Tag Archives: polar bear

Baffin Bay and Kane Basin polar bears not ‘declining’ concludes new report

The 2016 Scientific Working Group report on Baffin Bay and Kane Basin polar bears was released online without fanfare last week, confirming what local Inuit have been saying for years: contrary to the assertions of Polar Bear Specialist Group scientists, Baffin Bay and Kane Basin subpopulations have not been declining but are stable.

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Until recently, the Baffin Bay (BB) and Kane Basin (KB) polar bear subpopulations, that live between NW Greenland, and Baffin and Ellesmere Islands, were assessed with confidence by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) to be declining due to suspected over-hunting (see 2016 Report, Ch. 1, pg. 4).

It turns out they were wrong.

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New (2016) polar bear subpopulation estimates for BB and KB:

Baffin Bay 2,826 (95% CI = 2,059-3,593) at 2013

                  [vs. 1546 (95% CI = 690-2,402) expected 2004]

                  vs. 2,074 (95% CI = 1,553-2,595) in 1997

  Kane Basin357 (95% CI: 221 – 493) at 2013

                    vs. 164 (95% CI: 94 – 234) in 1997

[1997 figures from 2015 IUCN Red List estimates, from Supplement, pg. 8); 2004 “expected” figure for Baffin Bay from 2016 SWG report, Ch. 1, pg. 4]

In 2014, Environment Canada’s assessments were ‘data deficient’ for Kane Basin and ‘likely declining’ for Baffin Bay (see map below):
ec_polarbearstatus_and-trends-lg_2010-2014-mapscanada_oct-26-2014

However, the results of this new study (conducted 2011-2013) would likely make KB in the map above dark blue (‘stable’), and BB light blue (‘likely stable’), depending on how the new information is interpreted (given differences in methodology between the 1991-1997 and 2011-2013 counts). Note that a recent paper by Jordan York, Mitch Taylor and others (York et al. 2016) suggested this outcome for Baffin Bay was likely (i.e. ‘stable’) but thought that the status of Kane Basin would remain ‘declining.’

This new information leaves only the Southern Beaufort subpopulation (SB) in a ‘likely declining’ condition, but since that decline was due to thick spring ice conditions in 2004-2006 (Crockford 2017), it does not reflect a response to recent loss of summer sea ice. The new population estimates for Baffin Bay and Kane Basin also suggests that a revision needs to be made to the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment with respect to the global population estimate because polar bears are clearly more abundant in Baffin Bay and Kane Basin than previously thought.

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Svalbard polar bears thrive in part due to ringed seal pups in the spring pack ice

Few people know that Arctic ringed seals (Phoca hispida, aka Pusa hispida) give birth and breed in the offshore pack ice in the spring, as it is seldom mentioned by either seal or polar bear specialists.

While it is true that some ringed seals give birth in stable shorefast ice close to shore, many others give birth well offshore in thick pack ice – where polar bears also live and hunt in the spring but where few Arctic scientists ever venture – and the existence of pack ice breeding ringed seals is one of the reasons that polar bears are such a resilient species.

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Ringed seal pup in a snow cave, B. Kelly photo (Wikipedia).

As a consequence, despite fears expressed by Ian Stirling, low shorefast ice and associated snow around Svalbard this winter (and any time in the past) is not necessarily a hindrance to polar bear survival because there are ringed seal pups available out in the surrounding pack ice – where bearded seals also give birth.

Of course, ringed seals pups are also available to Svalbard polar bears in the shorefast ice in the Franz Josef Land archipelago to the east (see map below) but it is the pups born in the offshore pack ice that are of interest here. The existence of pack ice breeding ringed seals may be why Norwegian biologists do not currently monitor ringed seals in the Barents Sea, despite many years of poor ice conditions around Svalbard in spring – this simply is not a species of concern.

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The fact that distinct ringed seal ecotypes (or habitat-specific morphotypes) exist in the Arctic – one that gives birth and breeds in shorefast ice and another that gives birth and breeds in offshore pack ice, perhaps driven by competition for limited shorefast ice habitat – is a phenomenon a colleague and I discussed in a peer-reviewed book chapter published several years ago. Have a look at the excerpt below and see what you think.

Save

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Listen to the evidence: polar bears are thriving in current sea ice habitat

Oddly, activist organization Polar Bears International recently updated their website and now suggest there is still time to save polar bears and sea ice – even though the IUCN Red List documented more polar bears alive in 2015 than at any time in the last 50 years, despite the recent decline of summer sea ice – and even more bizarrely, call for a public uprising.

