Tag Archives: predictions

Polar bear watching in high gear near Churchill as everyone waits for the sea ice to form

All of the bears within view of the coastal web cams on the shore of Wapusk National Park near Churchill on Western Hudson Bay seem to be in very good shape this year, despite having come off the ice a few weeks earlier than they have over the last few years. Despite this, problems with bears in Churchill seem to have been below average this year. Some great action can be seen via several Explore dot org live web cams that are streaming from shore right now.

A sow with yearling cub; 1 November 2021

No ice forming yet along the west coast of Hudson Bay as of today, which is a bit later than it has been for the last few years. That means some of these bears will likely have spent almost 5 months onshore by the time they get back on the newly-formed ice and resume hunting seals.

Hudson Bay shows no ice forming along the west coast, closeup at 2 November 2021
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Global population size estimates for polar bears clash with extinction predictions

How many polar bears are there in the world? This was the primary question the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had for the newly-formed Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) back in 1968. Assessing the species global population size was part of the group’s mandate ahead of the 1973 international treaty to protect polar bears from wanton overhunting. For decades, this was an important objective for the scientists that made up the group.

However, about 15 years ago that goal disappeared. I contend it was abandoned because it had become incompatible with the PBSG claim that polar bears are ‘Vulnerable’ to extinction due to human-caused global warming. The group now insists that global population estimates cannot be used to determine if numbers have gone up or down: a Catch-22 that prevents public and scientific scrutiny. This is why they push back so hard when anyone suggests that global polar bear numbers have increased.

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Fact checkers fail to refute polar bear number increases despite extensive ‘expert’ rhetoric

There’s seems to be something about polar bears that really sets off the climate change fact-checkers. Mention that the situation for the bears is not quite as dire as we were told they would be 15 years ago and they can’t wait to sink their teeth in.

In early September this year, an Australian a woman I’ve never heard of gave a lecture to students at her former girl’s school and in the process made some critical remarks about Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Gina Rinehart said, among other things:

“I’d heard that senior school students in a previous headmistress’s time, were having to watch … An Inconvenient Truth. Catchy title, but sadly short on delivery as far as truth is concerned, e.g. the sad loss of polar bears, when actually their numbers have increased…”

The folks who ‘fact-check’ at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) seemed to feel that Ms. Rinehart needed to be taken down a peg for the temerity of that remark, perhaps as it afforded an opportunity to take me down along with her: it seems some things I’ve said or published over the last few years were identified by her office as the source of her remark that polar bear numbers had increased.

In a long-winded essay of more than 2,500 words published yesterday (26 October 2021) the fact checkers provide one of the best examples yet of how convoluted is the official answer to the question: have overall polar bear numbers declined or increased over time? They interviewed a number of experts from the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) who had a lot to say but claimed it is impossible to address the global population issue.

Sadly, the question of how many polar bears exist today compared to decades ago is unnecessarily complicated and messy, as I discovered years ago. I dealt with this topic in my latest book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, so for now I’ll just quote a bit from one of the chapters and let you decide for yourselves if the experts quoted by the ABC fact-checkers have a strong enough case to say without question that Rinehart was wrong. For example, you might ask why the PBSG experts used the estimate generated for the Kara Sea subpopulation of about 3,000 bears compiled by Russian researchers (Matishov et al. 2014) for their official IUCN 2015 assessment (Wiig et al. 2015; Regehr et al. 2016) but didn’t include that number in this ‘fact-check document – or why they similarly used an estimate of 2,000 for East Greenland for the 2015 assessment but provide no number for this ‘fact-check’. I’ll probably have more to say later.

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No signs of a climate emergency for W. Hudson Bay polar bears this year ahead of UN climate meeting

I’ve been told that another complete aerial survey of the Western Hudson Bay polar bear subpopulation (from the Nunavut to Ontario boundaries) was conducted in August this year and that the bears have been hanging out further south than usual. It will be years before the results of the population count are published, of course (especially if it’s good news) but my contacts also say virtually all of the bears are in great condition again this year.

This is significant because W. Hudson Bay bears are one of the most southern subpopulations in the Arctic (only Southern HB bears live further south) and older data from this region is being used to predict the future for the entire global population based on implausible model projections (Molnar et al. 2020). And scary predictions of future polar bear survival are often taken to be proxies for future human disasters (see ‘Polar bears live on the edge of the climate change crisis‘), a point that some activists will no doubt make in the coming weeks, as the long-awaited UN climate change bash #26 (COP26) gets underway in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31.

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Still waiting for two thirds of polar bears worldwide to disappear due to lack of summer sea ice

It’s hard to believe that a polar bear specialist would claim that their predictions have come true, given the facts of the matter: that polar bears arguably number over 30,000 worldwide and regions with the most dramatic sea ice declines have not documented reduced polar bear health or survival. But in mid-July this year, Andrew Derocher – one of the field’s most vocal promoters – did just that: proclaimed on twitter that “virtually all of our predictions are coming true.” Except, none of them did, especially the most widely-promoted one, which failed spectacularly.

