Tag Archives: ringed seals

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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Will Trump reverse ESA decisions listing polar bears & Arctic seals as threatened?

The New York Times reported this morning: “Donald Trump Is Elected President in Stunning Repudiation of the Establishment.”

I’ve never been very interested in politics but this result has me wondering. Could the new president reverse the Endangered Species Act (ESA) decisions listing polar bears and other species as ‘threatened’ with extinction due to future threats from global warming?

future-of-arctic-species-status-under-trump-presidency-9-nov-2016
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Recent studies show Sept ice of 3-5 mkm2 did not kill polar bears off as predicted

The annual Arctic sea ice minimum for 2016 is imminent and the hand-wringing about polar bear survival has already begun. While this year is shaping up to be another very low sea ice minimum in the Arctic – not as low as 2012 but lower than as low as 2007 (previously the 2nd lowest since 1979) – contrary to predictions, several recent studies show that such low sea ice coverage in summer has had no (or very limited) negative effects on polar bear health and survival. In fact, for polar bears in some areas low summer sea ice has been quite beneficial (although these are not the populations that polar bear specialists predicted would do better).

polar_thin_ice Jessica Robertson_USGS

Since low summer extents of recent magnitude (3.0 – 5.0 mkm2) are clearly not any sort of threat to polar bears, it seems improbable that even an ice-free (≤ 1.0 mkm2) summer (e.g. Wang and Overland 2015) would be devastating to the species [don’t forget Cronin and Cronin 2016: they’ve survived such conditions before] – as long as conditions in spring allow for the necessary concentrated feeding on young seals.

sea-ice-mins_2007_2012_2015_polarbearscienceAbove: Top, minimum at 2012 (16 Sept, 3.41 mkm2, lowest since 1979); Center, 2007 (18 Sept, 4.17 mkm2); Bottom, 2015 (9 Sept, 4.50 mkm2), from NSIDC. Below: sea ice at 10 Sept 2016, 4.137 mkm2 – minimum not yet called).

sea-ice-extent-2016-sept-10_nsidc

Recall that in 2006, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group based their conservation status of ‘vulnerable’ (likely to become threatened within the next 45 years due to reduced habitat) on the predictions of sea ice specialists (see 2008 update here).

Sea ice experts in 2005 predicted such low summer sea ice extents as polar bears have endured since 2007 (3.0 – 5.0 mkm2) would not happen until 2040-2070, at which time PBSG biologists said that >30% of the world’s bears would be gone.

Evidence to the contrary comes from polar bear specialists working in the Chukchi, Beaufort, and Barents Seas – and in Southern Hudson Bay – since 2007. Overall, the latest IUCN Red Book assessment (2015) put the global population size at 22,000-31,000 (or about 26,500).

All of this means that those polar bear experts were wrong: polar bears are more resilient to low summer sea ice conditions than they assumed.

UPDATE 2 January 2017: I’ve added some quotes from the original USGS reports that explicitly state their dire predictions for 2050 that differ from the predictions made by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group.
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Critical spring feeding for polar bears is over – sea ice levels are now irrelevant

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.

Relative importance of seasons polar bear graphic_PolarBearScience_June2016

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

Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea in April 2016 and early polynya formation

putting_collar_on_polar_bear_slider_USGS

Here’s the update on the polar bears fitted with satellite collars or ear tags in the Beaufort by USGS biologists over the last two years. Five new bears were added last month, which means there are now thirteen bears being tracked. Ice conditions are somewhat different than they have been in the past but concluding that such a situation means trouble is premature, I think (see here). Continue reading

Challenging Alaska polar bear research sound bites and bewildering ESA status

Beaufort Sea male polar bear USGS_2005 Amstrup photo

It’s easy to take polar bear research papers at face value but it’s not very scientific. The snappy sound bites provided for the benefit of the media – whether they’re embedded in press releases or in published abstracts – don’t cut it with trained scientists. Trained scientists read the whole report, critically examine the evidence it contains and assess that evidence within the context of previous knowledge. That’s what they are trained to do.

I challenge the superficial summary on the status of Alaskan polar bear populations provided by FactCheck.org journalist Vanessa Schipani.  Schipani disputed a comment made by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski that, according to the latest research Alaskan polar bear population numbers are strong and healthy. I’m not especially interested in the political context of the statement, only Schipani’s bald claim that Murkowski’s declaration is false.

I’ve read all the relevant papers in full and I contend that the evidence supports Murkowski’s statement. Schipani is confusing the issue by regurgitating ‘facts’ that don’t tell the truth of the matter. By the sum of accounts, Alaskan polar bear populations are indeed healthy and strong – whether or not this status will continue is an entirely different question. Continue reading

W. Hudson Bay polar bear numbers declined then stabilized, says new paper

Polarbear_Parks Canada Wapusk in August

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

In the just-published version of their Western Hudson Bay (WHB) population survey conducted in 2011, Nick Lunn and colleagues highlighted in the abstract:

“Our analysis suggested a long-term decline in the number of bears from 1,185 (993-1411) in 1987 to 806 (653-984) in 2011…” 

But they didn’t mention that the 806 estimate for 2011 was based on only a portion of the WHB region (Fig. 1) and has not been accepted by their peers as a valid estimate of the population size. They also failed to mention that the decline occurred due to thick spring ice and/or unsuitable snow conditions for ringed seals between 1989 and 1992 (Fig. 2), which resulted in reduced availability of polar bear prey (as I discussed in detail in Crockford 2015).

They know the “long-term” population decline is what the media will grab onto and run with – rather than the next sentence, which says “In the last 10 years of the study, the number of bears appeared stable due to temporary stability in sea ice conditions.

In other words, their study shows there has been no decline in the population since 2004, which had been predicted to occur (see previous post, Prediction #1), and there has been no trend in either breakup or freeze-up dates between 2001 and 2010 (or since). See previous post on the government report on which this paper is based here.

The bottom line is this: no one is buying this population estimate of 806 bears for the Western Hudson Bay population – both the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group and Environment Canada are using Seth Stapleton and colleagues (2014) estimate from their aerial survey done the same year and that official population size number is 1030 bears. Continue reading