Ice entrapment of whales is known to happen across the Arctic, including Davis Strait and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. How common such phenomena were in the past or might be in the future are subjects of conjecture. However, while speculation is the bread-and-butter of science-based fiction, it is the bane of peer-reviewed science.
I’ve written two novels informed by science set a bit in the future (2025-2026) in Eastern Canada: EATEN was set in Newfoundland and my latest book UPHEAVAL –see a review here – is set in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. In UPHEAVAL, one of the issues I explore is ice entrapment of large whales, like North Atlantic right whales. I speculate in the story whether carcasses of ice-killed whales might provide a powerful enough attraction to lure Davis Strait polar bears down from Labrador and the Strait of Belle Isle into the Gulf of St. Lawrence – and if they did, what might be the repercussions of that shift in distribution.
Here I argue that a novel is the appropriate place for this kind of speculation and researchers who offer such conjecture to the public in a way that conflates a science-informed guess with evidence-based fact risks eroding public trust in science.
Posted in Book promotion, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic, evidence, facts, fiction, Gulf of St. Lawrence, ice-entrapment, Newfoundland, polar bears, science, sea ice, speculation, trust
In case you missed it buried in the details of my rebuttal two weeks ago about Facebook labelling a short PragerU polar bear video as “false information”, in his review of the video (18 May 2020) Canadian polar bear biologist Ian Stirling revealed that a recent survey of M’Clintock Channel polar bears documented a population increase. The problem is we have no scientific details about the survey – apparently completed four years ago, in 2016 – because the final report has not been made public (COSEWIC 2018, pp. 42-43; Crockford 2020).
Posted in Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Climate Feedback, Facebook, fact check, good news, M'Clintock Channel, numbers, polar bear, PragerU, science, sea ice, video
Seattle, Washington was ground zero for Covid-19 in the US and most cases in Washington State (see image below) were known to be associated with long term care homes from the very beginning. This has turned out to be true virtually everywhere in the world. This means the risk of this coronavirus to the general population is even smaller than has been assumed by health advisors. However, because numbers of care home deaths and confirmed cases are inconsistently reported worldwide, governments almost everywhere have been reluctant to lift restrictions on movements of people who do not live or work in these well-defined hotspots of Covid-19 infection.
I live in Victoria and travel to Seattle fairly often, in part because the cheapest and fastest way to Alaska and the rest of the US is via Seattle. Because of its physical proximity, I have kept a close eye on the virus situation in Seattle. In addition, a good friend of mine in Victoria had a relative in the Kirkland Life Care Centre in Seattle, which recorded one of the first deaths in the US. His ‘insider’ information tells us some interesting things about why long-term care facilities like these are being hit so hard by Covid-19. I thought it might be worth sharing what I’ve learned about this developing story.
UPDATE 25 April 2020: US Medicaid officials have summarized (as of April 23) Covid-19 deaths and confirmed cases in long term care facilities (by state) for those that report this data. They point out that until April 19, long term care homes were not required to report cases or deaths to the CDC and state [my bold]:
Our data collection effort finds that in the 23 states that publicly report death data as of April 23, 2020, there have been over 10,000 reported deaths due to COVID-19 in long-term care facilities (including residents and staff), representing 27% of deaths due to COVID-19 in those states. Our data also finds that there have been over 50,000 reported cases, accounting for 11% of coronavirus cases in 29 states. In six states reporting data, deaths in long-term care facilities account for over 50% of all COVID-19 deaths (Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Utah; Table 2)…The total cases and deaths from reporting states accounts for just over half (53%) of all cases, and 81% of all deaths. Given that not all states are reporting data yet and the continual lag in testing, the counts of cases and deaths are an undercount of the true number of cases and deaths in long-term care facilities.
Also, the State of Massachusetts is one of those that do report long-term care facility deaths and associated cases, pdf here for April 24.
Posted in science
Tagged confirmed cases, covid-19, deaths, epicenter, fear, lockdown, long-term care homes, nursing homes, old age, patient zero, retirement homes, science, statistics
For all of those parents and grandparents struggling to keep school-aged kids occupied and learning while stuck at home during the coronavirus lock-down (and looking ahead to the summer months!), how about using my Polar Bear Facts & Myths book to practice a second language? The book is short (<800 words), the topic is compelling, and the text is simple. As well as the original English, it's also available in French, German, Norwegian, and Dutch – all translated from English by native speakers. Prices have now been reduced on all versions of this title and several others (note it has taken Amazon two weeks to implement these changes).
Purchase two copies (one in your native language, the other in the language the child has been learning), and let them work their way through. This approach makes it easy for kids to tackle this task on their own. For Canadian kids who must take French, this is an excellent way to brush up on their French reading skills while learning about polar bears and the Arctic. Similarly, for a large number of European kids, it’s a chance to practice their English reading skills.
