Tag Archives: Polar Bear Specialist Group

New Chukchi Sea polar bear survey – exciting preliminary results

Back in October, I wrote about US Fish & Wildlife biologist Eric Regehr comments about a recent survey of Chukchi Sea polar bears, the results of which are still not published. Since then, I’ve been able to track down a bit of information.

This project appears to have run for five years, from 2008 to 2011. The work was confined to the eastern (US) portion of the Chukchi, see maps below (Polar Bear News 2010; Rode and Regehr 2010). Researchers were doing mark-recapture work with helicopters, putting radio collars on some females and radio ear tags on a few males. They worked primarily in March and April (mating season for polar bears), operating entirely on the offshore sea ice – working, I might add, on bears that technically speaking do not exist, since the official population estimate for this region is “zero” (they are not included in the global estimate of 20,000-25,000, see pdf here,, discussed here).

Figure 1. Chukchi Sea – getting you oriented. Note the location of Kotzebue Sound, northeast of the Bering Strait. Map from Wikipedia.

Figure 1. Chukchi Sea – getting you oriented. Note the location of Kotzebue Sound, northeast of the Bering Strait. Map from Wikipedia.

In 2012, US Fish & Wildlife biologist Eric Regehr told reporter Jill Burke at Alaska Dispatch that they found the bears were “reproducing well and maintaining good body condition.” I’ve finally found some details regarding what he meant by that statement (although no final reports or peer-reviewed papers are out, see footnote below).

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Misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic cost advocate scientists more than US$50,000

UPDATE FEBRUARY 19, 2014The misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic is now GONE (as of January 31, 2014). A new 2013 status table is offered by the PBSG here. It has detailed text explanations and harvest information, with references, hyperlinked to each subpopulation entry (“Press the subpopulation hyperlink and more information will appear“) and may have replaced the “State of the Polar Bear” graphic that the PBSG commissioned for upwards of US$50,000, although the PBSG website says it is being “updated [A pdf copy of the 2013 colour table is here, and my commentary on it is here.] I have left the original post as is, below.

I’ve had some time to do a little digging regarding the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) State of the Polar Bear web graphic. It turns out this fancy but misleading document was designed by a US company called Periscopic (Portland, Oregon) at a cost of US$50, 000-70,000. So apparently, rather than put $70,000 towards much-needed polar bear research, the PBSG chose to use the money to tell people, in a slightly different way, that it thinks polar bears are doomed. [see UPDATE: April 1 2013]

Just to refresh your memory, last month I pointed out that this fancy summary “tool,” which sits prominently on the home page of the PBSG website, suggests that there are now 22,600-32,000 polar bears worldwide, when tallied by nation (when you add up the individual population estimates provided on each of the two maps on this web “tool” (without clicking through to more detail), you get two different numbers that have no resemblance to the “official” estimate of 20,000-25,000: the page “Nations” gives totals by country that add up to 22,600-32,000 and the numbers given on the “Subpopulations” page (when you hover your mouse over each of the 19 regions) add up to only 13,036 – a far cry from 20,000-25,000 official estimate).

A few days later, I got a response to the email I’d sent to Norwegian polar bear biologist Dag Vongraven, who said it was his job to supervise work on this summary. But, he said, he had “not yet had time to review all details in it as well as I should.” So it seems that without a careful review of the final product, the graphic was posted on the home page of the PBSG website (sometime in October 2012).

It turns out there had been a discussion at the 2009 PBSG meeting, documented in its official report (Obbard et al. 2010:11, Fig. 1 below), about their intention to hire Periscopic as part of on-going PBSG website developments supervised by Vongraven. Several PBSG members agreed this would be a good idea and offered to help by providing data. Continue reading

Andrew Derocher refuses to accept that polar bears have been saved

Andrew Derocher, an known polar bear advocate, has been making headlines again, this time promoting a new “policy paper” he is lead author on that has just been accepted for publication. He and his colleagues simply refuse to accept that the polar bear has been saved (population numbers have rebounded dramatically since protective legislation was introduced in 1973) and it seems all they can think of to do now is press for ever more restrictive regulations.

The timing of the release of this paper is very convenient: Fish and Wildlife biologists and polar bear activists worldwide are actively campaigning to get CITES, at their meeting next month, to make it illegal to trade in legally harvested polar bear parts (see previous post here). Canada is also under international pressure to up-list the status of the polar bear to “threatened,” see post here.