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Western Hudson Bay polar bears: still some out on the sea ice, some causing trouble

As of Monday (19 July), more polar bears had come ashore near Churchill and on the shores of Wakusp National Park but some are still out on the bay. The pattern of ice breakup this year means most bears will come ashore well south of Churchill and make their way north over the summer and fall. There have been two Churchill ‘problem’ bear reports so far but not one for this week, so I’ll go ahead and post without it.

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Polar bears have begun to come ashore on Western Hudson Bay

So far, the first evidence I’ve seen of a bear ashore in Western Hudson Bay was one photographed near Churchill Manitoba on 28 June (below).

28 June 2021 near Churchill

However, by 5 July, the first of six collared females from Andrew Derocher’s WH study (below) had also come ashore, as did others along the shore of Wapusk National Park. This is not ‘early’ – just earlier than the last few years. Like last year, however, there is still a fair amount of sea ice left on the bay and some bears seem to be choosing to stay out longer on what ‘experts’ describe as unsuitable habitat. As you can see on his bear tracker map, Derocher uses a filter that shows only ice >50% concentration because he and his buddies have decided that bears so dislike anything less that they immediately head to shore as soon as ice levels fall below this threshold.

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Constant dire predictions have been an attempt to counter effective criticism of polar bears as AGW icon says outgoing PGSG chair

In an unexpected statement, Dag Vongraven (the out-going Chairman of the Polar Bear Specialist Group) suggests that much of the incessant dire warnings of doom about the future of polar bears from PBSG members has been a counter-measure to offset the effective efforts by myself and others to expose the flawed rhetoric this group promotes.

You may remember Vongraven, who in 2014 famously sent me an email alerting me to a PBSG statement that later came back to bite them (in part because it was included in a CBC documentary called The Politics of Polar Bears later that year, see below):

It is important to realize that this range [i.e. their polar bear population estimate] never has been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand.

Will this be another? You be the judge.

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Western & Southern Hudson Bay polar bears experience earliest freeze-up in decades

This is shaping up to be one of the shortest ice-free seasons in at least 20 years for both Western and Southern Hudson Bay polar bears.

Hudson Bay sea ice at 2 November 2020. NSIDC Masie chart.

Last week, sea ice started forming along the shore of Hudson Bay, from the north end all the way south into James Bay. So far, the shorefast ice that’s forming is only a narrow strip along the coast but is thickening and becoming broader each day, which means that unless something changes dramatically, the bears should all be on the ice at the end of the week, an exodus from shore that hasn’t happened this early in WH since 1993 (the earliest since 1979).

The last WH tagged polar bear didn’t leave the ice this year until 21 August, which means if it’s on the ice by the end of this week it will have spent only 11 weeks onshore – less than 3 months. Even the first bears that came ashore in mid-July will have only spent about 16 weeks on land – at least a month less than they did a decade ago (Stirling and Derocher 2012). Four months spent ashore was the historical average for Western Hudson Bay bears in the 1970s and 1980s (Stirling et al. 1977, 1999). This year, most polar bears will have spent only about 13-14 weeks on land because they did not come ashore until early August.

UPDATE 8 November 2020: Report from Churchill area polar bear guide Kelsey Eliasson, via Facebook Saturday 7 November: “Most bears have left on the ice – including peanut – but still some stragglers” [Peanut’ is a well-known female who has two cubs this year]. See below for sea ice chart for 8 November shows broadening band of grey ice clearly thick enough to support the weight of adult bears (and the same thing is happening in Southern Hudson Bay):

Hudson Bay North daily stage of development 2020 Nov 8_all grey ice

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Many W Hudson Bay polar bears still offshore at 7 August despite apparent low ice levels

Contrary to all expert expectations, five female polar bears (45%) out of eleven that had tracking collars attached last year were still out on the sea ice that’s lingering along the western shore of Hudson Bay as of 7 August. And if five collared bears are out there, then there are almost certainly many more without collars doing the same thing. This pattern of bears staying out on the ice long after the so-called ‘critical threshold’ of 50% concentration has passed has been going on since at least 2015 and many bears on tracking maps in July and August appear to be on ice that doesn’t exist.

Chukchi Sea polar bear Arctic_early August 2018_A Khan NSIDC small

There are two explanations for this pattern and both are likely true: 1) much more ice actually exists on Hudson Bay than satellites can detect and 2) polar bear experts are wrong that Western Hudson Bay polar bears head to land soon after sea ice concentration drops below 50%. Models that predict a catastrophic future for Western Hudson Bay polar bears (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2013; Molnar et al. 2020) assume that ice coverage of less than 50% in summer greatly reduces polar bear survival. However, if polar bears do not always head to land when sea ice drops below 50% then the models cannot possibly describe their future accurately. In other words, depending on the discredited ‘worst case’ RCP8.5 climate scenario for the most recent polar bear survival model that extrapolates from Western Hudson Bay bear data to many other subpopulations, as I discussed previously, may not be its only fault.

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