An editorial in the Edmonton Journal this morning (“Stand on guard for polar bears”) takes a most extraordinary position: that the results of two recent papers of dubious value should motivate Canada to create more jobs for polar bear biologists, “protect” the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (from what, they don’t say), and galvanize Canada’s position with respect to curtailing carbon dioxide emissions. In that order.
Edmonton Journal editorial photo 22 January 2015. Munich Zoo bears.
First, the unnamed editors1 say: “This country needs more eyes and ears monitoring the health, numbers and locations of its polar bear populations.”
Why would they come to that conclusion? They quote University of Alberta’s Andrew Derocher (who supervises a number of students doing polar bear research in Western Hudson Bay):
“If Canada was doing the right thing, we’d have extensive monitoring,” University of Alberta polar bear researcher Andrew Derocher said to the Journal in late 2014.”
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged advocacy, Canada, climate change, Derocher, ESA, future threats, global warming, Hamilton, Hawkins, IPCC AR5, jobs, journalists, last refuge, Peacock, polar bear, population assessments, predictions, sea ice decline, threatened, worst-case scenario
Polar bear researchers just published a study that suggests polar bears have moved around the Arctic in direct response to recent sea ice changes — a conclusion I suggest you take with a grain of salt and a raised eyebrow.
That’s because they have also proposed, among other things, that the Svalbard Archipelago was a sea ice refugium during warm interglacial periods, and could be again if the Arctic warms as predicted. That they would accept and promote such a model-based conclusion, which has no relationship with reality, calls their scientific judgment into question.
Based on genetic model results, the Svalbard Archipelago (circled) has been proposed as a sea ice refugium for polar bears during previous warm Interglacial periods and during predicted sea ice declines in the future. Yet most years since 1979 (2014 was one exception), this region has been ice free during the summer, making Svalbard a decidedly poor candidate for retaining sea ice when it’s much warmer than today.
Posted in Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Cronin, DNA, extinction, gene flow, genetics, Hamilton, Miller, models, PBSG, Peacock, polar bear, Polyak, predictions, refugium, sea ice, warming Arctic
Apparently, some biologists think that outputs from complex computer models will convince native Arctic residents that invasive mark-recapture work has no long-term effect on the health and well-being of polar bears.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Amstrup, Bromaghin, Government of Nunavut, handling, Inuit, invasive research, mark-recapture, models, observations, Peacock, polar bear, Rode, satellite collars, tranquilizer drugs
Pretty typical ice levels in both regions for this time of year – Davis Strait polar bears (especially those in Labrador) are still onshore while Hudson Bay bears (even those in the south) have their sea ice hunting platform back.
Funny thing is, the Davis Strait subpopulation may still be increasing despite a longer ice-free season than Western Hudson Bay. And bears in the south of that region – who spend the summer onshore in Labrador – have the longest ice-free season of all1 yet according to the latest survey they were even doing better than bears in northern Davis Strait.
That apparent paradox has an easy explanation – sea ice extent in late summer/early fall (length of the ice-free season) has much less of an impact on polar bear health and abundance than the state of the food supply in the spring. More seals in spring, polar bears do well; few seals in spring, polar bears starve.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Davis Strait, Eastern Canada, harp seals, ice-free season, Labrador, Peacock, polar bear, sea ice extent, seal pups, spring sea ice, starving polar bears, survival
When you really want to challenge a speaker at a scientific meeting or public lecture, deciding what’s the best question to ask is often difficult. Here’s an example that might inspire you.
In 2009, I asked polar bear biologist Lily Peacock what appeared to be an innocuous question about Foxe Basin sea ice1 at a scientific workshop that got everyone’s attention.
The question — and the reaction — might surprise you.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic marine mammals, breakup, Foxe Basin, global warming, Hudson Bay, International Polar Year, late breakup, Peacock, polar bear ecology, polar bears, public lectures, scientific meetings, sea ice, Society for Marine Mammalogy, spring sea ice, Stirling, workshop
Christina Wu at the Urban Times (July 3, 2014) recently asked this question. She came up with a surprisingly balanced argument but some predictable responses from IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) biologists. As a consequence, she overlooked some critical facts that make a big difference to the answer.
Figure 1. Predictions of polar bear population declines by 2050 are being used by the Center for Biological Diversity, WWF and Polar Bears International to solicit donations.
UPDATED 18 May 2015 – see below.
Posted in Conservation Status, Population
Tagged Amstrup, Center for Biological Diversity, Chukchi Sea, computer models, endangered species, global warming, IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, more polar bears, PBSG, Peacock, polar bear, population increase, predictions, sea ice decline, Southern Hudson Bay, threatened with extinction, western hudson bay, York
As I outlined earlier this week, Canadian Inuit objected so strenuously to routine mark-recapture methods used by polar bear biologists during the early days of a Foxe Basin population study in 2008 that the work was abandoned and an aerial survey done instead.
In this post, I’ll examine how the polar bear biologists involved reacted to that crisis, which they called a “control of research” issue.
In a published version of a conference paper, co-authored by two of the original investigators of the Foxe Basin mark-recapture study, Lily Peacock and Andrew Derocher (Peacock et al. 2011:374), had this to say:
“Control of research is a developing source of conflict. In recent years, some permits for management-oriented research on polar bears were denied by the Government of Nunavut, local hunting and trapping organizations in the Northwest Territories, and by Makivik Corporation in Quebec. Furthermore, in a 2009 resolution, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami opposed the capture of polar bears throughout Canada (available by request from http://www.itk.ca), even though the application of physical marks is one of the most effective methods of population estimation. Co-management is particularly difficult in Nunavut because of the large number of subpopulations (12), which makes it difficult to fund and conduct research.” [my bold]
They raised an interesting point – since the Government of Nunavut has the power to insist biologists do more than reiterate that their way of counting bears is the only acceptable way, and because the government can deny permits to projects that don’t measure up, it can lock out traditional polar bear research for virtually all of Canada (the vast majority of Canada’s 13 subpopulations are in Nunavut, see Fig. 1), especially since aboriginal organizations in the Northwest Territories and Quebec have followed Nunavut’s lead.
Figure 1. Territory covered by the Government of Nunavut (top, Wikipedia) and the 13 polar bear subpopulations in Canada (bottom, Environment Canada).
That means if polar bear researchers can’t find a way to make their research mesh with Inuit concerns, they’ll be out of work in Canada. Let’s take a look at their approach and see how well it worked for them — explaining in part the new prominence of aerial surveys for population assessments. Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged aerial survey, Derocher, disrespectful, Government of Nunavut, handling, Inuit, mark-recapture, Peacock, polar bear, population assessments, population surveys