Tag Archives: Lunn

Critical evidence on W Hudson Bay polar bears still not published after 25 years

Polar bear researchers have been doing capture/recapture studies in Western Hudson Bay for decades yet most of the data claimed to be critical for assessing effects of human-caused global warming on this species have not been published. I raised this point in one of my early blog posts (27 Sept 2012) but the situation has not changed in 6 years. Here’s an update.

Derocher in the field in WH_CBC story 2016

From CBC story 14 Sept 2016.

Years ago now, in an oft-cited paper, Stirling and Derocher (2012) claimed to summarize the evidence that climate warming was negatively impacting polar bear health and survival. Several life history parameters were considered crucial, particularly body condition.

Despite almost a dozen papers (and perhaps more) on various aspects of WH polar bear health and life history studies based on capture/recapture data published since 2004  (e.g. Castro de la Guardia 2017; Lunn et al. 2016; Pilfold et al. 2017), none have reported the body condition data that supposedly support the claim that sea ice loss is having a severe impact — and the same is true for litter size, proportion of independent yearlings, and cub survival.1

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No correlation between freeze-up dates for Hudson Bay & total Arctic ice cover

Guess which year between 2006 and 2016 had the latest start to freeze-up on Hudson Bay, given that 2012 had the lowest September average and 2007 and 2016 tied for second-lowest (see graph below, from NSIDC), and that sea ice in the Arctic right now is the lowest it’s been for this date since 1979?

sea-ice-sept-averages-graph-only-marked-for-2006-up

If you guessed anything other than 2010, you guessed wrong – in addition, 2006 (not 2016) was second latest.

There is no correlation between Arctic sea ice coverage and freeze-up dates for Western Hudson Bay.

Yet, Polar Bears International (“Save Our Sea Ice”) –  who were surely in and around Churchill in 2010 and 2006 watching polar bears – just posted an alarming statement about local conditions, implying that slow freeze-up of Hudson Bay this year is a reflection of the fact that “sea ice is at a record low across the Arctic.”

They also claim that “…the weather is the warmest we’ve ever seen at this time of year.” That may be true, but if so, it is also meaningless with respect to the progress of freeze-up.

Does no one at PBI remember the very late freeze-up of 2010 or 2006? Odd, that.

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W. Hudson Bay polar bear numbers declined then stabilized, says new paper

Polarbear_Parks Canada Wapusk in August

Western Hudson Bay bear, Wakusp National Park, August 2011.

In the just-published version of their Western Hudson Bay (WHB) population survey conducted in 2011, Nick Lunn and colleagues highlighted in the abstract:

“Our analysis suggested a long-term decline in the number of bears from 1,185 (993-1411) in 1987 to 806 (653-984) in 2011…” 

But they didn’t mention that the 806 estimate for 2011 was based on only a portion of the WHB region (Fig. 1) and has not been accepted by their peers as a valid estimate of the population size. They also failed to mention that the decline occurred due to thick spring ice and/or unsuitable snow conditions for ringed seals between 1989 and 1992 (Fig. 2), which resulted in reduced availability of polar bear prey (as I discussed in detail in Crockford 2015).

They know the “long-term” population decline is what the media will grab onto and run with – rather than the next sentence, which says “In the last 10 years of the study, the number of bears appeared stable due to temporary stability in sea ice conditions.

In other words, their study shows there has been no decline in the population since 2004, which had been predicted to occur (see previous post, Prediction #1), and there has been no trend in either breakup or freeze-up dates between 2001 and 2010 (or since). See previous post on the government report on which this paper is based here.

The bottom line is this: no one is buying this population estimate of 806 bears for the Western Hudson Bay population – both the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group and Environment Canada are using Seth Stapleton and colleagues (2014) estimate from their aerial survey done the same year and that official population size number is 1030 bears. Continue reading

IUCN Red Book officials forced scientific standards on polar bear predictive models

As I reported Thursday, the IUCN announcement of a new Red List assessment for polar bear got the usual overwrought attention from international media outlets. However, not one of these contained a quote from a polar bear biologist.

polarbears-arcticnatlwildliferefuge-suzannemiller-usfws_labeled_sm

Steven Amstrup, science spokesperson for activist conservation organization Polar Bears International, has so far had nothing to say to the media. Yet, Amstrup was a co-author of the IUCN Red List report. Not until late in the day following the release of the report did his his organization’s website post a short, bland news report (“Climate Change Still Primary Threat to Polar Bears”).

Similarly, Ian Stirling, Andrew Derocher, Nicholas Lunn (also a co-author of the IUCN Red List report), and former WWF employee Geoff York – who are usual go-to guys for polar-bears-are-all-going-to-die media frenzies – have so far been silent and invisible on this issue.

In addition, while the IUCN press release [backup here: 2015 IUCN Red List press release_Nov 19 2015] included a quote from IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) chairman Dag Vongraven, as of this morning (21 November, PST), the website of the PBSG contains no mention of this decision – no item in the “News” category  and, more importantly, no update of the status table  or global estimates to reflect the changes contained in the report  (even though they obviously knew it was coming months ago: the report was submitted to the IUCN Red List 27 August 2015).

In my opinion, this silence says it all: polar bear specialists know this assessment is a severe de facto critique of their 2008 assessment (as well as Amstrup’s predictive models) and it’s a big step backwards for their conservation activism. I expect they are silent because they are royally pissed off.

However, this assessment is good news because finally, some standards of scientific rigor have been applied to polar bear predictive models – even though the PBSG were still been allowed to pretend that summer sea ice coverage is critical to polar bear health and survival (Crockford 2015).  Continue reading

BBC perspective on Arviat polar bears – those not included in the last mark-recapture study

In a polite but misleading article today in a BBC magazine (The polar bears are coming to town) about the relationship of polar bears and Inuit in Arviat, Western Hudson Bay, there is no mention of the on-going feud between Nunavut Inuit and Canadian polar bear scientists regarding invasive research.

