Tag Archives: sea ice

Free homeschool guide to Arctic sea ice ecology

I have put together a Arctic Sea Ice Ecosystem Teaching Guide for homeschooling Arctic sea ice ecology at the middle school level (grade 5-8; ages 10-13) meant to complement my two books, Polar Bear Facts & Myths and Walrus Facts & Myths and supplement your local school board curriculum. You’ll find critical facts about the amazing creatures that inhabit the Arctic sea ice, links to trust-worthy online sites with additional information, suggested exercises, and links to fascinating videos like this one that aren’t filled with doom-mongering about the future. The printable pdf booklet is free to download here. However, if you find it useful and can afford to do so, please consider a small donation (I suggest $6.00) at the ‘donate’ button to the right.

Sea ice cometh to Hudson Bay: freeze-up has begun

Although it may take until the end of the month for all Western and Southern Hudson Bay bears (except for pregnant females) to have returned to the ice, freeze-up has finally begun in earnest and today some bears are already heading out to resume feeding before winter sets in. This is 3.5 weeks later than last year when WH bears were first spotted have killed a seal on 31 October.

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Late freeze-up for W. Hudson Bay polar bears at odds with ice conditions elsewhere

Sea ice is finally starting to form along the western shore of Hudson Bay, lagging well behind ice formation in the rest of the Arctic. Oddly, however, last year it was just the opposite: some WH bears were able to start hunting as early as 31 October (see photo below) while ice formation lagged behind in the Chukchi and Barents Seas.

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Chukchi Sea ice that didn’t melt this summer is now 2+m thick between Wrangel Island and the shore

Thick multiyear ice between Wrangel Island and the shore is now more than 2m thick, potentially impacting fall feeding for bears that routinely summer on Wrangel or the north coast of Chukotka.

Rapidly-forming sea ice in the Laptev and East Siberian Seas this fall – generated by cold winds from Siberia in late October despite warmer than ususal temperatures earlier in the month – has trapped a number of Russian ships that are being rescued by ice-breakers (below), according to a report in the Barents Observer earlier this week.

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Polar bear habit more extensive in most areas of the Arctic compared to previous years

Mid-November is half-way through the Arctic fall season (October-December) and polar bear habitat is expanding slowly. Here’s a look at fall conditions compared to previous years, so you can see where bears may still be ashore and fasting (i.e. Hudson Bay and southern Foxe Basin) and where others have already resumed feeding.

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Polar bear watching in high gear near Churchill as everyone waits for the sea ice to form

All of the bears within view of the coastal web cams on the shore of Wapusk National Park near Churchill on Western Hudson Bay seem to be in very good shape this year, despite having come off the ice a few weeks earlier than they have over the last few years. Despite this, problems with bears in Churchill seem to have been below average this year. Some great action can be seen via several Explore dot org live web cams that are streaming from shore right now.

A sow with yearling cub; 1 November 2021

No ice forming yet along the west coast of Hudson Bay as of today, which is a bit later than it has been for the last few years. That means some of these bears will likely have spent almost 5 months onshore by the time they get back on the newly-formed ice and resume hunting seals.

Hudson Bay shows no ice forming along the west coast, closeup at 2 November 2021
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Most Chukchi Sea ice in 20 years means no walrus feasts for polar bears at famous Russian cliffs

After years of hype, including documentary over-reach by David Attenborough and his collaborators at WWF and Netflix, there has been relatively abundant ice in the Chukchi Sea this summer, particulary along the Russian coast and around Wrangel Island, which in recent years have been important summer refuge areas for polar bears and Pacific walrus.

Walrus carcasses at the base of the cliff at Cape Schmidt, September 2017. Credit: Y. Basov.

This year, there has been nothing like the complete retreat of ice into the Arctic Basin as happened in 2007, 2012, and 2020. The chart below shows the ice extent at 11 October 2021:

Wrangel Island was surrounded by ice in 2000 and 2001, which made access to walrus haulouts on the island impossible (Kochnev 2004). Most of the walrus haulouts along the Chukotka coast were also ice-covered in September in those years, as were all of the western locations in 2021 – as the ice charts below show. The extra ice will have drastically affected the distribution of walrus this year, which in turn will have meant no walrus carcasses for polar bears to feast on as they have done for many years now.

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Behold the walrus publicity stunt the WWF calls ‘science’

All you can do is laugh, really. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been pushing for years to position itself as a valid scientific authority but the kinds of projects they get involved with generally have little to do with real science and more to do with promoting their brand and its doomsday climate change narrative. The most recent example is a ‘Count walrus from space‘ ploy that is enlisting elementary school aged children and other members of the public to count Atlantic walrus from satellite photos, which the Washington Post obligingly promoted last week (proving the WWF massive free publicity).

WWF roped someone from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) into the four year scheme, which makes it seem like legitimate, real science. With this initiative, the WWF are strongly pushing a story that walrus throughout the Arctic are threatened by climate change due to melting Arctic sea ice. They have been doing this actively since 2015, as seen with their collaboration with Netflix and Sir David Attenborough in the ‘Our Planet’ Pacific walrus extravaganza that blew up into a massive controversy. I have more to say on that in my next book, whose publication is unfortunately behind schedule but will hopefully be out soon.

The first problem with this plan is that evidence is lacking to support the claim that walrus have been harmed by recent declines in sea ice. Despite current low numbers, Atlantic walrus are more abundant today than they were 100 years ago, after decades of commercial hunting reduced populations to near extinction levels (Born et al. 1995; Wiig et al. 2014).

The second problem is that walrus at land haulouts in summer or fall are notoriously difficult for professional scientists to count even from aerial photographs. The idea that children as young as nine years old can contribute to generating a more accurate count from satellite images is ludicrous.

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No signs of a climate emergency for W. Hudson Bay polar bears this year ahead of UN climate meeting

I’ve been told that another complete aerial survey of the Western Hudson Bay polar bear subpopulation (from the Nunavut to Ontario boundaries) was conducted in August this year and that the bears have been hanging out further south than usual. It will be years before the results of the population count are published, of course (especially if it’s good news) but my contacts also say virtually all of the bears are in great condition again this year.

This is significant because W. Hudson Bay bears are one of the most southern subpopulations in the Arctic (only Southern HB bears live further south) and older data from this region is being used to predict the future for the entire global population based on implausible model projections (Molnar et al. 2020). And scary predictions of future polar bear survival are often taken to be proxies for future human disasters (see ‘Polar bears live on the edge of the climate change crisis‘), a point that some activists will no doubt make in the coming weeks, as the long-awaited UN climate change bash #26 (COP26) gets underway in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31.

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Churchill problem polar bear reports finally completed and posted online

Although since 2015 at least the Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill Manitoba usually issued and published its problem bear reports weekly during the ice-free season, this year has been an odd exception. Two reports in early July, then nothing. Yesterday, there was a dump of reports that had been compiled on 1 September and 7 October, according to their metadata.

There are still a few weeks missing, including the two most recent weeks but at least now we have a more complete picture of what’s been going on with problem bears in The Polar Bear Capital of the World that can be compared to previous years. Such reports in various forms go back to the late 1960s, although only those from recent years have been publicly available (Kearney 1989; Towns et al. 2009).

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