Tag Archives: starving polar bears

Churchill polar bears eat more caribou and geese now than in 1968 because there are more caribou and geese, new research reveals

The press release (pdf here) issued by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) a few days ago, regarding several recent papers on polar bear consumption of terrestrial foods around Churchill, Manitoba (Western Hudson Bay), left a lot to be desired in terms of relaying accurate information.

21 August 2021 UPDATE: I have amended this post to correct some comments I made originally about the definition of ‘spring breakup’ of sea ice on Hudson Bay. While the ice indeed begins to break up in spring (usually defined for the Arctic as April-June, bears rarely come ashore before July 1 (summer being July-September). Confusion comes from the standard meteorological method of the defining ‘breakup’ for Western Hudson Bay as the date when ice coverage drops below 50% of the area, rather than the newer, more relevant date when most polar bears have actually come ashore after the date ice coverage reaches 30% (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017). Using the modern method, the earliest breakup date was in 1999 (17 June), which was still the case in 2021).

Recent research on polar bear diets by Robert Rockwell and Linda Gormezano, it says, suggests that an increase in the consumption of caribou and snow geese since 1968 is a sign that the polar bears are nutritionally stressed due to recent sea ice changes in spring (blamed on global warming) but may be adapting by changing their summer/fall diet.

As the AMNH press release puts it:

polar bears in the warming Arctic are turning to alternate food sources.”

Figure 1. Polar bear feeding on a caribou carcass, taken July 26, 2010. This photo was included in one of the papers cited in the January 2014 press release (Gormezano and Rockwell 2013:3518) and was clearly taken from the air. The caption in the paper says simply, “a polar bear looks up from the recently killed caribou it was eating,” so the bear may not have killed the caribou – some other predator (wolf or grizzly) may have made the actual kill. The dark spots on the bear appear to be flies. Credit Copyright American Museum of Natural History/ R. Rockwell.

Figure 1. Polar bear feeding on a caribou carcass, taken July 26, 2010, from the air. This photo was included in virtually all media reports and in Gormezano and Rockwell (2013a:3518, Fig. 3). The caption in the paper says, “a polar bear looks up from the recently killed caribou it was eating,” implying the bear may not have actually killed the caribou – some other predator (wolf or grizzly) may have made the kill. The dark spots on the bear appear to be flies. Credit: Copyright American Museum of Natural History/R. Rockwell.

However, the AMNH press release fails to mention – as the papers it publicizes certainly do – that Western Hudson Bay populations of caribou and snow geese have increased exponentially since a similar polar bear diet study was done in 1968/69. In other words, there were hardly any caribou or geese around back in the late 60s — little wonder polar bears weren’t eating any.

While evidence of polar bears consuming caribou and geese in recent years is certainly an “increase” over late 1960s levels, that fact says more about the status of caribou and geese populations than it does about polar bears and global warming. Media outlets that quoted the press release verbatim, as many do these days (e.g. here, here, and here), missed this essential part of the story – and of course, so did their readers.

[one story picked up the goose population increase and another revealed the caribou population increase, but none that I saw caught both]

In addition, the AMNH press release makes this erroneous statement that was picked up by every media outlet I saw except one (either exactly as written or reworded slightly):

Climate warming is reducing the availability of their ice habitat, especially in the spring when polar bears gain most of their annual fat reserves by consuming seal pups before coming ashore for the summer.” [my bold]

The earliest breakup dates since 1991 for Western Hudson Bay, where this research was done, have been mid-June (according to the most recent study by Cherry et al. 2013) and for the last few years breakup has occurred in July.

Overall, the press release and resulting media reports seem to be further examples of hyping global warming at the expense of the actual science involved and I have to agree with Andrew Derocher’s interpretation of the significance of terrestrial food items for polar bears. See what you think.
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Amstrup’s comment on his starving polar bear article and my response

Steve Amstrup has left a comment below his January 20, 2014 “starving polar bears’ article at The Conversation, which I discussed in my last post.

I’ve copied his comment below and the response to his comment that I left this morning, which is copied below his. See the entire comment sequence here.
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Amstrup repeats starving polar bear nonsense, features “Ursus bogus”

As if on cue just before an important polar bear announcement, Steven Amstrup, full time employee of Polar Bears International (PBI), is crying “starving polar bears” yet again, with a laughable twist.

Over at “The Conversation” (a university supported forum for academics), in a piece titled “Cold weather in the US no solace for starving polar bears,” Amstrup uses his adjunct affiliation at University of Wyoming to unleash a bit of unpaid advertising for PBI’s alarmist message (I put it this way because while Amstrup  does disclose his affiliation at PBI, he is more than just an affiliated member, he is their paid spokesperson).

