Tag Archives: population estimate

Fat polar bears [and lots of them] drive public confidence in future of the species

What is causing the death of the polar bear as a climate change icon? Fat bears are part of it, but mostly it’s the fact that polar bear numbers haven’t declined as predicted.

Western Hudson Bay polar bears around Churchill, Manitoba appear mostly in good shape this summer despite the very late freeze-up last fall, including the very fat bear caught on camera below (see more great pictures here):

Churchill_PolarBears_FAT bear post_21 Aug 2017

Not only have we been seeing pictures of fat bears rather than starving bears in recent years but there are lots of them, in Western Hudson Bay and other seasonal sea ice regions where there should be none (if the models had been correct). No wonder polar bears are falling out of favour as an icon for catastrophic human-caused global warming.

[Here’s another picture of a fat bear, this one from Svalbard]

Excuses for why the public is no longer worried about the future of polar bears include a recent claim by climate scientist Michael Mann that “by making polar bears and penguins the poster child for climate change, we have wrongly conveyed that this is some exotic problem far off.

But none of these apologists acknowledge the simple truth: the models that  predicted catastrophe for polar bears due to diminished summer sea ice turned out to be wrong. The sea ice declined but polar bears flourished. Polar bears in seasonal sea ice ecoregions like Western Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay didn’t die off due to climate change as people were told would happen — why should they believe any of the other scare stories?

In and around Churchill, where tourists flock to see Western Hudson Bay polar bears up close and personal, one bear in good condition recently ran through town:

Overall, there have been fewer problems or conflicts this year in Churchill compared to last (after 6 weeks of onshore living), see below.

Polar bears are no longer a useful global warming icon because they are thriving despite diminished sea ice: Churchill area polar bears are a good example.

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A new count planned for Southern Beaufort polar bears

I know I was not the only one that thought the last polar bear count conducted by the US Geological Survey (USGS) in the Southern Beaufort generated an untenable result but it appears that some of those challengers are in a position to demand a recount.

polar_bear_usfws_no date_sm

CBC News ran a story late last week announcing a plan is in the works to do an aerial survey of Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears across their entire range over two years starting in 2017 (11 March 2016, “Joint U.S.-Canada Beaufort Sea polar bear survey planned“).

With luck, this period will not include another bout of the same thick spring ice conditions that decimated the population in the mid-2000s (which many reporters concluded was due to reduced summer sea ice because that’s what leading biologists implied). Even if it does, lucky timing will not negate the fact that this population is routinely subjected to devastating population declines caused by natural changes to spring sea ice conditions from which they have recovered on numerous occasions. Continue reading

Discovery News spreads old misinformation about W. Hudson Bay polar bears

In a just-released Discovery News piece, Kieran Mulvaney (4 November 2015, “In the polar bear capital, an uncertain future) repeated three misleading statements about Western Hudson Bay polar bears that keep making the rounds, despite the fact they have been laid to rest by the latest scientific reports on  (Lunn et al. 2013, 2014; Stapleton et al. 2014). I reviewed these just a few weeks ago.

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

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

1) “Climate change is causing the bay’s ice to melt earlier and freeze later, causing bears to spend longer a shore.”

Not true. Lunn and colleagues stated explicitly that there has been no trend in either break up or freeze-up of WHB sea ice since 2001. Although there has been large variability in dates, that lack of trend that has continued to this year.

2 & 3) “As a consequence, Churchill’s polar bears are decreasing in number (from approximately 1,350 three decades ago to roughly 900-1,000 now) and in physical condition.”

This deliberately misleading statement avoids the fact that the latest surveys found roughly the same number of bears in 2011 as in 2004 (the estimate used by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group for WHB is 1030) when different counting methods were taken into account. The ~900 bear estimate came from the mark-recapture survey, which left out a portion of the range that the aerial survey covered, hence the official estimate of 1030.

