Tag Archives: Russia

Claims polar bear cannibalism on the rise in Russian Arctic not supported by facts

The Guardian today expanded on a story published in the Moscow Times that quotes a Russian scientist claiming cannibalism among polar bears is on the rise in the Russian Arctic. However, the scientist offered no numbers to support this claim and there is no suggestion he had done a study on this phenomenon.

Cannibalism video 2015 Nat Geo_off Baffin Island

As I’ve said before, incidents of cannibalism cannot be said to be increasing because there is no scientific baseline for which recent occurrences can be compared. Scattered anecdotal reports of any behaviour cannot be touted as evidence for a trend even though they may be of interest and worth recording.

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Polar bear cubs play on the thin ice that supposedly threatens them with extinction

This video tweet deserves a post of its own: two relatively inexperienced cubs-of-the-year in Russia deliberately break through thin ice, fall into the icy water and crawl back out – over and over again, for fun, as their mother watches in the background. Play is one way animals learn important survival lessons and for polar bears, this is one of them:

Thin ice was a natural component of the Arctic long before polar bears evolved to live there: it is nothing new but dealing with it requires a strategy that cubs must learn.

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No joke: Russian scientists marked problem Kara Sea polar bear with T-34

The media are so gullible. So eager are they for a sympathetic polar bear victim that news outlets everywhere carried a story earlier this week about a Russian polar bear that had ‘T-34’ spray-painted on its side. They took the word of Russian polar bear/walrus consultant to WWF and Netflix, Anatoly Kochnev, that this was some kind of cruel joke that meant an untimely death for the bear. Turns out it was nothing of the kind.

T-34 polar bear

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Ryrkaypiy ‘over-run’ by >50 polar bears is probably due to more Chukchi Sea bears

A scary-sounding headline from the BBC today screams “Ryrkaypiy: Far-north Russian village overrun by polar bears“. A little research would have shown (as I do below) that this sort of event is not unusual for this village, there is adequate sea ice off the coast to allow polar bears to hunt for seals if they choose to do so, and the photos provided do not support the claim that almost all of the polar bears “appeared to be thin” (see photo below and others). Similar incidents happened in 2013 and 2006. Increasing numbers of Chukchi Sea polar bears is the most plausible explanation for the recent abundance of bears at this village.

BBC Russian village Chukotka over run by polar bears BBC 5 Dec 2019 headline

BBC headline, 5 December 2019. Does that look like garbage these fat bears are feeding on or the frozen remains of dead walruses at the base of the Cape Schmidt cliff?

UPDATE 8 December 2019: A Daily Mail version of the same story (6 Dec) confirms the photo above is of bears feeding on walrus remains (not garbage) and has many more photos (plus a video) of a large number of bears, not a single one of which that I saw was ‘skinny’ (see quotes from the story below). See also the Siberian Times version (6 Dec) with the same pictures. My source for the story was an article published by the BBC, which ran the day before (5 Dec).

UPDATE 9 DECEMBER 2019: Now it’s apparently 63 polar bears threatening the village of Ryrkaypiy on the Chukotka coast, according to the Siberian Times yesterday and repeated by the Daily Mail (with more pictures and video). Russian media getting lots of mileage out of this one. The story now says the bears are feeding on “seals”, not walrus (to deflect attention over their long history of walrus/polar bear problems? Or just a bad translation?). Both stories repeat the claim that most of the bears are “skinny” despite the photos showing just the opposite: lots of fat, healthy bears.

Also, uniquely (and rather bizarrely), the Daily Mail piece claims the bears are being deprived of the “fish” they should be consuming:

Instead of hunting for fish in deeper waters , the bears are eating seal carcasses left in autumn.

Last year army servicemen cleared the village’s shore of remains of dead seals on which the bears are feeding.

Obviously written by someone who knows absolutely nothing about polar bears, who rarely, if ever, eat fish and certainly would not be eating fish at this time of year. Sea ice map below for 8 December 2019 from the Alaska Sea Ice Program for 8 December shows, as noted below, that there is enough ice offshore for the bears to hunt seals if they chose to do so (since eating long-dead walrus is much easier than going hunting):

Chukchi Sea ice stage of development 8 Dec 2019 Alaska Sea Ice program

UPDATE 14 December 2019: Apparently, the number of invading bears is now 72 (number gets higher every time someone asks, even though they are still talking about “about a week ago”: who exactly is doing the counting?), according to a story today in The Times (UK). Residents say they move walrus carcasses “away” from the village to a “feeding point” for the bears but it’s apparent the distance is insufficient to prevent problems with bears coming into town. While a local cleaner working for the polar bear patrol (well indoctrinated by the WWF who sponsor the program), proclaims the problem is “definitely” due to climate change, there is finally the admission in this article that the bears coming into town are young bears driven away from the walrus carcasses by larger, older animals (i.e. intra-specific competition). This piece also has a few new photos, including one (below) of fat bears getting into garbage (still no photos of the so-called “skinny” bears said to dominate this “invasion”) and also is the first I’ve seen that doesn’t state that there is no sea ice (only that the ice extent is lower than usual). Some progress, but balanced by the hype promoted earlier this week (at “Treehugger” – what a surprise) by former WWF activist Geoff York (now at Polar Bears International), who is still blaming this incident on lack of ice.

Ryrkaypiy bears in local garbage_The Times UK 14 Dec 2019

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Polar bear at a walrus haulout with cliffs in Russia: Netflix scenario all over again?

In the news this morning is a report out of Russia that a team from WWF and a Russian documentary film crew were approached from the top of the cliff by a polar bear – at what looks suspiciously like the steepest part of the same Chukotka cliff that the infamous Netflix ‘Our Planet’ walrus video was filmed in 2017. The Netflix crew insisted that no polar bears were around when the walrus deaths occurred, despite strong evidence to the contrary (including a polar bear shown in the final seconds of the film!)

