the use of fossil fuel powered helicopters (Nunatsiaq News 27 April 2021):

As a current member of the international Polar Bear Specialist Group, which looks at polar bear population management worldwide, Dyck remained an “outspoken” force for community-based polar bear management in the highly political world of polar bear research, Lemelin said.

Dyck, who held a master’s degree from the University of Manitoba, was certified wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Society, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Before working at the GN, he was senior instructor with the Environmental Technology Program at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit.

Polar bear surveys — and the sometimes dangerous conditions that come with them — were nothing new to Dyck.

In 2014, he told Nunatsiaq News that the M’Clintock polar bear survey’s first year was plagued by fog in an area thick with heavy ice.

“Blizzards, we had fog — we had to sleep in the helicopter, on the sea ice one night, because we couldn’t fly anywhere,” Dyck said.

Mark Mallory, a seabird biologist who knew Dyck well, said working in helicopters in the High Arctic is “dangerous stuff.”

“Working in helicopters in this time of year when things are changing, and you’re starting to get moisture in the air, and the wind is picking up, and you’re out in that interchange between the land … that’s a terrible time to be working there,” Mallory said.

“A lot of people think when you are out doing surveys, that it looks so fun. You’re out in an aircraft counting animals. But it’s actually pretty dangerous. There’s no way around it: when you do this work in harsh conditions, you take risks.” Mallory and Lemelin said Sunday’s crash brought back memories of other helicopter crashes which killed researchers in the High Arctic: in 2000, when two wildlife biologists died near Resolute Bay, and in 2013, when a pilot, scientist and CCGS Amundsen’s commanding officer died near Banks Island

References

Crockford, S.J. 2021. The State of the Polar Bear Report 2020. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 48, London.

Experts’ vision of an ice-free summer is already wrong & benefitting polar bears

Polar bear populations in most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA) must be booming, as they are elsewhere. That’s because the ‘experts’ were even more wrong in their predictions of future sea ice conditions than most people realize: they expected the CAA would remain choked with ice during a ‘nearly ice-free’ summer driven by human-caused global warming.

polar-bear-feeding_shutterstock_sm

Wang and Overland 2012 fig 3b marked

Map presented by Wang and Overland (2012: Fig 3) shows what these experts thought a ‘nearly ice-free’ summer would look like, which they expected to occur by 2030 or so.

Look at the map from Wang and Overland (2012) above, which is what they thought a ‘nearly ice-free’ summer would look like in the year 2030 or so.

Wang and Overland used the same models used by USGS biologists to predict the future survival of polar bears based on habitat loss (Amstrup et al. 2007; Atwood et al. 2016; Durner et al. 2007, 2009). Note the thick ice in the CAA — what USGS experts call the ‘Archipelago’ sea ice ecoregion (denoted by white in the map), indicating ice about 1 metre thick (2-3 feet) — expected to remain at the height of summer in 2030.

[Earlier renditions of sea ice projections (e.g. ACIA 2005) show something similar. The second update of the ACIA released just yesterday (AMAP 2017, described here by the CBC) has prudently included no such firm predictions in their Summary for Policy Makers, just dire warnings of future catastrophe. But see the 2012 update.]

 

The problem is that ice in this region has been largely absent most summers since 2006, even though overall ice extent has been much more extensive than expected for a ‘nearly ice-free’ summer, as I show below.

This is not another “worse than we thought” moment (Amstrup et al. 2007) — this is sea ice models so wrong as to be useless: failed models used to inform future polar bear survival models that got the bears declared ‘threatened’ with extinction in the US in 2008 (Crockford 2017).

It also means polar bears are almost certainly doing much better than recent population counts indicate, since only one subpopulation out of the six in the CAA has recently been assessed. But since polar bear specialists have consistently underestimated the adaptability of this species and the resilience of the Arctic ecosystem to respond to changing conditions, it’s hard to take any of their hyperbole about the future of polar bears seriously. Continue reading

Lancaster Sound – a rarely-mentioned region with a large polar bear population

The polar bear subpopulation designated as Lancaster Sound lies at the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage in the Canadian High Arctic (Fig.1). We rarely hear about it but this region has one of the largest polar bear populations anywhere in the Arctic – only the Barents Sea and Foxe Basin have higher estimated population sizes.

Figure 1. Lancaster Sound, magenta. Map courtesy Polar Bear Specialist Group, additional labels added.

Figure 1. Polar bear subpopulations with Lancaster Sound marked. Map courtesy IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, additional labels added.

Lancaster Sound includes the communities of Arctic Bay on northwestern Baffin Island and Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island. Devon Island, which lies on the northern boundary, has no permanent communities, although two research stations are present (see here and here). A more detailed map showing the exact boundaries is available in Vongraven and Peacock (2011).

The eastern portion of Lancaster Sound is generally clear of ice by late summer (hence the Northwest Passage) but the western third of the region not only retains pack ice later in the season but some multiyear ice remains throughout the year.

The proximity of Lancaster Sound to Baffin Bay and the eastern Northwest Passage (Fig.2) undoubtedly exposed polar bears there to hunting by European whalers during the 1800s and early 1900s (see previous post here, especially Fig. 5), from which the population appears to have recovered.

On the other hand, the proximity of Lancaster Sound to oil and gas reserves further north in the High Arctic generated much-needed funds for polar bear biologists in the mid-to-late 1970s to collect essential baseline data for the entire region (Schweinsburg et al. 1982; Stirling et al. 1979, 1984; Stirling and Latour 1978).

Figure 2. The main Northwest Passage route starts at Lancaster Sound and runs east through Parry Channel because these waterways routinely clear of ice in late summer. The approximate boundary of the Lancaster Sound polar bear subpopulation (area ~490,000 km2) is marked in yellow; POW is Prince of Wales Island. Map from Wikipedia, labels added.

Figure 2. The main Northwest Passage route starts at Lancaster Sound and runs east through Parry Channel because these waterways routinely clear of ice in late summer. The approximate boundary of the Lancaster Sound polar bear subpopulation is marked in yellow; POW is Prince of Wales Island. Map from Wikipedia, labels added. Click to enlarge.

Continue reading

Beluga whales frolic in the High Arctic

Belugas at arcticwatch_with addressIt’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. As a special treat, I thought I’d point you in the direction of a delightful bit of video footage of beluga whales.

If you haven’t seen this Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation clip already, it’s worth a few minutes. It’s footage of belugas and their calves frolicking in the shallow water of Cunningham Inlet, on Somerset Island, Nunavut (within the Lancaster Sound polar bear subpopulation, which is north of the Gulf of Boothia subpopulation region that I discussed previously here and here).

While I previously surmised that Gulf of Boothia polar bears might hunt beluga from remnant ice during the summer in years when the ice doesn’t totally melt (like they do in Hudson Bay, see belugas as food for hungry polar bears), it appears they also successfully hunt beluga in shallow waters like those found in Cunningham Inlet. But there is no hunting footage in this post.

Link and further info below, including a map and references on beluga, and polar bear predation on beluga in this region.

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