Tag Archives: sea ice

Polar Bear Scare Unmasked: The Saga of a Toppled Global Warming Icon [another look]

For almost twenty years, , we’ve endured the shrill media headlines, the hyperbole from conservation organizations, and the simplistic platitudes from scientists as summer sea ice declined dramatically while polar bear numbers rose. This video of mine from two years ago, which deconstructs the scare, is worth another look as International Polar Bear Day approaches with its associated ‘save the polar bear’ rhetoric.

Polar bear habitat at mid-winter as extensive as 2013 & better than 2006

Arctic sea ice at the middle of winter (January-March) is a measure of what’s to come because winter ice is the set-up for early spring, the time when polar bears do most of their feeding on young seals.

Polar_Bear_male on sea ice_Alaska Katovik Regehr photo_April 29, 2005_sm labeled

[Mid-winter photos of polar bears are hard to come by, partly because the Arctic is still dark for most hours of the day, it’s still bitterly cold, and scientists don’t venture out to do work on polar bears until the end of March at the earliest]

At 12 February this year, the ice was similar in overall extent to 2013 but higher than 2006.

Sea ice extent 2020 and 2013 and 2006 at 13 Feb 2020_closeup NSIDC interactive
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New paper says Baffin Bay polar bears may have been affected by less summer sea ice

A new paper on Baffin Bay polar bears reports data on body condition and litter sizes collected as part of a major study of the region completed in 2013 compared to sea ice declines since the 1990s; based on a computer model, the authors predict that in 37 years time (if sea ice declines continuously), the incidence of twin litters could “largely disappear.” However, no decline in population numbers was predicted and a critical caveat acknowledges that factors other than changes in sea ice could have affected the body condition and litter size data the authors analyzed, which means the conclusions are scientifically inconclusive.

polarbearatthulerobindavies-500x349-sm

Fat polar bear, summer 2012 near Thule, NW Greenland (Baffin Bay subpopulation). Robin Davies photo.

The last (2013) polar bear population survey of Baffin Bay (SWG 2016) generated an estimate of almost 3,000 (2,826; range 2,059-3,593), which means that regardless of some slight changes in body condition and litter size over the last two decades (which may or may not have been caused by loss of sea ice), there are currently a lot of bears in Baffin Bay.

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2019 Alaska aerial survey found the most polar bears since 2012 – dozens of fat healthy bears

This aerial shot of six fat polar bears lolling around on a sand beach on the coast of the Southern Beaufort Sea, Alaska, was taken by NOAA employees in July 2019. It exemplifies the reality that bears in this subpopulation are currently abundant and healthy, negating the suggestion that numbers have continued to drop since 2006 because bears are starving.

Six fat polar bear wallow in SB sand_NOAA summer 2019

The above picture of polar bear health is not an exception but the rule for all 31 bears recorded onshore last July, as the photos below from other locations testify. Those who would blame this abundance of bears on lack of sea ice in 2019 should note that ice retreated as early and as extensively in 2017 yet only 3 bears were spotted onshore. Results of a recent (2017-2018) population survey, which have not yet been made public, will of course not reflect conditions seen in 2019.

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Polar bear sea ice habitat at the start of the Arctic winter is abundant except off Labrador

After a bit of ineffectual hand-wringing from polar bear specialists about low summer and fall sea ice conditions and unsubstantiated worries about impacts on bear survival – including Southern Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea and Hudson Bay  – I’ve heard no concerns expressed so far about the unusually low extent of ice off the East Coast of North America at the start of this winter. The Labrador Coast is just about the only region bereft of ice this winter but could catch up quickly at any time: ice coverage in the Barents Sea, East Greenland, and Bering Sea is similar to or above recent levels (last five years) so far, as is the overall extent.

masie_all_zoom_4km 2020 Jan 2

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Fat adult polar bear shot in Svalbard New Years Eve after persistent visits to Longyearbyen

Another rare winter visit by a polar bear on New Year’s Eve, this time in Svalbard, comes with far more detail than the sighting in Newfoundland that I wrote about yesterday.

Svalbard 7 yr old male polar_bear shot 31 Dec 2019_photo_sysselmannen

The Svalbard problem bear was shot over safety concerns after repeated visits to the downtown streets of the main town of Longyearbyen on the west coast (see map below). Neither of the reports bothered to mention that this was not a starving juvenile bear but a fat, healthy young adult – and no one blamed global warming for the incident because Svalbard has had extensive ice on the west coast this fall for the first time since 2010. The shooting of course sparked an outburst of social media outrage.
Longyearbyen_location_Wikipedia

UPDATED 16 January 2020: As I predicted would happen (see below), there has been another polar bear incident about 10 km outside of Longyearbyen in Bolterdalen. On Wednesday 15 January, a bear attacked a dogteam loaded with tourists near the end of their trip. The bear was advancing so fast there was no time for the driver to grab his rifle, so he used the heavy rope used to brake the sled to hit the bear across the muzzle several times. This stopped the attack and made the bear run off.  Svalbard officials are now chasing the bear well out of the area. From this report:

“Starinsky, a guide for Green Dog Svalbard, located about 10 kilometers east of Longyearbyen, told the newspaper there was no time to grab his rifle as they stopped the sleds within seconds, and the bear got within yards of a sled carrying a mother and her daughter. He grabbed “the first and best” thing he could think of – the noose-shaped brake rope hanging on the front of his sled.”

It turns out the bear’s tracks were spotted the day before just south of town. All that remains of the attack are the tracks of the bear near the dog kennel, below, and the nightmares of the people involved in the days ahead. They were very lucky indeed.

Svalbard polar bear encounter 15 Jan 2020_footprints

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Rare winter polar bear visit to northern Newfoundland New Years Eve 2019

Although ice coverage along the Labrador coast this fall has been well below average, there was a report today of a polar bear on shore on the north west coast of northern Newfoundland. The media seem to be treating this as an every-day sort of thing rather than the true rarity it is. As far as I know, there are no records of polar bears onshore in Newfoundland in late December and for it to happen this year is especially surprising given that ice coverage so far has been below average on the East Coast. It’s a more rare event than the early January attack last year by a polar bear in Alaska that had traveled more than a hundred miles inland. Will 2020 be another active polar bear season for Newfoundland? Time will tell – stay tuned over the new year.

polar-bear-black-tickle_Edwin Clark submitted to CBC no date

Few details have been provided about this year’s late December sighting at Green Island Cove, just north of the ferry port of Saint Barbe (where the ferry to Labrador docks, see below). No photos or descriptions of the bear were made public and so far the bear does not seem to have caused any trouble: the photo above is from another sighting in Labrador a few years ago.

Green Island Cove Newfoundland map Google

Sea ice this year has been scarce on the East Coast, but obviously enough for at least one determined bear to have made its way down from Davis Strait, swimming part of the way. See the two charts below:

Sea ice Canada 2019 Dec 31 HB caught up

Newfoundland East daily stage of development 2019 Dec 31

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