WWF and RT journalist fend off polar bear as they film walrus in Russia_13 Sept 2019 headline

Is the cliff above the same one we saw last year as walrus fell to a gruesome death on the rocks below, falsely blamed on lack of sea ice? It is mid-September, the same time of year as the 2017 walrus footage was filmed by the joint Netflix/WWF crew – and surprise, surprise, it looks like WWF are taking other filmmakers back for more of the same.

Or have they found another location with the same features?

Here is the original WWF Behind the Scenes video from the Netflix incident:

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My opinion piece in the Financial Post on Netflix splattering walrus film footage

Netflix is lying about those falling walruses. It’s another ‘tragedy porn’ climate hoax

Opinion: Netflix and the WWF are misleading the public in the name of climate change — just as National Geographic did with the emaciated polar bear  [24 April 2019]

read it here.

Netflix is lying_FP headline 24 April 2019

I’ll post the full text in a few days for those who hit a paywall: see it here.

Just a reminder of the geographic locations of the action in the Russian portion of the Chukchi Sea: The cliff where the falling walruses were filmed was at Cape Kozhevnikov and the beach haulout of >100,000 animals was almost certainly Cape Serdtse-Kamen. There is often another haulout at Vankarem, described in the USGS Pacific walrus coastal haulout database.

Chukotka walrus haulouts map with inset

Bogus Greenpeace claim that lost Russian polar bear is evidence of climate change

Another day, another bogus starving polar bear claim from an environmental organization. Polar bear starvation is virtually never caused by climate change but apparently, Greenpeace thinks there are still some gullible folks out there who will believe anything they are told. A young male polar bear in poor condition found far south on the Russian coast of the Bering Sea a few days ago is an isolated incident: it is not evidence of anything except the sad fact that the life of a polar bear can sometimes be brutal. In contrast to these reports, Chukchi Sea polar bears are doing extremely well overall.

Exhausted polar bear Kamchatka_Guardian headline_18 April 2019

Headline from The Guardian 18 April 2019

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Polar bears driven out of Novaya Zemlya town onto the ice by persistent harassment

The state of emergency in Belushya Guba on Novaya Zemlya is over, according to a report yesterday from the Russian news agency TASS (18 February 2019), as no bears had been spotted over the previous 24 hours.

Belushaya Guba garbage dump_Daily Mail_11 Feb 2019

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No extirpation looms for Svalbard polar bears: no pending catastrophe in Norway

Despite a wild claim that a “slow Arctic freeze” this year increases the risk that polar bears will become extinct, sea ice charts show ice returning earlier than it has for decades everywhere except the Svalbard area of the Barents Sea. That’s good news for pregnant polar bears. Although Svalbard is without ice, that’s been true for so many years that pregnant Svalbard females long ago abandoned the use of islands they used in good ice years and now make their dens in the Franz Josef Land archipelago to the east (which is still within the Barents Sea subpopulation region).

Svalbard polar bear fall 2015_Aars

Polar bears give birth around 25 December each year, so pregnant females prefer to be snug in a safe den by around the end of November at the latest. That’s been possible for all regions of the Arctic this year, including the Barents Sea — because sea ice returned to Franz Josef Land weeks ago, even though Svalbard is still ice-free.

Franz_Josef_Land_location_wikipedia

Major denning areas in Russia, including Wrangel Island, have been surrounded by ice since the middle of the month, allowing pregnant females that did not remain on shore over the summer to return to make maternity dens. Elsewhere, bears that have been confined to shore over the ice-free season (such as along Hudson Bay and Baffin Island in eastern Canada) returned to the ice to hunt seals weeks ago after the earliest freeze-up in more than two decades.

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Less Svalbard polar bear habitat during the early Holocene than now

Svalbard in the western Barents Sea has recently had less sea ice extent than it had in the 1980s, especially in the west and north, but this is not unprecedented.

Svalbard polar bear_Aars August 2015-NP058930_press release

New evidence from clams and mussels with temperature-sensitive habitat requirements confirm that warmer temperatures and less sea ice than today existed during the early Holocene period about 10.2–9.2 thousand years ago and between 8.2 and 6.0 thousand years ago (based on radio carbon dates) around Svalbard. Barents Sea polar bears almost certainly survived those previous low-ice periods, as they are doing today, by staying close to the Franz Josef Land Archipelago in the eastern half of the region where sea ice is more persistent.

As this sea ice chart for 18 April 2018 shows, ice this month has been virtually absent from the west and north coasts of the Svalbard Archipelago, while Franz Josef Land to the east is surrounded by highly concentrated pack and land-fast ice.

Barents Sea ice 2018 April 18 NIS

From a new paper by Jan Mangerud and John Svendsen (2018) [my bold]:

Svalbard, located between 74° and 81°N, is the warmest place on Earth at this latitude (Drange et al., 2013). This is because of the North Atlantic Current and large-scale atmospheric circulation which transport warm water and air masses from lower latitudes northwards across the Atlantic and along the coast of Norway to Svalbard (Figure 1). Yet, during the Holocene Thermal Maximum, the climate of Svalbard was considerably warmer than at present.

The transition from Younger Dryas cold to Holocene Thermal Maximum warm conditions took place very rapidly, according to records from nearby Greenland (Taylor et al. 1997), warming in “steps” of about five years each over a period of about 40 years. This was at least as fast, if not faster than, recent Arctic warming between the 1980s and 2015. And since polar bears of the Barents Sea and adjacent Arctic areas appear to have survived this change to Holocence Thermal Maximum conditions, it challenges the notion that recent warming has been (or will be) too fast to allow polar bears to survive without huge changes in their present distribution (Amstrup et al. 2007).
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