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Polar Bears International (with three polar bear scientists on staff and other as active advisors) suggest that people who love polar bears should march the streets on Earth Day with scientists to demand (as concerned and engaged citizens) that world leaders take them seriously.

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Wow. I’ve been a career scientist for more than 40 years and I have to say, this is the oddest phenomenon I’ve encountered being advanced in the name of science. To me, it shows how disconnected these people are from what science is meant to be and what scientists are meant to do. Not just the polar bear scientists but the others like them that are behind this proposed march.

I recommend this blog post by Willis Eschenbach – an excerpt below.

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US biologist’s defense of flawed polar bear predictions is an embarrassment to science

A few days ago in a radio interview, a senior US Fish & Wildlife biologist repeated the tall tale that Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear numbers declined in recent years due to loss of summer sea ice. But restating this egregious misinformation does not make it true.

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The Southern Beaufort population did decline between 2001 and 2006 but it was due to natural causes (thick ice in spring from 2004 to 2006) – it had nothing to do with recent summer sea ice loss and Eric Regehr knows it.

There is no evidence that the population decline continued after 2006, so it cannot be said to be still declining. Moreover, the situation in the Southern Beaufort does not support the predictions made by Regehr and his colleagues that polar bear populations will decline precipitously if summer sea ice declines further.

My recently published paper demolishes the message of doom for polar bears and the misinformation it’s based upon: it’s free and written in straight-forward scientific language.

Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 19 January 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v1 Open access. https://peerj.com/preprints/2737/ (pdf here).

Here’s an excerpt of the nonsense broadcasted on KNOM Radio Alaska by Regehr and transcribed for their website (29 January 2017) [my bold]: Continue reading

Polar bears onshore in Svalbard update: bears again run out of Longyearbyen

Update to 18 Jan 2017 post: For at least 10 days, officials in Longyearbyen, Svalbard have been trying to keep a particularly persistent female polar bear and her two cubs away from the community. After being chased away last week, Sunday night (22 Jan) the trio appeared again at dog kennels at the edge of town but this time, but this time officials drove them even further south.

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New paper asks: Has recent sea ice loss caused polar bear populations to crash?

A paper published today finds that predictions of polar bear population crashes due to summer sea ice loss are based on a scientifically unfounded assumption.

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[The graphic above was created by me from the title page and two figures from the paper]

Specifically, this paper of mine addresses the basic premise upon which predicted population declines linked to modeled habitat loss made by polar bear specialists back in 2006 and 2008 (by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, USFWS), and concludes that when assessed as a testable hypothesis against data collected since then, it must be rejected.

The forum for this paper is PeerJ Preprints,  which I found while looking for recent research papers about ringed seals. I discovered that Canadian ringed seal biologist Steven Ferguson recently used this service, which is free, open access, accepts review commentary, and will show up on Google and Google Scholar searches.

Ferguson et al. 2016. Demographic, ecological and physiological responses of ringed seals to an abrupt decline in sea ice availability. DOI:10.7287/peerj.preprints.2309v1 Pdf here. https://peerj.com/preprints/2309/

I decided that if this publication forum was good enough for Ferguson and his Arctic research community, it was good enough for me.

Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 19 January 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v1 Open access. https://peerj.com/preprints/2737/  (pdf here).

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Polar bears onshore in Svalbard in most dangerous season for bear attacks

Yesterday marked the first report I’ve found for polar bears onshore this winter, in a potentially dangerous repeat of a pattern that has become all-too common in recent years (especially last year) with bear populations booming virtually everywhere (but especially around Svalbard).

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This is the leanest time of year for polar bears – fat Arctic seal pups won’t be available for another 2-3 months and meals for polar bears are hard to come by – and that makes the bears especially dangerous.

So, despite the marked lack of sea ice around Svalbard this winter, a female polar bear with two cubs were reported near the community of Longyearbyen (still enduring 24 hours of darkness) – on the west coast of the archipelago (see map above), where sea ice has been virtually non-existent for years (see map below).

Svalbard ice 2017 Jan 17_NIS.png

It appears these bears traveled overland from ice off the east coast. There is no mention in any of the reports that the bears were thin or in poor body condition, or had so far caused any of the problems for which desperately hungry polar bears are famous. However, one dog-sledding guide had a frightening encounter in the dark in this on-going saga that began over the weekend (details and photos below). Continue reading