Polar bears in virtually all regions will now have finished their intensive spring feeding, which means sea ice levels are no longer an issue. A few additional seals won’t make much difference to a bear’s condition at this point.
The only seals available on the ice for polar bears to hunt in early July are predator-savvy adults and subadults but since the condition of the sea ice makes escape so much easier for the seals, most bears that continue to hunt are unsuccessful – and that’s been true since the 1970s. So much for the public hand-wringing over the loss of summer sea ice on behalf of polar bear survival! Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged adaptation, bearded seals, extirpated, harp seals, hunting, hype, PBI, polar bears, prey, ringed seals, save our sea ice, sea ice, spring feeding, stalking, summer, threatened
What a difference a bit of historical perspective can make to one’s attitude on the annual Arctic sea ice breakup.
The usual recent pattern (since 1979) has been for breakup to begin on the east side. However, this year and last (below), it has begun in the NW (as it did in 1990 and a few other years).
Not all of the open water is due to melt, of course. As I discussed last week in relation to the Southern Beaufort Sea, winds and prevailing currents at this time of year start to fracture the ice and move it around well before much significant melt has begun.
Compare 2016 (above) to 2006 (below), when there was 0.1 mkm2 less overall – with much less ice in Hudson Strait and in the east of Hudson Bay than this year:
Compare to 2011, when there was also 0.1 mkm2 less overall than this year:
It’s important to keep in mind that the intensive feeding season for polar bears is drawing to a close – within another two weeks, most young-of-the-year seals will be in the water feeding and inaccessible to bears.
The only seals on the ice during June and July are predator-savvy adults and subadults that have hauled out to moult and for these seals the rapidly disintegrating ice creates many escape routes. That means that as long as the ice breakup sequence allows polar bears to get their fill of young seals before the end of May, even during early breakup years most bears should be fat enough to survive the coming summer and winter fasts (see more here). So we should expect to see some bears coming ashore within the next two weeks.
The harp seal is the most abundant seal species in the northern hemisphere (estimated to number more than 9 million animals – that’s more harps than ringed seals) but are found only in the North Atlantic. Partly because they give birth on mobile pack ice, harps have their pups earlier in the season than all other Arctic seals, which means that in some regions, they are a critical food source for polar bears that have eaten little over the winter months.
Although young ringed seals are considered the primary prey of polar bears throughout the Arctic, young harp seals undoubtedly represent an increasingly important resource for populations of Davis Strait, East Greenland and Kara Sea bears.
Most of the harp seals in the NW Atlantic/Atlantic Canada (about 80% of them) have their pups off Newfoundland and Labrador, an area known as the “Front” (the location of my polar bear attack novel, EATEN: special deals all this week). Harps seals at the Front now provide a huge prey base for polar bears of the large (and possibly still growing) Davis Strait subpopulation (photo below courtesy DFO Canada).
There are an estimated 7.4 million harps in Atlantic Canada today (range 6.5-8.3m), an exponential increase over the early 1980s, when perhaps only half a million so remained. Pagophilus groenlandicus was assigned a conservation status of ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN Red List in June last year (Kovacs 2015), when it was estimated that the global population size of the harp seal was greater than 9 million animals and probably growing1, 2 due to reduced human hunting:
“…harp seals have been harvested for thousands of years but currently the population is large and the number of animals harvested is declining.” [my bold]
Photographers and animial rights activists love cute, fluffy harp seal pups and rarely mention the carnage that goes on in spring as polar bears devour the naive youngsters. See the video below (from 2008), for an example of the cuteness factor.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Atlantic, beaters, Eaten, facts, Gulf of St. Lawrence, harp seal, hooded seal, Labradore, moulting, Newfoundland, polar bear, prey, Red list, seal hunt, spring feeding, video, whelping, whitecoats
Newborn harp seals are food for Davis Strait, East Greenland and Kara Sea polar bears but wildlife photographers see only cute furry babies with big eyes and trusting natures.
See these photos taken some unknown spring (early March) in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada (published 29 December 2015 by Mailonline): the pups are kind of skinny when first born but fatten up quickly on fat-rich milk from their attentive mothers. Ask yourself: does this photographer know that the fattest of these baby seals he oh’s and ah’s over in his commentary are just what polar bears depend on for their existence – and that the bears will eat as many of them as they can catch, peeling them like bananas so that they can eat the skin and fat first?
The title of the piece is: “Eye-eye! Cheeky seal cubs just a few days old wink and pose for the camera as they wait for their mother to feed them:
- The young Harp seal pups had never seen humans before the pictures were taken
- They were photographed in their habitat of Madeleine Island in Quebec, Canada
- Harp seals are solitary animals except during breeding season, when they congregate in their thousands“
“These seal-ebrities from Canada are pictured striking hilarious poses that even Cara Delevingne would be proud of.