In addition, there has been no scientific assessment of body condition or cub survival since before the last population estimate in 2004 – polar bear “experts” keep telling journalists there are declines but have yet to produce any data to support those claims. The latest surveys did not collect data on body condition or cub survival.

Mulvaney’s misinformation is almost certainly the result of spending time in Churchill with activist Polar Bears International spokesperson Steve Amstrup and activist climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe doing webcasts (e.g. “Challenges of communicating climate change”).  

Mulvaney is clearly not a journalist or a science writer: if he was, he would do some research of his own and stop believing as gospel every word that activist scientists feed him. They are using him as a mouth-piece and sadly, Discovery News is buying it all and presenting it as science.

[Hayhoe, by the way, blocked me on twitter earlier this morning for making one observational comment, my first-ever to her account, in response to a conversation about polar bear population numbers. This is what I said that Hayhoe does not want her followers to know:

“Stop wanton slaughter, #’s go up, works for all species. S Beaufort #polarbear #s dipped due to thick spring #seaice”

Both statements are true and supported by scientific literature. But Hayhoe is all about “climate communication” which appears not to allow science to intrude.]

Lunn, N.J., Regehr, E.V., Servanty, S., Converse, S., Richardson, E. and Stirling, I. 2013. Demography and population assessment of polar bears in Western Hudson Bay, Canada. Environment Canada Research Report. 26 November 2013. PDF HERE

Lunn, N.J., Servanty, S., Regehr, E.V., Converse, S.J., Richardson, E. and Stirling, I. 2014. Demography and population assessment of polar bears in Western Hudson Bay, Canada. Environment Canada Research Report. July 2014. PDF HERE [This appears to be the version submitted for publication]

Stapleton S., Atkinson, S., Hedman, D., and Garshelis, D. 2014. Revisiting Western Hudson Bay: using aerial surveys to update polar bear abundance in a sentinel population. Biological Conservation 170:38-47. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320713004618#

Pacific walruses hauled out at Point Lay Alaska again this year

A photo of a mass walrus haulout at Point Lay, Alaska taken a few days ago from a distance show thousands of animals. But no one’s counting because apparently, no one’s interested.

Walrus Pt Lay ADN story Aug 27 screencap
The picture on the left (above, courtesy Alaska Dispatch News) was taken 23 August by global warming activist photographer Gary Braasch, the day after a news report appeared about the US Fish & Wildlife Service and aviation authorities asking the media to approach USFWS about walrus photos and information that gave no hint that a large haulout of walruses was already in place (22 August 2015, “Federal agencies, Point Lay seek to minimize walrus disturbances” ):

“Federal agencies are stepping in to shield a North Slope village from the possibility of a deluge of international attention should a large walrus haulout develop nearby, as it has in years past — agreeing to act as an information clearinghouse on behalf of the Native Village of Point Lay.” [my bold]

Here is what the global warming activist site that published the pictures says about the haulout:

“Thousands of Pacific walrus are coming ashore near Point Lay, NW Arctic coast of Alaska. The huge sea mammals and young began coming up on this barrier island along Kasegaluk Lagoon about August 20, according to local natives. This is one of the earliest known summer haul outs of the walrus along the Alaska coast of the Chukchi Sea, according to wildlife biologists.” [my bold]

They say “thousands.” But the photos taken, reproduced in the Alaska Dispatch News story I read, were taken from a greater distance than the famous photo of ~35,000 animals released by government officials last year and looks like the total could be as large, or larger, than the 2014 haulout.

Said a Washington Post story (27 August 2015):

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed to the Post Wednesday evening that a mass of walruses had “hauled out,” or gathered on shore, near the remote community of Point Lay. The service did not estimate the number or provide images. But photojournalist Gary Braasch has posted dramatic photographs, taken during an Aug. 23 flyover, of what appear to be at least several thousand walruses crowding onto a barrier island.” [my bold]

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In 1999, climate change apparently threatened Western Hudson Bay polar bears

Now, not so much. Here is a 16- year old CBC TV special on Churchill polar bears – listen to Ian Stirling and reporter Eve Savory use the early breakup of sea ice on Hudson Bay in 1999 to hype the alarm about Western Hudson Bay polar bears. Watch Stirling in action darting and measuring bears and bemoaning the good old days of the 1980s, claiming the “bears are sending a signal from the ecosystem.