The article itself is behind a paywall (abstract and co-author list below), so it is unlikely that many people outside the choir of conservation advocate subscribers of the journal will ever read it, so Derocher is talking it up big time, with the help of his university PR department. Timely indeed. [h/t WUWT]

Update Feb 12, 2013 – I now have a copy of the Derocher et al in press paper. If anyone would like to see it, please send me a note via the “Commments-Tips” page above

Update October 20, 2013 – the Derocher et al. paper is now in print and I’ve updated the citation information below

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Canada under international pressure to list polar bears as threatened, so far holds out

[Updated Jan. 27, 2013 at 7:55 am PST Footnote added]

I was inspired to write this post after perusing the Q & A portion of the “What scientists say” section at Polar Bears International. One of the questions is this one:

Are Canadian scientists opposed to listing the polar bear as threatened, as some news organizations have reported?

While I don’t know when it was posted, this question appeared quite timely when I came across it, given the recent news (Nov. 30 2012) that “Canada is being forced to explain its policies to an international environmental watchdog” (Maclean’s magazine; see also the Calgary Herald story) because of a petition filed by the ever-litigious Center for Biological Diversity.

This petition, presented to the Commission on Environmental Co-operation by the CBD, followed on the heels of the news that Canada’s “Species at Risk Act” (SARA) will continue to list the polar bear as a species of “special concern” but not threatened or endangered (CBC story here).

The original petition was filed in November 2011 and re-issued in October 2012. It seems Canada now has until January 23, 2013 to respond to the Commission, after which an investigation could be launched.

We should hear their answer any day now – but guess what? Outspoken PBSG polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher looks to have at least inspired this petition, if he was not party to it.

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PBSG invited WWF and PBI advocates to its last polar bear experts meeting

In 2009, for the first time, the polar bear biologists that make up the IUCN’s Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) invited four professional advocates – not one or two, but four – to their exclusive, once-every-four-years meeting of top polar bear biologists (called “delegates”) from the world’s Arctic nations (Canada, Russia, USA, Greenland/Denmark and Norway) – two from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and two from Polar Bears International (PBI).

[Recall that 2009 was also the year that PBSG Chairman Andrew Derocher stripped veteran Canadian polar bear biologist and long-time PBSG member Mitch Taylor of his delegate attendee status because he did not have the appropriate attitude to global warming (see previous post here). Update – just to be clear, Mitch had retired from his government polar bear research job (a valid reason for not being included as a delegate) but with more than 30 years experience and his vast publication record on polar bears – as well as his long association with the PBSG as a delegate – he certainly should have qualified as an “invited specialist” at the 2009 meeting]

I expect Canadian journalist and author Donna LaFramboise would call this inclusion of WWF and PBI advocates in an otherwise exclusive meeting of polar bear biologists a behind-the-scenes lobbying opportunity,” similar to the inclusion of WWF personnel in the IPCC review process (see original article here and email interview here and “WWF infiltrates UK gov’t” here).

WWF and PBI are organizations devoted to changing public policy to suit their idea of how the world should be – whether others agree or not. They are passionate lobbyists with money behind them and they use their influence to pressure politicians – and now, supposedly impartial scientific organizations – to make decisions that fit their agenda.

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Update: Polar bear population now 22,600-32,000 – when tallied by nation

UPDATE FEBRUARY 19, 2014The misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic is now GONE (as of January 31, 2014). A new 2013 status table is offered by the PBSG here. It has detailed text explanations and harvest information, with references, hyperlinked to each subpopulation entry (“Press the subpopulation hyperlink and more information will appear“) and may have replaced the “State of the Polar Bear” graphic that the PBSG commissioned for upwards of US$50,000, although the PBSG website says it is being “updated” [A pdf copy of the 2013 colour table is here, and my commentary on it is here.] I have left the original post as is, below.

[See followup posts here and here (April 1)]

Two days ago, I got a short note from PBSG chairman and website manager Dag Vongraven of the Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromso. He was responding to an email I sent him earlier this week asking about the apparent increase in global polar bear numbers when tallied by nation as depicted in the “State of the Polar Bear” dynamic “tool” featured on the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) website, which I discussed in a previous post here. The tally by nation in that PBSG document suggests that the world population estimate for polar bears is 22,600-32,000 – far higher than the 20,000-25,000 “official” estimate.

Apparently, this tool was developed by a US-based web company under Vongraven’s supervision. But, he says, he has “not yet had time to review all details in it as well as I should.So, without a careful final review, the document was posted on the front page of the PBSG website, where it has been featured for several months.

The “tool” consists of three maps – that’s it. They are titled Subpopulations, Nations, and Ecoregions. I previously discussed the population totals by Nation, but when I went back and looked at the Subpopulation numbers, I realized they are very odd as well.