When they are done, you could 1) ask them to find a polar bear picture online and write a caption in their second language; 2) send me a question that the book hasn’t answered and I will respond on this blog, in English! Other links below.
Posted in home schooling
Tagged Arctic, Dutch, French, German, home schooling, language, Norwegian, polar bear, reading, science, sea ice, second language
This bit of mammalian science is worth a read, from biologist Matt Ridley’s blog, first published in the Wall Street Journal. And yes, a very few bat species do live above the Arctic Circle in North America and Eurasia but their distributions only overlap with polar bears in the most southern areas of the bear’s range (and none of the bats are the horseshoe variety that carry coronaviruses): along the coasts of southern Labrador and Hudson Bay, the north coast of Newfoundland, and in NW Alaska along the Bering Sea.
The Bats Behind the Pandemic (published 9 April 2020): From Ebola to Covid-19, many of the deadliest viruses to emerge in recent years have the same animal source.
On this first anniversary of the publication of The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, it’s a day of celebration for me. The book has informed thousands about how and why the scary stories about the imminent demise of polar bears due to human-caused global warming failed so miserably. It is a story of the triumph of facts over assumptions and a perfect example of why scientific observations trump model predictions. It is also a study of science at its worst: how a close-knit community of scientists groomed by a few senior researchers was able to cast out an insider who refused to tow the line on their climate change agenda – and mobilized mobs to attack outsiders who questioned their authority.
If you haven’t read it, now may be the perfect time. Many of you will be forced or encouraged to stay at home because of Covid-19 concerns, so here is one way to put the time to good use. Ebooks are perfect for this situation. If you don’t like Amazon, Smashwords has an ebook version here.
Smashwords also has an ebook version of my novel, EATEN. This polar bear attack thriller is a timely read for a number of reasons but primarily because it’s the story of an animal epidemic with horrific consequences quite different from the one we are facing at the moment.
My polar bear science book for kids, Polar Bear Facts and Myths in ebook form might be the perfect diversion for kids at home who need interesting educational material.
You’ll find links to all of my books, in all countries and all outlets, at my personal website here.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Life History, Polar bear attacks, Population, Summary
Tagged catastrophe, ebooks, epidemic, extinction, models, polar bear, population, predictions, science, sea ice, thriller, winter
Sea ice around Svalbard, Norway at the end of February 2020 is way above average, as the graph below shows – with more polar bear habitat now than there has been in two decades.
Some comparison charts below show that the graph above includes some very high ice years in the 1980s (reaching that dotted line above the mean) for which only global charts are available.
However, contrary to suggestions that more Svalbard ice is better for polar bears, there is no evidence that low extent of sea ice habitat in winter or summer over the last two decades harmed polar bear health, reproductive performance, or abundance. In fact, polar bear numbers in 2015 were 42% higher than they were in 2004 (although not a significant increase, statistically speaking) and most bears were found to be in excellent condition.
This suggests a return to more extensive ice to the Svalbard region in winter will have little impact on the health of the entire Barents Sea subpopulation, although it might change where pregnant females are able to make their maternity dens if ice forms early enough in the fall. In other words, the population should continue to grow as it has been doing since the bears were protected by international treaty in 1973.
UPDATE 3 March 2020: According to 28 February tweet by the Norwegian Ice Service, which I just saw today, “the last time there was this much sea ice around Svalbard on this day of the year [28 February] was 2004“. Somehow, I missed 2004 when I was looking through the archive, so I have modified the text below accordingly; see the 2004 chart below and here.
Posted in Life History, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Barents Sea, body condition, cub survival, denning, facts, Franz Josef Land, polar bear, science, sea ice, Svalbard
Google says many people ask this question so here is the correct answer: polar bears are not going extinct. If you have been told that, you have misunderstood or have been misinformed. Polar bears are well-distributed across their available habitat and population numbers are high (officially 22,000-31,000 at 2015 but likely closer to 26,000-58,000 at 2018): these are features of a healthy, thriving species. ‘Why are polar bears going extinct?’ contains a false premise – there is no need to ask ‘why’ when the ‘polar bears [are] going extinct’ part is not true.1
Posted in Conservation Status, Population
Tagged answers, estimates, extinct, facts, how many polar bears are left, IUCN Red List, polar bear, predictions, science, why are polar bears going extinct
I’ve been home for just over 3 weeks now but even with all the demands on my time from family, friends, colleagues, and the media that I had to put off while I was away, I didn’t want to miss setting down a few final thoughts about my speaking tour across Europe. See previous posts here and here.
Polar bear beer had a prominent place at the post-conference dinner in Oslo.
Posted in academic freedom, Conservation Status, Life History
Tagged academic freedom, activists, children, climate change, Climate Realists, facts, lectures, polar bear, science, video