Watch this archived copy of “The Shrinking Bears of Hudson Bay and compare his claims to what has actually happened in the 16 years since then. It runs just over 15 minutes.

Climate change threatens polar bears 2_CBC 1999

“Just as the ice is shrinking in Hudson Bay, so are its polar bears. Climate change has shortened the season for winter ice, a crucial period for the bears to feast on seals and build up their fat reserves. And so, over the 18 years that wildlife biologist Ian Stirling has been studying them, the polar bears have become skinnier and their offspring fewer. In this 1999 report for CBC-TV’s The National, Stirling says once their habitat is gone, there’s nowhere else the Hudson Bay polar bears can go.” [my bold – see notes below]

Program: The National [Canadian Broadcasting Company, CBC]
Broadcast Date: Sept. 23, 1999
Duration: 16:39

Stirling has continue to make these claims since 1999, yet no updated evidence has been provided. There is no plausible evidence that the decline of polar bear numbers in Western Hudson Bay was due to sea ice changes caused by human-caused global warming (Crockford 2015) or that continued declines in condition of bears or litter size have  occurred. Note that the latest survey of Western Hudson Bay polar bears found no trend in either breakup or freeze-up dates since 2001 (Lunn et al. 2013) and that the population is now stable.

Ice coverage charts and breakup dates graph below, for context.
UPDATE ADDED – see below
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Polar bears fine now but give us more money: US Fish & Wildlife Management Plan subtext

Between-the-lines message of the recently released (and hyped to death) Conservation Management Plan for polar bears by the US Fish & Wildlife Service is that the bears really have nothing to worry about except human-caused global warming but it will cost tens of millions of dollars over the next five years to study and manage them.

polar_bear_usfws_no date_sm

So filled with double-speak, misinformation, and obfuscation [including the newly-invented term, “quasi-extinction floor”] that it’s no wonder some news outlets got it wrong (nowhere in this document does it say that polar bears might go extinct within ten years“). The document does, however, lay out the FWS budget for polar bears over the next five years – and it’s a real eye-opener.

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Polar bear news: 1st fat bear ashore in WHB, trouble in S. Greenland, and more hybrid hype

Last week, among other events, the first fat polar bear of the season was photographed on shore in Western Hudson Bay, a fat bear was run out of town in South Greenland, and media outlets spread misinformation – apparently preferring global warming hype to rational facts.

1) First polar bears have been seen onshore in Western Hudson Bay in Wapusk National Park near Cape Churchill (map below) on 18 June this year, apparently fat and well prepared for the summer fast. My informants tell me a few bears usually come ashore in June near Churchill before ice conditions make this necessary; the bulk of the population will probably continue seal hunting for a few more weeks. Those bears will come ashore along the southwest coast (near Polar Bear Provincial Park, in Ontario, see Fig. 2 below). They’ll make their way north to the Churchill area in time for freeze-up in the fall. Watch one fat bear caught on camera on 18 June, below :

2) Fat polar bear spotted in Nanortalik, Southern Greenland 18 June 2015, a bit further south than usual. People from the community drove it away, but not before taking lots of pictures.

Greenland South_polar-bear-nanortalik-08_henrik-hansen_June_18_2015

Some very cool photos, including the one above (taken by Henrik Hansen), worth a look. This bear was in excellent condition, well prepared for the summer fast ahead, whether he ends up spending it on shore somewhere (but not near this community!) or on the sea ice further north in SE Greenland (Fig. 1 below). The ice in that areas is probably broken up (~15-30% concentration) but this is enough for the bear to swim from flow to flow to make it’s way up the northeast coast where most East Greenland bears spend the summer.
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