The total population estimate listed on the Subpopulation map add up to just 13,036 – not even close to the 20,000-25,000 “official” estimate. The map (see screen cap below) gives no number (estimate = 0) for the following subpopulations, all of which have an official estimate (see previous post here, estimates from the 2009 PBSG report in square brackets): Foxe Basin [2,197], Viscount Melville [161], Laptev Sea [800-12,00] and Barents Sea [2,650]. On the map below, all of the regions coloured grey have no estimate provided (estimate = 0). In addition, there is no estimate provided for the Chukchi Sea subpopulation, coloured orange in this map, as per the official estimate [you can’t see the numbers given in this screen cap because they only show up when you hover your mouse over the region].

So when you add up the individual estimates provided on each of the two maps on this web tool, you get two different numbers that have no resemblance to the “official” estimate of 20,000-25,000.

"Subpopulation" status, from the Polar Bear Specialist Group special tool, "The State of the Polar Bear." downloaded January 17, 2013

“Subpopulation” status map, from the Polar Bear Specialist Group dynamic web tool, “The State of the Polar Bear.” [downloaded January 17, 2013]. Population estimates for each region show up on the original web-based tool when you hover your mouse over the map. All of the regions coloured grey, as well as one of the orange-coloured regions (Chukchi Sea, centre top), do not have a number provided.

 Vongraven says he is recovering from surgery and so it may be awhile until someone takes a look to see what’s up with this tool. He did not seem overly concerned about it. But he assured me that the official polar bear estimate of 20,000-25,000 has not changed, although it may after the next population review at the PBSG meeting later this year.

The point is this: if you were a high school student or a teacher looking for a simple and authoritative summary on the status of the polar bear, this tool would look very attractive. The IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group want us to consider them the ‘premiere’ experts on polar bear numbers worldwide but these maps do not accurately summarize the current state of knowledge about global polar bear population numbers. The maps are misleading and confusing. We may never know who’s bright idea this was but I in my opinion, it’s a dud.

[the “State of the Polar Bear” tool was still up on the PBSG website, in its original state, the last time I looked]

The 32,000 population estimate for polar bears is not an error due to counting overlapping territories twice

UPDATE FEBRUARY 19, 2014The misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic is now GONE (as of January 31, 2014). A new 2013 status table is offered by the PBSG here. It has detailed text explanations and harvest information, with references, hyperlinked to each subpopulation entry (“Press the subpopulation hyperlink and more information will appear“) and may have replaced the “State of the Polar Bear” graphic that the PBSG commissioned for upwards of US$50,000, although the PBSG website says it is being “updated” [A pdf copy of the 2013 colour table is here, and my commentary on it is here.] I have left the original post as is, below.

[UPDATE April 1, 2013: see updates here and here ]

This is a brief follow-up to my last post.

I got an email from a reader suggesting that the high numbers for the world’s polar bear population, as given by the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) on their website in their State of the Polar Bear (SoPB) summary feature – as tallied by nation (22,600-32,000) – may simply be an error resulting from counting overlapping territories twice (i.e. where a subpopulation with one population estimate is shared by two nations, the total amount has been attributed to each nation, rather than giving each of them half of the total).

That is not the case and I’ll tell you why.

If you haven’t yet seen the last post, pop back and have a look – it’s short.

Then note the following:
1) Re: the numbers given for Russia (given as 2,700-4,800 in SoPB-by-nation). Russia has three subpopulations of polar bears: Chukchi (shared with the USA), Kara Sea and Laptev Sea. See previous post here on these estimates by the PBSG.

Chukchi officially has a population of zero because it has never been surveyed. The same is true for the Kara Sea: its population is officially zero and always has been. The Laptev Sea is given a tentative estimate of 800-1,200 in most subpopulation estimates but on the “State of the Polar Bear” summary, it is given as zero. Thus, at the very most, the total for Russia could be 800-1,200.

Conclusion: the estimate of 2,700-4,800 for the Chukchi Sea is not a result of an overlap in count. It’s a new number and there is no information given about where it comes from (it’s remotely possible that the SoPB-by-nation number comes from a recent survey of the Chukchi Sea, see previous post here, but that number has not been made public and the study results have not yet been published).

2) Re: numbers for the USA (given as 1,200-1,800 in SoPB-by-nation). The US has two subpopulations: Southern Beaufort (which it shares with Canada) and the Chukchi Sea (which it shares with Russia). The number usually given for the Southern Beaufort is 1,200-1,800 – so the US share is something like 600-900. While the US shares the Chukchi population with Russia, the Chukchi has never been surveyed – its population is officially zero (half of zero is still zero).

Conclusion: if there has been any “doubling up” going on, it is here. The official (documented) number for the US should be about 600-900.

