Tag Archives: Stapleton

Foxe Basin aerial survey – a watershed moment for polar bear research, Part 1

While researching the population status of Foxe Basin polar bears I came across an issue that seems to have garnered relatively little attention outside the polar bear community – Inuit objections to the handling of polar bears during mark-recapture surveys and the effect of this on polar bear research in Canada.

 Figure 1. US Fish and Wildlife biologists handling a polar bear in the southern Beaufort during a fall survey, October 24, 2001. Steve Amstrup photo.


Figure 1. US Fish and Wildlife biologists handling a polar bear in the southern Beaufort during a fall survey, October 24, 2001. Steve Amstrup photo.

Foxe Basin is a large polar bear subpopulation region that encompasses the northern portion Hudson Bay into the area west of Baffin Island, see map below (courtesy IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group).

FoxeBasin_PBSG website_Oct 2013Mark-recapture research methods routinely used by polar bear biologists became especially contentious in Foxe Basin during a population study initiated in 2007/2008, with Inuit residents voicing objections and biologists defending its practice. The following year, the mark-recapture effort was halted and an aerial survey took its place.

The aerial survey has been completed and a report on it was released in 2012 (Stapleton et al. 2012; see previous post for results) but we’ve heard very little about what happened to that mark-recapture study and why the Government of Nunavut pulled the plug on it. I plan to change that with the next couple of posts.

I’m not claiming to understand the nuances of the story because I’m only going by available documents. However, I think it’s important to shine some light on this issue since it has clearly changed the shape of polar bear research in Canada.
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Foxe Basin polar bear status – another stable population

Foxe Basin_PBSG

Figure 1. Polar bear subpopulation regions defined by the Polar Bear Specialist Group, Foxe Basin marked.

Foxe Basin is a large subpopulation region (Fig. 1), with a total area of 1.18 million square km (Vongraven and Peacock 2011). It comprises Northern Hudson Bay and western Hudson Strait, and the area between western Baffin Island and eastern Melville Peninsula, with a large island (Southampton Island) in the middle (Figs. 2 and 3).

Figure 1. Foxe Basin polar bears subpopulation region, courtesy IUCN PBSG

Figure 1. Foxe Basin polar bears subpopulation region, courtesy IUCN PBSG

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Polar Bear Specialist Group meeting postponed until 2014

[Update October 14, 2013: correction regarding Davis Strait population estimate, noted below]

I heard via the grapevine that the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) meeting, tentatively slated to be held this July (Obbard et al. 2010), has been postponed until 2014. [That will be the 16th Working Meeting, as they are called]

Word has it that shifting the meeting forward will allow the group time to put together a new population estimate that will incorporate recent survey results.

So which subpopulations are slated to be updated?

Figure 1. Polar bear subpopulations defined by the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG). Note that Baffin Bay, Davis Strait, Western Hudson Bay and Southern Hudson Bay are all similar in that they become ice-free by early fall (the September minimum) or before.

Polar bear subpopulations defined by the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG). Courtesy the PBSG.

As far as I can determine, there are at least two that haven’t quite been finished: Baffin Bay and Southern Beaufort. The Baffin Bay survey was supposed to be completed this spring, so the numbers just need to be crunched. Southern Beaufort has a survey in progress, planned to continue through the fall of 2013.

Here are some comments on the 2012 Southern Beaufort field season (USFWS Newletter 2013:17):

“The number of polar bears observed in 2012 was high relative to similar surveys conducted over the past decade. During August and September surveys, the majority of bears were observed east of Prudhoe Bay, primarily near Kaktovik. Body condition appeared relatively normal for this time of year with most bears reported to be in average condition.” [my bold] [see previous post here re: Kaktovik bears]

There are new counts for Foxe Basin (estimated at ~2,580 bears, similar to the early 1990s estimate of ~2,200; Stapleton, Peacock and Garshelis 2012) and Western Hudson Bay (estimated at ~1,000 bears, similar to the 2004 estimate of ~935; Stapleton, Atkinson et al. 2012) based on aerial surveys. These numbers have not yet been incorporated into the global total, although the studies suggest both of those populations have been stable since the last survey.

CBC News (June 26, 2012):

“A study has found that the polar bear population in the Foxe Basin region of Nunavut is stable and the bears are in good health.

The territorial government did an aerial survey of the bear population in 2009 and 2010. The survey results show the population is about the same size as it was in 1990 – about 2,580 bears.” [my bold]

There is also the new population estimate for Davis Strait (Peacock et al. 2013) that needs to be incorporated into the global total – in this case, there has been an increase from the previous estimate (up from ~1,400 to ~2,158). [corrected Oct. 14 2013] The population increase for Davis Strait has already been incorporated into the current global estimate. The new numbers were available by 2009 (the time of the last PBSG meeting) but the peer-reviewed publications (with all of the pertinent details) were not produced until recently (2012-2013, discussed here and here).
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