The three Harp seal pups – just days old – were passing time while they waited for their mother to return from hunting.
One pup looked straight to the camera with a cheeky wink, while another lay on its back looking longingly at the lens.
The impressive poses were captured by photographer Gunther Riehle, who was lucky enough to get just feet away from the baby seals on Madeleine Island in Quebec.”
See the photos here. Harp seal and hooded seal distribution and breeding areas in the Eastern Arctic (from DFO Canada).
More polar bear seal prey info here. See potential consequences of lots of polar bears depending on abundant harp seals north of Newfoundland in my novel, EATEN.
Posted in Advocacy, Life History
Tagged baby seal, cute, Davis Strait, East Greenland, facts, food, Front, Gulf of St. Lawrence, harp seal, Kara Sea, newborn, photographer, polar bear, prey, pups, West Ice, White Sea
So, I guess they didn’t all die because of lack of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea. I said back on 28 August, just after the some unauthorized photos were publicized, that this haulout looked just as large as last year’s, if not larger (walruses are occasional prey of polar bears).
Now confirmed by an official US Fish and Wildlife Service estimate of 35,000 – not 36,000 mind you, or 34,000 – it was definitely 35,000. Odd, that. And surprisingly, they didn’t bother going out to count them until the day President Obama came to town. Would FWS have even bothered to get a count if there hadn’t been something newsworthy to tie it to?
Even more strange is the fact that this year, there was no accompanying hype. There were no links in any of the stories to FWS or USGS propaganda website pages, like there were last year (nor even a link to a press release). No mention of the FWS plan to have walruses declared ‘threatened with extinction‘ because of global warming. And no mention of prosecution of the photographer who took the photos on 23 August, from the required distance, but without a permit. Note the permit number stamped on the official NOAA photo provided below (taken 2 September 2015), which few outlets carried, probably because it looks nothing like a photo of walruses on a beach:
It appears that this year 35,000 walruses on a beach is a non-story. Go figure. Excerpts from the one, widely-circulated story below, from three days ago. See previous post for more walrus background, map, and video.
Posted in Life History, walrus
Tagged Alaska, Chukchi Sea, haul out, haulout, hype, Point Lay, prey, sea ice, threatened, walrus
Now we have poor hunting conditions in the Bering Strait touted as evidence that “walrus migration patterns have changed” with the implication that this is because “…the past eight years have had the eight lowest amounts of summer sea ice on record” due to man-made global warming.
A subsistence lifestyle is hard, particularly so if it depends on a highly mobile, migratory herd animal. Think Barren-ground Inuit caribou hunters, who often starved because herd sizes declined for a few years or moved unpredictably.
Many factors – seasonal weather, last year’s winter conditions, size of the herd, food supply – all affect where and when a migratory herd will move and the likelihood it will be positioned for optimal harvesting by hunters. Add another highly variable factor into that – Bering Sea ice – and you have a highly unpredictable food supply, especially if you sit in one spot (like on St. Lawrence Island) and expect that migratory herd animal to come within reach.
Hunting walrus from St. Lawrence Island depends on just the right combination of ice and winds. Too much ice is not good, too much open water is not good, and too much wind is not good.
Alaska Dispatch, courtesy the Associated Press, reports St. Lawrence natives are again short of walrus meat because of “warm temperatures”: “Warming temps push walrus north, leaving Alaska villages without traditional food source” (Rachel D’Oro, The Associated Press, August 6, 2015). And the caption of the above USGS (A. Sonsthagen) photo predictably implies all current hunting troubles can be blamed on climate channge:
“The walruses in this July 2012 file photo are hauled out in the Eastern Chukchi Sea. Walrus migration patterns have changed as sea ice and other environmental factors have shifted — and that’s spelled trouble for Alaska Native communities who hunt them for subsistence.”
The people of St. Lawrence Island and the Bering Strait that depend on walrus for subsistence have my sympathy, they indeed have a hard life – but this is not a tale of woe about the status of Pacific walrus and changing summer sea ice.
Bering Strait natives hunt walrus in spring, from mid-April to early June (Huntington et al. 2013). All indications are that walrus are moving differently than they used to in summer because the population is now very large. As far as I know, there is no new population information on walrus that wasn’t available last year, when I covered this topic extensively (Crockford 2014; video below).
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat, walrus
Tagged Alaska, Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, climate change, migration, polar bear, prey, sea ice, spring, St. Lawrence Island, subsistence hunting, summer, video, walrus