Tag Archives: sea ice loss

Now 20 years with no trend in ice breakup dates for Western Hudson Bay polar bears

Straight from the horse’s mouth: all polar bear females tagged by researchers around Churchill in Western Hudson Bay last year were still on the ice as of 25 June. With plenty of ice still remaining over the bay, spring breakup will be no earlier this year than it has been since 1999. Contrary to predictions of ever-declining ice cover, the lack of a trend in sea ice breakup dates for Western Hudson Bay is now twenty years long (a hiatus, if you will) and yet these bears are repeatedly claimed to have been seriously harmed in recent years by a loss of sea ice.

Derocher 2019 WHB collared females 25 June all bears still on the ice

In fact, WH bears have faced relatively few ‘early’ years of sea ice breakup and breakup has never come before the 15th of June. The earliest recent spring breakup date did not come in 2012 – when sea ice hit a summer record low – but in 1999, when Hudson Bay sea ice suddenly began to melt by late June rather than mid-July (Cherry et al. 2013; Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017; Lunn et al. 2016). And this year, as has been the case since 1999, breakup looks to be about two weeks later (give or take a week or so, at around 1 July), than was the case in the 1980s and early 1990s.

In other words, there has been no escalation of breakup dates since 1999: there has been no declining trend in breakup dates for Western Hudson Bay polar bears for 20 years (and no trend in fall freeze-up dates either).

UPDATE 26 June 2019: Here is the latest sea ice chart for the week of 24 June 2019 from the Canadian Ice Service (all that dark green is thick first year ice >1 m thick):

Hudson Bay weekly stage of development 2019 June 24
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Polar bear habitat update at mid-June: more than enough for survival

Here we are at the middle of June, when most polar bears are pretty much done with hunting seals for the season. And despite hand-wringing from some quarters, sea ice extent is down only marginally from average at this time of year and certainly not enough to impact polar bear survival.

Polar_bear Bering Sea 2007 USFWS lg

Given the large expanse of open water in the Southern Beaufort so early in the season, one resident pessimist insists those polar bears are “challenged” by the lack of ice. If he is right, there should be reports of dozens upon dozens of skinny and dying bears along the coast of Alaska this summer. If not, he will pretend he never suggested any such thing.

So far, despite the early loss of ice in some regions, there have been no reports of polar bears ashore unusually early. Hudson Bay still has lots of thick first year ice, so despite the overall reduced Arctic ice coverage, none of the three Hudson Bay polar bear populations are facing the earlier-than-usual sea ice breakup this year as we keep being promised will show up. In fact, there hasn’t been a significantly early breakup in Western Hudson Bay since 2010 (see previous posts here and here).

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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 agonizing 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 voyeurism 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.

PolarBearCV1_USGS_2009

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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