Tag Archives: polar bear

New survey estimates 10x as many polar bears in Russian section of Chukchi Sea as in USA portion

A joint US/Russian aerial survey has estimated that a minimum of 3,435 polar bears (but possibly as many as 5,444) likely inhabited the Chukchi Sea in 2016, quite a bit more than a previous study that estimated a population size of 2,937 the same year (which used data from one small US area extrapolated to the entire region).

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Activist heads explode as USFWS says oil activities pose minimal risk to polar bears in AK

Apparently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under Joe Biden agrees with my conclusion that oil company activities in Alaska pose minimal risk to polar bears (Crockford 2019, 2020, 2021). Although this ruling is not yet final, they have proposed that oil exploration and extraction activities on the North Slope of Alaska can proceed over the next five years.

After noting that no major offshore oil spills have ever taken place in the Alaskan portion of the Beaufort Sea (see map below) and that all spills to date have been on land with no impact on polar bears, the proposed rule in the 200+ page assessment states:

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Surprising sea ice thickness across the Arctic is good news for polar bears

This year near the end of May the distribution of thickest sea ice (3.5-5m/11.5-16.4 ft – or more) is a bit surprising, given that the WMO has suggested we may be only five years away from a “dangerous tipping point” in global temperatures. There is the usual and expected band of thick ice in the Arctic Ocean across northern Greenland and Canada’s most northern islands but there are also some patches in the peripheral seas (especially north of Svalbard, southeast Greenland, Foxe Basin, Hudson Strait, Chukchi Sea, Laptev Sea). This is plenty of sea ice for polar bear hunting at this time of year (mating season is pretty much over) and that thick ice will provide summer habitat for bears that choose to stay on the ice during the low-ice season: not even close to an emergency for polar bears.

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Spring polynyas in the Arctic then and now as feeding areas for hungry polar bears

Patches of open water in the Arctic that develop in the spring, including polynyas and widening shore leads, are largely due to the actions of wind and currents on mobile pack ice rather than ice melt. Contrary to concerns expressed about possible negative implications of these early patches of open water, these areas have always been critical congregation areas for Arctic seals and are therefore important feeding areas for polar bears in late spring.

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Wandering polar bears are the new starving polar bears, falsely blamed on climate change

Back in 2017, we famously had National Geographic falsely blaming a starving polar bear on climate change but since then we have been inundated (relatively speaking) with stories of ‘wandering’ bears sighted far from Arctic coastlines. These wandering bears are oddities to be sure but are not in any way an indicator of melting Arctic sea ice or lost habitat, as The Times (UK) has claimed in this latest example (Polar bear treks 1,500 miles south as Arctic hunting zone melts away).

Similar to three other recent examples, from 2019 – in Alaska in winter, in Chukotka in early spring, and Siberia in late spring – this month’s example cannot rationally be blamed on lack of sea ice. This year’s bear took at least eight weeks to travel from the Lena River Delta area of the Laptev Sea to a small village in Yakusk, Russia where it was captured on 11 May, shown below on the map of the route it took included in the story at The Daily Mail (11 May).

From The Daily Mail, 11 May.
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How are polar bears doing 15 years after the IUCN declared them ‘vulnerable’ to extinction?

The beginning of this month was the 15th anniversary of the day the IUCN declared polar bears ‘vulnerable’ to extinction because of climate change, the first time such a designation had ever been made. It was based on the opinion of polar bear specialists who examined the vague information available at the time and decided that in 45 years the bears might be in serious trouble. This decision changed the way the IUCN assessed species risk and led to mass confusion for the general public, who falsely assumed polar bear numbers had already declined by a huge amount.

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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.

Earth Day 2021: celebrate abundant sea ice habitat for polar bear feeding and mating

Late April is the height of the most important polar bear feeding and mating season and there is abundant sea ice habitat across the Arctic for doing both.

Sea ice charts below. Compare to 2018 conditions here; 2015 here; and 2014 here. Sea ice maximum this year was apparently “uneventful” according to the folks at the NSDIC because it didn’t even come close to setting a new low record.

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Less than usual ice conditions off Labrador have meant very few polar bear sightings

I’ve been wondering ever since last year why reports of polar bears onshore in Labrador especially and also the north coast of Newfoundland, have been virtually non-existent. This year there has been little ice off Newfoundland except for the Northern Peninsula but relatively abundant ice off the south coast of Labrador.

Yesterday, Canadian Ranger and polar bear guard Jefferey Keefe of Black Tickle (which is on an island off the Labrador coast) said on a CBC radio interview (13 April 2021) that while in 2019 they had 72 sightings around the community over the season, last year they had 7 and so far this year they have had only 2 sets of tracks – but no actual sightings of bears. He estimated the average number of sightings per year is about 20, and that he had talked to his colleagues in Makkovik (north of Rigolet on the map below) and their experience is similar. It appears that numbers are down throughout southern Labrador, although one bear was seen in Charlottetown last week (south of Black Tickle).

Keefe said that the sea has been very rough around the island this year, effectively breaking up the young sea ice almost as soon as it forms. They have no ice in their harbour right now, which is unusual. He thinks this lack of nearshore ice is keeping the bears further out on the pack ice: the bears are still out there but just taking different routes this year. Given the current ice conditions locally, he’s not really expecting any more visits this season.

Below is a detailed ice chart of the region from this year: Black Tickle is south of Cartwright, which is marked on the chart.

In 2019, I kept track of published polar bear sightings in Labrador, not all of which were in Black Tickle. I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss any (Crockford 2020), but there was nowhere near 72 reports overall, let alone 72 just in Black Tickle. See here (mid-Feb); here (late Feb); here (mid-April); here (late May).

However, I was also pretty sure that every single sighting wasn’t making the news, which this information confirms. A total of 72 sightings in 2019 in Black Tickle alone is impressive! In Newfoundland, there were an impressive number of sightings in 2017.

The ice came early to Labrador in 2019 and continued to be be relatively heavy throughout the spring. There was lighter ice in 2020 but not as late and light as this year. From the comments of Sgt. Keefe, it seems the wind and sea conditions very close to shore have had more of an impact on potential polar bear visits in southern Labrador than the ice conditions well offshore. Although a population collapse would also explain the dramatic decline in sightings, there is no evidence I’ve heard about that Davis Strait numbers are way down, as some have predicted.

Listen to the whole thing at 13:30-18:00 on the tape.

Crockford, S.J. 2020. State of the Polar Bear Report 2019. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 39, London. PDF here.

Polar bear problems onshore in Svalbard before prime feeding season

At the end of March there were two polar bear incidents on the same day in Svalbard, where one bear trashed a holiday cabin. Think a door or a window can keep out a polar bear? Think again!

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