Tag Archives: sea ice loss

One starving bear is not evidence of climate change, despite gruesome photos

We finally have this year’s example of the new fad of claiming every polar bear that died of starvation (or on its way to starving to death) — and caught on film — is a victim of climate change: a young bear on Somerset Island near Baffin Island, Nunavut filmed in August during its last angonizing hours by members of an activist conservation organization called SeaLegacy.

‘I filmed with tears rolling down my cheeks’: Heart-breaking footage shows a starving polar bear on its deathbed struggling to walk on iceless land.” [actual title of article in the DailyMail Online, 8 December 2017]. CBC Radio (8 December 2017) jumped on it as well, as have others. National Geographic ran a similar story, like others, that compliantly emphasized the future man-made global warming threat the photographers were touting.

Baffin Island starving pb headline_GlobalNews_8 Dec 2017

This is no different from Ian Stirling’s “bear that died of climate change” back in 2013, or several others since then: here, here, and here (one of these incidents also involved the same photographer as this incident, Paul Nicklen). I’ve called this practice of filming dead or dying bears and splashing the photos across the pages of newspapers and the internet “tragedy porn” — a kind of voyerism that leaves people open to emotional manipulation. The internet laps it up.

UPDATE 9 December 2017: a quote from another source shows photographer Paul Nicklen’s “expertise” in polar bear biology, see below.

UPDATE 11 December 2017: an Arctic seal specialist, Jeff Higdon, has weighed in via twitter about the possible cause of death of this bear and also what the SeaLegacy team should have done when they found the bear in this condition. See below

UPDATE 12 December 2017: See my update to this post here.

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Published essay: the conservation fiasco that is the ESA listing of polar bears

In early October, the US Fish & Wildlife Service reversed its 2011 decision to list Pacific walrus as ‘threatened with extinction’, saying they could not “determine with certainty that walruses are likely to become endangered “in the foreseeable future.” [details below]

I have argued that the 2008 decision by the USFWS to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ is similarly lacking in certainty (Crockford 2017) and as for walrus, the previous determination of ‘threatened’ for polar bears was premature and should be reversed.

Conservation Fiasco_lead photo_WINTER 2017 RANGE

A prominent biology colleague and I recently put it this way in a newly published essay:

“Is it ethical or fair to the many citizens impacted directly and indirectly by the 2008 polar bear ruling for the FWS to allow polar bears to remain on the Endangered Species List?”

Read our piece in the winter 2018 issue of RANGE Magazine (open access), authored by myself and Dr. Valerius Geist, professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Calgary, Alberta.

Crockford, S.J. and Geist, V. 2018. Conservation Fiasco. Range Magazine, Winter 2017/2018, pg. 26-27. Pdf here.

PS. You’ll find an excellent piece on wildfires by biologist Jim Steele in the same issue.

See also Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 2 March 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3 Open access. https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3

Details on the USFWS decision on the walrus is below. Note that like the walrus, if ESA protection on the polar bear was reversed, the bears would still be strongly protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (as they have been since 1972), and like the walrus, polar bears have shown an ability to adapt that was not foreseen in 2007 (as evidenced by their failure to die off droves in response to recent sea ice declines).

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USGS promotes another flawed polar bear model: GHG emissions still “primary threat”

It’s still based on the same flawed ecological premise as all previous models – it assumes that sea ice was a naturally stable habitat until human-caused global warming came along. It also uses slight-of-hand maneuvers to correlate declining summer sea ice and declining polar bear population numbers.


Just because they keep repeating the same hype doesn’t make it true.
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Polar bear consumption of terrestrial foods – new paper misses the point

A new paper by polar bear biologists (Rode et al. 2015) argues that terrestrial (land-based) foods are not important to polar bears now and will not be in the future – a conclusion I totally agree with – but they miss the point entirely regarding the importance of this issue.

Fat bears on land in the Southern Beaufort, Sue Miller photo, well-prepared for a brief summer fast.

Whatever food polar bears consume in the summer – whether they are on land or on the ice – doesn’t really matter. What matters is how many fat-rich seals they can consume between March and June each year. The fat put on in late winter/spring from gorging on baby seals carries polar bears over the summer, no matter where they spend it.

USGS polar bear biologist Karyn Rode and colleagues (press release here) have tried to frame this issue as one about future survival of polar bears in the face of declining sea ice. However, the fact that polar bears in the Chukchi Sea and Southern Davis Strait are thriving despite dramatic declines in summer sea ice (aka an extended open-water season), proves my point and disproves their premise. Bears in these regions are doing extremely well – contrary to all predictions – because they have had abundant baby seals to eat during the spring (see here and here).

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Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea – May 2014 map and USGS video footage

Here is the May 2014 follow-up to my post on the July 2013 track map for female polar bears being followed by satellite in the Beaufort Sea by the US Geological Survey (USGS) – “Ten out of ten polar bears being tracked this summer in the Beaufort Sea are on the ice.”

See that post for methods and other background on this topic, and some track maps from 2012 (also available at the USGS website here).

The USGS track map May 2014 is copied below (Fig. 1).

Compare this to April’s map (Fig. 2) – the 24 bears from April are down to 20 and the bears are spreading out a bit from the area on the central Alaskan coast where they were originally tagged. Fifteen of these bears have satellite collar transmitters [and therefore are females] and 5 of these bears have glue-on satellite transmitters [either males or subadult animals].

