Tag Archives: population size

Communicating polar bear science requires a rational approach

My most requested public lecture, Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change, has been hugely popular with audiences in my Canadian home town of Victoria, British Columbia, and my newly-released book with the same title (based on that lecture) promises to be similarly successful. Here are some thoughts on both.

crockford_outstanding-survivors_lecture-vs-book-jan-2017

Recently (5 January 5, 2017), I gave another free lecture about polar bears to a local non-profit organization through my university’s Speakers Bureau. I’ve been doing this since 2009, although the shear volume of requests has been much higher this past year than previously. As before, my lecture was warmly received and audience members asked questions indicating they had been listening with an open mind. A colleague I spoke to expressed surprise at that outcome, given where I live.

Keep in mind that Victoria is home to litigation-prone IPCC climate scientist turned BC provincial Green Party politician Andrew Weaver (in whose riding I happen to reside) as well as one of the many targets of fake Nobel Laureate Michael Mann and his over-sensitive ego, veteran climate scientist Tim Ball (who defends the defamation lawsuit filed against him by Mann at trial in Vancouver, B.C. 20 February 2017,  an event which defender of free speech and fellow defendant against Mann’s litigious wrath, Mark Steyn,  has said he’ll be attending). And yes, in a sort of home-town science brawl, Weaver also sued Tim Ball, but that case has not yet gone to court. Victoria is also the constituency of our lone federal Green Party Member of Parliament, Elizabeth May. Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise once described Victoria as “one of the most left-leaning corners of the country.

So it is into this virtual lion’s den of anthropogenic global warming champions that I venture, several times a month, to enlighten adults, teachers, and students who have been left with the impression that there are only a few hundred starving polar bears left in the world.1

The secret to the kind of reception I receive – even in my town – is to present the relevant facts without emotional overtones and let audiences make up their own minds about what they think of the situation.

This latest lecture was not only well received but several audience members bought copies of my kid-friendly Polar Bear Facts and Myths that I had for sale (reviewed here by Kip Hansen).  One member came up afterwards to say he’d been dreading what he’d anticipated would be another polar-bears-are-doomed diatribe but was very pleased at my even-handed, scientific approach.

That’s why I decided to fashion my first fully referenced polar bear science book – and take it’s title – from my most successful public lecture. Audience responses over the years indicated to me that a simple summary would be an appealing approach. Questions from audience members over the years suggested which topics might need a more detailed explanation in the book. The lesson I learned from my lecturing experience was that my book needed a focused style, plenty of color images, and an affordable price.

Consider the table of contents for the new book, where each chapter covers only a few pages:

1. Polar bear & sea ice basics
2. Feasting/fasting life of polar bears
3. Evolution & climate change
4. Conservation & protection
5. Failure of the polar bear predictions
6. Biggest threat to polar bears
7. Summary
8. Conclusions

I expect I’ll get some negative fake reviews posted on Amazon for Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change from the self-appointed moral-high-ground troll network (as they did for Polar Bear Facts and Myths). That’s to be expected for a topic like this. Honest criticism from readers might also be generated, of course, and that’s something all writers can expect, and should welcome.

That said, the best way to counter biased or unconstructive reviews is with honest, heartfelt reviews from readers who have actually read the book. If any of you that have ordered a copy of this book but would like to see a pdf review document in order to post an immediate review, use the contact me form at “Comments/Tips.”

Both Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change and Polar Bear Facts and Myths are now available in paperback and various ebook formats, including epub and pdf. The little spin-off for preschoolers (Polar Bears Have Big Feet) – because why shouldn’t the little kids have a fear-mongering-free polar bear book with great pictures too? – is available in paperback only.

Footnote

  1. Without exception, every teacher of every school class I have spoken to in Victoria in the past year has been absolutely astonished to learn that the official global population estimate for polar bears is now 22,000-31,000, the highest estimate in 50 years. Virtually all expressed their appreciation for pointing out that simple fact. Hence, Polar Bear Facts and Myths is aimed at those misinformed children, while Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change is aimed at their teachers, parents, and other influential relatives.

