Polar bears leaping on the backs of belugas off Seal River, in western Hudson Bay, is being falsely promoted by the BBC’s new “Seven Worlds: One Planet” TV special as an unprecedented effect of climate change.
More specifically, the Daily Mail (30 November 2019) this morning quoted the documentary, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, as saying:
‘This extraordinary behaviour has only been recorded here, in this remote corner of North America, and only in the last few years.’
Poppycock. More climate change hyperbole from Attenborough’s seemingly never-ending litany of nonsense that’s easily refuted. There is scientific literature documenting such behaviour in Canada’s far north in the 1980s, which I included in the blog post I wrote about this phenomenon a few months ago (after National Geographic published a similar scare-story), which I have reposted below.
And from the sounds of it, there was no mention in the BBC special that freeze-up along western Hudson Bay was early again this year: for the third year in a row. So if the footage was filmed any time since 2017, the claim of accelerating sea ice loss in this region and bears on land for longer than ever is pure fantasy. PS. Fat bears are not ‘starving’.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Attenborough, BBC, beluga, climate change, Hudson Bay, hunting, polar bear, sea ice, Seven Worlds One Planet, shore, starving
There’s been no word as yet, either from tour operators or polar bear researchers, that Western Hudson Bay polar bears have come ashore for the summer/fall season. Andrew Derocher reported at the end of June that the bears tagged by his team were still on the ice and as I write this, has not yet reported them ashore.
That pattern is consistent with the presence of thick ice along the west coast of the Bay — from well north of Churchill to the south of Wapusk National Park — for the last few weeks. The weekly chart for 3 July 2017 below from the Canadian Ice Service shows that virtually all of the ice remaining is thick first year ice (>1.2m, dark green on this map):
By the 9 July, the extent of this patch of ice was somewhat reduced but still a very prominent feature over the Bay, suggesting that if adult seals are using this ice as a refuge while molting, some bears may still be attempting to hunt even though their success rate may not be very high:
Bottom line: As has been the pattern for more than a decade, 2017 will not go down in history as an especially early year for WHB polar bears coming off the ice for the summer/fall season but instead may be as late as last year, when lots of bears were reported off the ice by mid-July at Seal River (just north of Churchill), all in excellent condition.
It remains to be seen if the condition of bears will be as good this year as they were in 2016, given the late start to the season. But it does mean that the lack of trend in breakup dates since 2001 continues: breakup of the sea ice in WHB since 2001 has been about one week later than it was before 1998 (Castro de la Guardia 2017; Cherry et al. 2013; Lunn et al. 2016).
If some polar bear struggle to survive this year it will be due to the late freeze-up date last fall combined with challenging winter conditions over Hudson Bay, not because of an early breakup of the sea ice.
And while it is certainly true that the overall trend in time spent onshore by WHB polar bears since 1979 has increased by about three weeks, the lack of a continued trend since 2001 is not what was expected or predicted, especially given the marked decline in global sea ice levels that have made headlines since 2007 (Crockford 2017), and the predictions of how devastating such low levels of ice would be to polar bears in areas like Hudson Bay that have to deal with a total disappearance of sea ice in summer and early fall.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged breakup, Churchill, global warming, hunting, melting ice, polar bear, predictions, sea ice, Seal River, shore, western hudson bay