Some comments on the polar bear video cam footage released June 6 by USGS and stories on it run by the media follow.

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What about the polar bears? Disconnect between predictions and observations

With all the talk this week about future climate – the global warming imagined by IPCC crystal ball models, that is – the focus for many is rightly on the gulf between predictions and observations that have taken place so far. This follows on reminders a few weeks ago of the many failed predictions that we would have seen an “ice-free Arctic” by now.

[by “ice-free” they mean “nearly ice-free,” or “when ice coverage is less than 1 million square kilometers, or about 386,000 square miles.”]

But what about the polar bears? Is there a similar disconnect between predictions and observations for polar bear survival? Yes, indeed.

Many Arctic biologists insist that polar bears are not just threatened by future global warming and a “melting ice cap.” They contend polar bears are already being harmed by declines in summer sea ice coverage, or will be shortly.

The problem is, the results of scientific studies show otherwise. Virtually all of the evidence generated by polar bear researchers shows that polar bears are not being harmed by declines in summer sea ice, and in some cases, they are doing very well indeed. In other words, they are not responding as expected.

A few weeks ago, I summarized these studies, which reveal that:

Less summer ice ≠ few bears (evidence from Davis Strait; S. Hudson Bay; Barents Sea; S. Beaufort; W. Hudson Bay).

Less summer ice ≠ “skinnier” bears (evidence from Chukchi Sea; S. Hudson Bay).

“Skinnier” bears ≠ fewer bears (evidence from S. Hudson Bay; S. Beaufort; Davis Strait).

Less summer ice ≠  lower cub survival (evidence from S. Hudson Bay; Chukchi Sea).

Less summer ice ≠ more cannibalism & hybridization

Have a look if you missed it (August 18, 2013, with pdf copies to download), “Polar bears have not been harmed by sea ice declines in summer – the evidence.”

[Update Sunday Sept 29 2013: these two stories (on the temperature pause and polar bears thriving (in which I get a mention), just out in the Mail on Sunday (UK)]

Mail on Sunday_Temp pause and polar bears_Sept 29 2013

How and why great news about Chukchi polar bears has been suppressed

A new peer-reviewed report (Rode et al. 2014 [in print] 2013, accepted), released last month (announced here), documents the fact that polar bears in the Chukchi Sea are doing better than virtually any other population studied, despite significant losses in summer sea ice over the last two decades – even though the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) said this population was declining (Obbard et al. 2010).

Rode and Regehr 2010_Chukchi_report2010_Fig1_triplets_labelled

Rather than this good news being shouted far and wide, what we’ve seen so far is a mere whisper. The strategy for suppressing the information appears to have several parts: make it hard to find; don’t actively publicize it; down-play the spectacularly good nature of the news; minimize how wrong they were; keep the focus on the future.

Something similar happened with the newly-published paper on Davis Strait bears (Peacock et al. 2013, discussed here and here) but the news there wasn’t quite so shockingly different from expected. The suppression of good news stands in marked contrast to anything with a hint of bad news, which gets reported around the world — for example, Andrew Derocher and colleagues and their prepare now to save polar bears” policy paper in February, 2013.

US Fish & Wildlife biologist Eric Regehr, co-investigator of the Chukchi study and co-author of the newly-published report, wrote an announcement about the paper. It wasn’t a real press release, since it was not actually sent to media outlets. It was a statement, with a brief summary of the paper, posted on a regional US Fish & Wildlife website, with no mention of lead author Karyn Rode. Not surprisingly, lack of active promotion = no media coverage.

The posted announcement also down-played how well the Chukchi bears are doing. In fact, the news documented in the paper is much better than any of them let on: Chukchi polar bears are doing better than virtually all other populations studied.

But Regehr also had to do some damage control to counter the evidence this paper contains of how wrong they had all been — not only about the Chukchi population today but about their predictions for polar bears in the future.

After all, the computer models used to predict a dire future for polar bears combined the Chukchi Sea with the Southern Beaufort, as having similar ice habitats (“ice ecoregions”). The published paper and Regehr’s statement now say these two regions are very different and that polar bear response to loss of sea ice is “complex” rather than a simple matter of less summer ice = harm to polar bears. Regehr goes on to say that polar bear scientists expected this would happen. I call total BS on this one, which I explain in full later (with a map).

Finally, Regehr’s statement emphasizes that good news for 1 subpopulation out of 19 today should not be celebrated because the overall future for polar bears — prophesied by computerized crystal balls — is bleak. Focus on the future, they say. Did they forget that for years they’ve been telling us that polar bears are already being harmed and that this foreshadows what’s to come? Now we have the results of yet another peer-reviewed study showing bears not being harmed by declines in summer ice (see the full list here).

So, in the end, all of this double-talk and contradiction is not just about suppressing this particular paper. There’s much more at stake.

The Rode et al. Chukchi paper is strong evidence that their predictions of a grim future for polar bears – based on theoretical responses to summer sea ice declines that should already be apparent – have been refuted by their own studies. It’s no wonder they want to keep the media away from this story.

Details below.  [Update September 11, 2013: another news outlet picks up the story, see Point 2 below]

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