W. Hudson Bay had 1030 polar bears at last count and that is the official number

The IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, the IUCN Red List, and Environment Canada (see below) agree that the population size of Western Hudson Bay subpopulation is 1030 or about 1000 bears, based on surveys conducted in 2011.

western-hudson-bay-surveys-2011-compared_polarbearscience-16-dec-2016

For the last few months (most recently, here and here), Andrew Derocher has been telling anyone who will listen that that the number is 800. And no one challenges him – not a single reporter asks where the number comes from, not a single research colleague who knows the truth has publicly stated that Derocher is spreading misinformation.

UPDATE 16 December 2016, half an hour after posting: Add The Atlantic to those accepting Derocher’s misinformation on WHB polar bear numbers without question, and failing to see that because patrols in Churchill were stepped up considerably after a serious mauling occurred in 2013 (because several bears got through their Halloween dragnet), more “problem” bears in Churchill since then only mean the Polar Bear Alert folks are doing their jobs.

But what does The Atlantic conclude, after talking to Derocher?

The Churchill bears…are probably doomed.

Never was a rational book on the science and conservation status of polar bears more desperately needed – it will be available soon.
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Hudson Bay could be ice-free in winter within 5-10 years, says seal researcher

Ringed seal biologist Steven Ferguson, in a statement to a reporter from the Winnipeg Free Press, made one of the boldest predictions I’ve ever heard:

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“Hudson Bay could experience its first free winter within 5-10 years.”

You heard it here, folks. It appears Ferguson thinks Hudson Bay was never ice-free in winter even during the Eemian Interglacial, when the Bering Sea was ice-free in winter – something that has not come close happening in recent years (Polyak et al. 2010:1769).

Sounds like a bit of ill-advised grandstanding to me.

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An El Niño year late start to freeze-up on Hudson Bay: bears gearing up to hunt

There is no serious ice on the west shore of Hudson Bay yet (as the map below shows) but the winds have just shifted – instead of coming from the south, they are now blowing in from the north.

Freeze-up and a resumption of seal hunting for Western and Southern Hudson Bay polar bears looks imminent. The bears get out on the ice as soon as they are physically able, when the ice is about 3-4 inches thick (about 10 cm).

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I’m going to let Kelsey Eliasson from PolarBearAlley, on shore at Churchill, convey the gist of the freeze-up situation on the Bay.

Recall that freeze-up was late in both 1998 and 1999 – during the height of that strong El Niño warmth as well as the year following. Continue reading

No correlation between freeze-up dates for Hudson Bay & total Arctic ice cover

Guess which year between 2006 and 2016 had the latest start to freeze-up on Hudson Bay, given that 2012 had the lowest September average and 2007 and 2016 tied for second-lowest (see graph below, from NSIDC), and that sea ice in the Arctic right now is the lowest it’s been for this date since 1979?

sea-ice-sept-averages-graph-only-marked-for-2006-up

If you guessed anything other than 2010, you guessed wrong – in addition, 2006 (not 2016) was second latest.

There is no correlation between Arctic sea ice coverage and freeze-up dates for Western Hudson Bay.

Yet, Polar Bears International (“Save Our Sea Ice”) –  who were surely in and around Churchill in 2010 and 2006 watching polar bears – just posted an alarming statement about local conditions, implying that slow freeze-up of Hudson Bay this year is a reflection of the fact that “sea ice is at a record low across the Arctic.”

They also claim that “…the weather is the warmest we’ve ever seen at this time of year.” That may be true, but if so, it is also meaningless with respect to the progress of freeze-up.

Does no one at PBI remember the very late freeze-up of 2010 or 2006? Odd, that.