Churchill_Polar_Bear_2004-11-15 Wikipedia

Nor is there a mention of the fact that according to the most recent research, there has been no trend in sea ice conditions since 2001.
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Western Hudson Bay polar bear numbers are stable, no trend in ice breakup or freeze-up

This needs saying again: the latest study on Western Hudson Bay polar bears reveal the population has been stable since 2004 and there has been no significant trend in either breakup or freeze-up dates since 2001.

Triplets in Wapusk NP from McCall webpage 2013

Environment Canada and the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group concur that the current size of the WHB subpopulation is about 1030 bears. Documents found online indicate a new version of the 2013 WHB mark-recapture report (Lunn et al. 2013) is now available (Lunn et al. 2014) and that a new population survey is planned for 2016. A 2013 story based on false information produced by The Guardian that is still in circulation should be retracted.
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Hudson Bay breakup progressing slowly, still lots of polar bear habitat

Not much change in sea ice coverage since last week – most of Hudson Bay is still covered with concentrated ice, which is good news for Western and Southern Hudson Bay polar bears. They are still free to roam and hunt over most of the ice-covered bay.

Hudson Bay breakup 8 June 2015 vs 1 June_PolarBearScience

There may be slightly less ice than average for this time of year (Fig. 1, below) but coverage is still >70% with concentrated ice and does not appear to be melting quickly (see charts above and Fig. 2, below).

The dates for three previous earliest breakups according to Lunn and colleagues (Fig. 3) have come and gone, as all were in the first week of June (more on that in an upcoming post) – no records broken. More graphs and maps below, see previous posts here and here.
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Hudson Bay breakup date for 2015 will really depend on which definition you use

Is breakup imminent for Hudson Bay sea ice? Probably not, but this year more than ever, it will depend on how you define it. Hudson Bay concentratation_2015 June 1_CIS Despite a large patch of open water in western Hudson Bay (CIS chart above, for 1 June), there is still more than 70% sea ice coverage over the entire bay as of this week, when you use the standard breakup definition of 50% ice coverage (Fig. 1).  Ice remaining over the bay is mostly 90% or greater, as the chart above shows – which means there is still a lot of polar bear hunting habitat remaining.

Figure 1.

Figure 1. Sea ice coverage over Hudson Bay, as a percentage, for the week of 4 June, 1971-2015. Click to enlarge.

The interconnected region of Hudson Bay, Hudson Strait, and southern Davis Strait (Fig. 2), what the Canadian Ice Service calls “Regional Hudson Bay,” is only slightly below average for the week of 4 June.

Regional Hudson Bay, week of 4 June.

Figure 2. Regional Hudson Bay, week of 4 June. Click to enlarge.

Since ice concentration is factored into breakup date calculation, a record-early breakup is simply not possible, since the previous record date (2 June, for 1990) has already passed. It might be an earlier than average breakup year but not very early, based on the 50% coverage definition (Fig. 3, below). This year, because of the unusual pattern of breakup of Hudson Bay ice, it will be critical for polar bears which definition of breakup is used – the old, 50% method (adopted because it’s what sea ice professionals used) or the newest one, which was determined to be most relevant to WHB polar bears (Cherry et al. 2013).

UPDATE 6 June 2015: I’ve added the forecast for ice conditions over the summer for North America (which for these folks includes June because it’s aimed at temperate NA, polar bear folks call June the end of spring), provided by the Canadian Ice Service: “Seasonal outlook for North American Arctic Waters issued by the North American Ice Service on 2 June 2015” [points of potential interest marked] The sea ice forecast (Table 1) for southwestern Hudson Bay (where most western and southern Hudson Bay polar bears come ashore) is for complete ice melt by 1 Aug, eight days later than the earliest date over the period 1968-2013. Time will tell if that’s what happens.
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W Hudson Bay polar bear mark-recapture study report 2013 – at last

I have finally secured a copy of the 2013 Western Hudson Bay mark-recapture study produced by Environment Canada.

The pertinent figure is below: as you can see, there was no declining trend in Western Hudson Bay polar bears between 2000 and 2011. Click to enlarge.

WH EC Polar Bear Demography report Lunn 26 Nov 2013 Final _Fig 8

I have relatives visiting so I don’t have time to do an in-depth summary but the report’s opening “Summary” is copied below and a pdf provided. More later when I have had time to look at it more closely. Background on the issue here.

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Public misled about W Hudson Bay bears since November 2013

Leading polar bear biologists knew by November 2013 that mark-recapture studies showed the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation had not changed appreciably since 2004 but none said so. This includes Steven Amstrup and Ian Stirling at Polar Bears International, Andrew Derocher (University of Alberta), and Nick Lunn (Canadian Wildlife Service), all of whom are (or have been) extensively involved in Western Hudson Bay polar bear research and have made recent statements to the media on this topic.

Polar_Bear_2004-11-15_Wapusk Nat Park_Wikipedia

More details have emerged about the status of Western Hudson Bay (WHB) polar bears (reported a few days ago here), reported this morning in NunatsiaqOnline, excerpts below.

The story reveals that there are two Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment Canada) reports containing population estimates of Western Hudson Bay polar bears – one produced in 2011 and another in November 2013 (reversing the 2011 conclusion) – that have not been made public.

[In contrast, Nunavut Government reports on their 2011 population estimate, based on aerial surveys, were made public in both draft and final report formats (and have since been peer-reviewed and published)]

The conclusion of the 2013 report, quoted in this mornings article, suggests that some of our most vocal polar bear specialists have been misleading the public about the status of the Western Hudson Bay population for the last year.
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