3) Re: numbers for Greenland (given as 3,500-4,400 in SoPB-by-nation). East Greenland has never been surveyed and the official estimate for that subpopulation is zero. West Greenland comprises three polar bear subpopulations that it shares with Canada: Baffin Bay (total count 1,544-2,604), Davis Strait (total count 1,811-2,534) and Kane Basin (total count 94-234). That comes to 3,449-5,372. Conclusion: if there had been a “doubling” of shared population numbers, the number for Greenland should have been listed in the SoPB-by-nation map as 3,449-5,372 (not 3,500-4,400).

The estimate for the world’s polar bear population, as given by the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) on their website in their State of the Polar Bear summary feature – as tallied by nation (22,600-32,000) – is not simply an error resulting from counting overlapping territories twice.

Polar bear population now 22,600-32,000 – when tallied by nation

UPDATE FEBRUARY 19, 2014The misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic is now GONE (as of January 31, 2014). A new 2013 status table is offered by the PBSG here. It has detailed text explanations and harvest information, with references, hyperlinked to each subpopulation entry (“Press the subpopulation hyperlink and more information will appear“) and may have replaced the “State of the Polar Bear” graphic that the PBSG commissioned for upwards of US$50,000, although the PBSG website says it is being “updated” [A pdf copy of the 2013 colour table is here, and my commentary on it is here.] I have left the original post as is, below.

This afternoon I came across some startling information. [updated here, here from Feb. 10, 2013, and here from April 1, 2013]

According to a dynamic summary report on the home page of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group website  called State of the Polar Bear, there are now 22,600-32,000 polar bears worldwide, when tallied by nation.

Here are the numbers, by nation, listed in the State of the Polar Bear summary report (see map below):
Canada                              13,300-17,500
USA                                   1,200-1,800
Russia                               2,700-4,800
Norway                             1,900-3,600
Greenland
(Denmark)                        3,5000-4,400
Total                            22,600-32,000

The “Nations” page of the Polar Bear Specialist Group’s “State of the Polar Bear,” a dynamic summary that can be launched from the home page of the IUCN PBSG  http://pbsg.npolar.no/en/dynamic/app/ [published Oct. 15, 2012] Click to enlarge.

The “Nations” page of the Polar Bear Specialist Group’s “State of the Polar Bear,” a dynamic summary that can be launched from the home page of the IUCN PBSG website, http://pbsg.npolar.no/en/ [published Oct. 15, 2012] Click to enlarge.

This is a big change from the 20,000-25,000 that has been touted as the global polar bear population since 2005 (see Aars et al. 2006; Obbard et al. 2010) and my post on polar bear population estimates.
[updated Jan. 9 2013 at 8:20 PST, see end of post]

UPDATE Jan. 7. 2014 – The PBSG has announced that a new population assessment is due later this month, see this January 1 post. The graphic described in this post has moved to the page called “Population information” and the official estimate of 20,000-25,000 is no longer present. There was no press release associated with this announcement.
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Did the PBSG game the polar bear listing process?

I was in the process of writing about something else last week when I came across a tidbit of information that, on closer examination, turned out to be part of a much bigger issue that I thought should be documented.

The story involves some machinations behind the scenes of the international Polar Bear Specialist Group, the “PBSG,” that you might find rather astonishing – and which may have implications for the various on-going battles about the polar bear’s conservation status.

A lone polar bear walking on ice [Kathy Crane (NOAA) photo].  We'll call this a metaphor for the expulsion of Mitch Taylor from the PBSG after the Group switched from emphasizing unregulated over-hunting as the primary threat to polar bear conservation to global warming.

A lone polar bear walking on ice [Kathy Crane (NOAA) photo].
We’ll call this a metaphor for the expulsion of Mitch Taylor from the PBSG,
after the Group switched from emphasizing unregulated over-hunting
as the primary threat to polar bears to global warming.

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Population size estimates for grizzly bears in British Columbia, Canada

This is a follow-up to my last post, which summarized IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) polar bear population estimates and status reports, here.

I was interested to see how the PBSG population estimates compared to similar studies in other animals, so I took a look at the official 2012 population estimate for grizzly bears in British Columbia, Canada here. A couple of brief excerpts are provided below.

British Columbia is the western-most province of Canada (Fig. 1). It is roughly half the size of Greenland, while sea ice habitat of polar bears is roughly 6-7x the area of Greenland.

Just nine pages long, this grizzly bear population report is short, clear and unambiguous. While it may perhaps not explain its methods in enough detail for some folks (and it is, admittedly, a small portion of global grizzly bear territory), the report is nevertheless clear about the variations in quality of population estimates over time (which began in the 1970s and so are similar to what we have for polar bears). The report is also clear about how these historical estimates impact the current population status and trend. See Fig. 2 and 3 below for short excerpts.

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