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BBC Arctic Live for viewers outside the UK: watch scientist distort polar bear facts

Viewers outside the UK can now watch polar bear scientist Steve Amstrup live (Episode 2, filmed 2 November 2016), state that there are “20,000-25,000” polar bears in the world, almost a full year after the IUCN Red List put the worldwide polar bear population size at 22,000-31,000.

[even though Amstrup (now chief scientist and spokesperson for Polar Bears International) was a co-author of that 2015 Red List report, Wiig et. al. 2015]

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Watch Steve Amstrup, live (Episode 2, filmed 2 November 2016) state that sea ice is only “usually” present in March/April when females with cubs emerge from their dens to feed – as if there has ever not been sea ice present at this critical time of year!

Watch Amstrup , live (Episode 2, filmed 2 November 2016) not point out that the prediction he was responsible for making in 2007 (that got polar bears listed as ‘threatened’ in the USA) has been a total failure: even though the USGS models predicted that polar bear numbers worldwide would decline by 67% and Western Hudson Bay polar bears (as well as nine others) would be wiped out completely when summer sea ice reached the levels they’ve been at since 2007, he pretends that prediction was scientifically valid.

We’ve had sea ice levels not predicted to occur until 2050 for 8 out of the last 10 years and polar bears are still going strong. If Amstrup had been right about the relationship of summer sea ice and polar bear numbers, there would have been no polar bears in Churchill for the BBC to film this year.

Watch all three hour-long episodes below as these two organization team up to promote fear of future global warming with polar bears (or polar bears, as Humble says it). Decide for yourself if polar bear science is being fairly represented.
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IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group website still silent on 2015 Red List assessment

It’s now been 11 months since the IUCN Red List announced the completion of a new conservation assessment for polar bears – but you wouldn’t know that if you visited the website of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG).

pbsg-website-notice_home-page-2016-oct-18

Back in May 2016, I wrote to the folks at the IUCN Red List asking them why the PBSG had not yet added a link to their website regarding the 19 November 2015 update to the Red List polar bear assessment (submitted by PBSG members in July 2015), a shortcoming I first notice in December 2015. I also inquired why the IUCN Red List folks were not taking the PBSG to task for their failure to keep the public informed of this new development.

After a wait of more than 6 weeks (23 June), I finally received a reply. The Red List official accepted as reasonable the PBSG excuse that since a link to the IUCN Red List was present on their home page as an icon (here), a direct link to the actual Red List polar bear assessment was not necessary. He was informed by the PBSG that the website upgrade had simply taken longer than expected but that it would be completed by the end of July.

And yet, here it is – almost three months later and still no revised website – and more importantly, still no mention of the 2015 Red List assessment update, see screencap above taken 18 October 2016 (which has been up since 14 January 2016).

Note that my complaint is not that the website upgrade has taken longer than expected (doesn’t it always?) – it’s about the continued refusal to provide a simple link to the 2015 Red List assessment at the top of their “News” feature which sits prominently on their home page.

The PBSG is considered the scientific authority on polar bears and in my opinion, the fact that for 11 months their website has lacked a link to the 2015 Red List assessment (which contains many significant changes, including a larger population estimate, a revised population trend, and a prediction of future change with error bars) raises concerns about transparency, potential bias, and lack of accountability of the PBSG organization – and displays a similar kind of contempt for the public that its chairman revealed back in 2014 when he said that population size estimates were “simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand.”

Copies of my email exchange with the Red List associate who answered my inquiry are below – decide for yourself if I’m over-reacting.

UPDATE 22 Nov. 2016: A cursory check of the PBSG website today revealed that a few days ago (16 Nov. 2016) the PBSG Chairman finally did what I have been suggesting for almost a year: post a simple notice and link to the 2015 IUCN Red List polar bear assessment.

A simple line in the NEWS section of the home page:

pbsg-website_home-page-2016-nov-16-news-red-list

They even added a short notice with links to the documents (screen cap below).

pbsg-website-redlist-news-notice_2016-nov-16

Yes, pretty much exactly what I suggested in January. I’d hazard a guess I wasn’t the only one complaining.

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