Tag Archives: sea ice declines

Polar bear news: 1st fat bear ashore in WHB, trouble in S. Greenland, and more hybrid hype

Last week, among other events, the first fat polar bear of the season was photographed on shore in Western Hudson Bay, a fat bear was run out of town in South Greenland, and media outlets spread misinformation – apparently preferring global warming hype to rational facts.

1) First polar bears have been seen onshore in Western Hudson Bay in Wapusk National Park near Cape Churchill (map below) on 18 June this year, apparently fat and well prepared for the summer fast. My informants tell me a few bears usually come ashore in June near Churchill before ice conditions make this necessary; the bulk of the population will probably continue seal hunting for a few more weeks. Those bears will come ashore along the southwest coast (near Polar Bear Provincial Park, in Ontario, see Fig. 2 below). They’ll make their way north to the Churchill area in time for freeze-up in the fall. Watch one fat bear caught on camera on 18 June, below :

2) Fat polar bear spotted in Nanortalik, Southern Greenland 18 June 2015, a bit further south than usual. People from the community drove it away, but not before taking lots of pictures.

Greenland South_polar-bear-nanortalik-08_henrik-hansen_June_18_2015

Some very cool photos, including the one above (taken by Henrik Hansen), worth a look. This bear was in excellent condition, well prepared for the summer fast ahead, whether he ends up spending it on shore somewhere (but not near this community!) or on the sea ice further north in SE Greenland (Fig. 1 below). The ice in that areas is probably broken up (~15-30% concentration) but this is enough for the bear to swim from flow to flow to make it’s way up the northeast coast where most East Greenland bears spend the summer.
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BBC provides a forum for desperate biologists: “Will polar bears become extinct?”

Yesterday, the BBC published a story that gave the two most alarmist polar bear researchers on the planet a forum to market their ‘polar bears are doomed’ message. This time the desperation shows: watch how these biologists move the goal-posts, make claims so misleading they border on lies, and pretend they don’t have big, big trouble with their predictive models.

Amstrup_only solution_with 2 cubs_Oct 8 2014

Amstrup photo that accompanied an interview last month.

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Mass haulouts of female Pacific walrus as a sign of population health

Mass haulouts of female Pacific walrus and their calves in fall don’t happen all the time but they do occur. I recently pointed out (here and here) two instances of such incidents from the 1970s.

I said this provided evidence that the September 2014 incident reported in the media was not “a new phenomenon” for this region, as WWF spokepersons and Alaskan biologists have claimed (reiterated in this PBS interview).

Figure 1. Walrus females and calves hauled out on a beach in Svalbard, photo accompanying an October 6, 2014 news report in “Eye on the Arctic” of the rapidly increasing Atlantic walrus population there. (Photo: Thomas Nilsen/Barents Observer).

Figure 1. Walrus females and calves hauled out on a beach in Svalbard, photo accompanying an October 6, 2014 news report in “Eye on the Arctic” of the rapidly increasing Atlantic walrus population there. (Photo: Thomas Nilsen, Barents Observer).

One aspect of the recent occurrence of a large herd on an Alaskan beach that apparently needs reiterating is that the population of walruses declined rather markedly after a 1970s peak and has rebounded since. This suggests that huge herds of females and calves hauling out on beaches in the fall to feed might only be seen when the population is very large.
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High walrus numbers may explain why females and calves are hauling out in droves

Are the recent mass gatherings of females and calves on the beaches of western Alaska and the Russian Far East a sign that population are again close to the limit the habitat can support, as they were in the 1970s?

At the risk of belabouring the point that lack of sea ice does not seem to be a reasonable explanation for this phenomenon (see my last two posts, here and here, and Andrew Montford’s excellent additions here), I think this is a possibility that needs to be considered.

Walruses at Point Lay Sept 27 2014 NOAA CMDA0007_sm

2014 Point Lay, NOAA photo

Walrus are well protected in the US and Russia, and population numbers have risen again since the 1990s, after significant declines in the early 1900s and again in the 1980s.

A paper from the late 1980s suggests that a return to high population numbers may be a more plausible cause for mass gatherings of females and calves that lead to stampede deaths than does reduced sea ice due to global warming.

Have a look and see what you think. It may not be the only reason but it may be a major contributing factor.

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Mass gatherings of walrus follow-up – sea ice maps for 1978 and 1972

Walruses as polar bear prey and sea ice were on my mind last night and I remembered that we DO have detailed sea ice information for 1978 and 1972 – from the sea ice atlas put together by University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), which has ice concentration maps for Alaska going back to 1850 — and for every year up to 2013 (reported previously here).

Chukchi Sea walrus, June 2014. US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Chukchi Sea walrus, June 2014. US Fish and Wildlife Service.

I’ve copied some of the ice maps below.

It is clear that ice was available close to Wrangel Island in 1972 when walruses chose to haul out on the island in huge numbers. And in 1978, there was ice present to the north of the walrus herd, but they had moved away from the ice to get to St. Lawrence Island, where they hauled out in large numbers.

This means it is more likely that food resources were the issue, not sea ice.
UPDATE OCTOBER 3 2014:

See another interesting follow-up elsewhere: Walrus inconsistencies
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Mass haulouts of Pacific walrus and stampede deaths are not new, not due to low ice cover

Large haulouts of walruses — such as the one making news at Point Lay, Alaska on the Chukchi Sea (and which happened before back in 2009) — are not a new phenomenon for this region over the last 45 years and thus cannot be due to low sea ice levels. Nor are deaths by stampede within these herds (composed primarily of females and their young) unusual, as a brief search of the literature reveals.

Pt Lay map Google marked

The attempts by WWF and others to link this event to global warming is self-serving nonsense that has nothing to do with science.

UPDATE October 3, 2014: See below. Also, do see follow-up posts here, here, and especially, here.

UPDATE October 23, 2014: A briefing paper summary is here and a video version of that paper (“The Walrus Fuss” — 3 1/2 minutes long) here.

There is also a follow-up post on the situation here.

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Polar bear habitat: Spring 2014 in Eastern Canada was much better than 1969

It was a good year for polar bear habitat in the southern portions of Eastern Canada this spring – surprisingly, much better than it was in 1968 through 1970. And since spring conditions are what really matter to polar bears, this is good news indeed.

Environment Canada’s Canadian Ice Service recently published a nice little summary that has some rather eye-opening graphs. These describe the conditions for polar bears in the southern Davis Strait subpopulation – the one whose population size increased so dramatically between 1974 and 2007 despite lower-than-average ice extent in some years, even while their body condition declined (see here and here).

Environment Canada - Ice maps regions at July 26 2014

[Fitting post for the second anniversary of this blog, I think – more below1]

Note that I’ve added a “Blog Archive” page that lists all of my posts, easier to browse now that there are more than 200 of them.
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