A thin polar bear has wandered more than 1000km south of the Kara Sea into the Siberian town of Norilsk, which has happened at least once before in the 1970s. It is reminiscent of a similar incident this past winter in Alaska and there is no reason to blame this on lack of sea ice.
From the Siberian Times earlier today (17 June 2019) comes the report that a bear that did not get enough to eat this spring (due to any number of reasons, including competition from larger, stronger bears) and went looking for easier food sources. No mention is made that this incident should be blamed on global warming.
Update 18 June 2019: Lack of any evidence that this incident was due to lack of sea ice didn’t stop Reuters from implying this was indeed the case, a theme picked up by the UK Telegraph, the BBC, and The Guardian.
Quotes and video from the story below. Continue reading
Posted in Life History, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged climate change, inland, internet, Norilsk, polar bear, sea ice, Siberia, skinny, starving polar bears
According to sea ice experts, winter sea ice habitat for polar bears is not expected to decline at all by 2050 and the critical spring sea ice that polar bears need for gorging on young seals and for mating is not predicted to change much (Durner et al. 2007, 2009), which is why computer modelled predictions about the dire future for polar bears only assessed the potential future effects of declining summer sea ice (e.g. Amstrup et al. 2007; Stirling and Derocher 2012). Note spring is April-June.
See if that fact is clear in the interview responses by out-spoken polar bear biologists that has just been published in the polar bear portion (“Beyond the polar bear”) of this year’s University of Alberta magazine spring climate change feature. If you can get past the “canaries in the coal mine” opener…
Posted in Advocacy, Sea ice habitat
Tagged advocacy, Derocher, facts, interview, polar bear, predictions, sea ice, spring sea ice, starving polar bears, Stirling, summer sea ice
Reposted from 23 March 2016: Despite the fact that the polar bears of Southern Hudson Bay (SHB) live further south year round than any others, a recent study found their average body weight has declined relatively little since the 1980s. There has been no decline in the size of the population over that time either.
Remarkably – despite what we are told about how critical breakup dates are to polar bear health and survival in Hudson Bay – this study found that for SHB bears, the small decline in body condition index correlated only with freeze-up dates, not breakup dates or length of the ice-free season. They also found that regional breakup and freeze-up dates relevant to polar bears in this area was the day when ice cover reached 5% (not 50%).
In other words, SHB polar bears left the ice (or returned to it) when the average ice cover near the coast was about 5%. This finding is yet more evidence that the meteorological definition of “breakup” (date of 50% ice cover) used by many researchers (see discussion here) is not appropriate for describing the seasonal movements of polar bears on and off shore.
The news (two weeks after this post originally went up, see also here), however, is about the bit of weight decline, hyped to the maximum.
Snow depth over sea ice in spring affects the hunting success of polar bears on ringed seal (Phoca hispida) pups, but the relationship is more complicated than you might think and there is less data on this phenomenon than you would believe.
Regional snow depth in spring (April-May) varies naturally from year to year due to weather patterns driven in part by long-term climate cycles (like the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and the Arctic Oscillation).
This year, it was very cold in Eastern North America, with record-breaking snow fall in some areas. Snow depth was apparently greater than average over Hudson Bay sea ice this spring but was it deep enough to have impaired polar bear hunting success?
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Beaufort Sea, birthing lair, collapse, depth, historical data, Phoca hispida, polar bear, population declines, rain, ringed seal, sea ice, snow, snow cave, spring, starving polar bears, threshold, western hudson bay
Pretty typical ice levels in both regions for this time of year – Davis Strait polar bears (especially those in Labrador) are still onshore while Hudson Bay bears (even those in the south) have their sea ice hunting platform back.
Funny thing is, the Davis Strait subpopulation may still be increasing despite a longer ice-free season than Western Hudson Bay. And bears in the south of that region – who spend the summer onshore in Labrador – have the longest ice-free season of all1 yet according to the latest survey they were even doing better than bears in northern Davis Strait.
That apparent paradox has an easy explanation – sea ice extent in late summer/early fall (length of the ice-free season) has much less of an impact on polar bear health and abundance than the state of the food supply in the spring. More seals in spring, polar bears do well; few seals in spring, polar bears starve.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Davis Strait, Eastern Canada, harp seals, ice-free season, Labrador, Peacock, polar bear, sea ice extent, seal pups, spring sea ice, starving polar bears, survival
The oft-repeated claim that polar bears are starving in Western Hudson Bay (e.g., here, here, here, and here) comes primarily from a 10 year old study that documented a declining trend in polar bear body condition (a biology euphemism for relative fatness) between 1980 and 2004, which appeared to correlate with earlier and earlier breakup dates for Hudson Bay.
Figure 1. Polar bear female with cub, 2009, Churchill, Western Hudson Bay. Wikipedia.
The authors of that study (polar bear specialist Ian Stirling and NASA sea ice researcher Claire Parkinson) reported the body weights of lone female bears captured in Western Hudson Bay between 1980 and 2004. The trend over time in those bear weights was then correlated with the overall change in dates of sea ice breakup on Hudson Bay for that period.
However, it turns out that while the trend of body condition and the trend in breakup dates indeed correlated over time, the actual year to year data did not. The question is, what does that mean for the claim that polar bears in WHB are starving?
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged body condition, breakup, Cherry, climate change, Parkinson, pregnancy, sea ice, starving polar bears, Stirling, too thin, trends, weight, western hudson bay
I wrote about this issue in January (January – and journalists are still pushing it).
Figure 1. Courtesy NY Times, Sept. 22 2014. Click to enlarge.
This month, the New York Times (September 22, 2014 James Gorman, “For Polar Bears, a Climate Change Twist”) is pushing it big-time (and so it’s been picked up elsewhere, like by the Anchorage Daily News).
Myths and misinformation about this phenomenon dispelled below.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History
Tagged Churchill, climate change, consumption of eggs, Foxe Basin, goose eggs, Gormezano, Hudson Strait, nutritional stress, polar bear, polar bear diet, prolonged ice-free season, Rockwell, Russell, sea bird eggs, sea ice decline, snow goose, starving polar bears, terrestrial foods, western hudson bay