Ironically, the headline photo (Fig. 1) is the notorious “Ursus bogus,” the photoshopped image used by the journal Science back in May 2010 to feature an article on the integrity of science, It was quickly exposed by Tim Blair at The Telegraph (also covered at WUWT), and the journal was obliged to acknowledge the error, replace the image and issue a correction.

In this case, commenter Brad Keyes at The Conversation defends the use of the “Ursus bogus” image with this astonishing statement [UPDATE Jan. 25/14: it has since transpired that this was almost certainly meant to be satire]:

The problem is, only sensational exaggeration makes the kind of story that will get politicians’—and readers’—attention. So, yes, climate scientists might exaggerate, but in today’s world, this is the only way to assure any political action and thus more federal financing to reduce the scientific uncertainty.

Figure 1. The headline photo from Steven Amstrup’s article at The Conversation. This infamous “Ursus bogus” image (for sale at IStock photos, listed under “Global warming images”), says “This image is a photoshop design. Polarbear, ice floe, ocean and sky are real, they were just not together in the way they are now.”

Figure 1. The headline photo from Steven Amstrup’s article at The Conversation. This infamous “Ursus bogus” image (for sale at IStock photos, listed under “Global warming images), says “This image is a photoshop design. Polarbear, ice floe, ocean and sky are real, they were just not together in the way they are now.”

However, we now know that Amstrup is crying wolf — summer sea ice has been declining despite a hiatus in global warming and unusual numbers of polar bears are not starving. He seems to think that if he keeps repeating his Chicken Little message (with nary a recent photo of an actual starving polar bear) he will convince more people to believe him and donate to PBI. It’s his job to do so of course, so he’s not likely to stop. [pardon my mixed metaphor – Amstrup, if you recall, prefers a Titanic metaphor]
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Polar bears in winter: starving bears and attacks on humans

Winter in the Arctic can be a tough time for polar bears. Between the cold, darkness and ever-thickening sea ice with fewer open leads, polar bears often find that seals are hard to come by.

So it should not be surprising to find out that polar bears are at their lowest body weight at the end of winter (Ramsay and Stirling 1988:613; Stirling 2002:68).

In other words, polar bears lose weight over the winter – not just during the ice-free summer period. That’s why the spring and early summer feeding period is so critical: gorging on young seals rebuilds the polar bears’ fat reserves lost over the winter and packs on even more fat to tide them over the late summer/early fall ice-free period.

Last fall, a potentially serious attack by a polar bear on a Churchill, Manitoba resident on Hallowe’en night (early hours of November 1) got a lot of attention worldwide. Some media outlets suggested that the bear involved in this attack was either starving or so hungry that he was driven to attack. However, this assertion was not supported by any evidence — we simply don’t know whether he was in poor condition or not. While the bear was undoubtedly leaner at the end of October than he was in July, that doesn’t mean he was actually ‘starving.’

So, here’s the question: given that polar bears have a tough time finding seals to eat during the dark and cold Arctic winter and are presumably at their hungriest then, do serious polar bear attacks on humans also happen in winter?
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Another unsupported claim of starving polar bears in Western Hudson Bay

This time it was Steven Amstrup of Polar Bears International (PBI), via a radio interview on Saturday December 28 “A Scientist’s New Job: Keeping The Polar Bears’ Plight Public.

Amstrup – co-author of the models that predict the extinction of polar bears by the end of this century – had this to say about the polar bear situation in Hudson Bay:

This year, the ice was frozen longer, so he says the bears seem to be in pretty good shape.

“But over the last two or three years, my impression has been, ‘Man, there’s a lot of skinny bears out here.’ “

On average, the sea ice in the Hudson Bay is frozen about a month less per year than it was 30 years ago. Amstrup says bears don’t eat much on land, so they lose about 2 pounds of body fat every day they’re off the ice.

“They’re 60 pounds lighter now than they might have been at this time of year 30 years ago,” he says.” [my bold]

For the last two or three years Amstrup has been seeing “a lot of skinny bears” but hasn’t taken a single photograph that he’s offered for publication or posted at PBI? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it – where are the photos of all the starving bears these guys keep talking about?

Here is a picture of a polar bear that was spending the summer on the shore of Western Hudson Bay 30 years ago, taken in July [bears were on the shore in July this year as well]. Continue reading

Kaktovik polar bear photos, again no “starving” bears

A Southern Beaufort female with cubs, from the fall of 2007. Note how fat they all are.

A Southern Beaufort female with cubs, from the fall of 2007.
Note the non-starving condition.

Twenty-one amazing photos of polar bears feasting on the remains of a bowhead whale carcass outside of Kaktovik, Alaska, taken by wildlife photographer Michal Tyl, have been posted by the UK Daily Mail (December 12, 2013): Now that’s what you call a spare rib! Pack of bloody-faced polar bears spend day and night stripping a beached whale to its bones.”  Have a look and see if you can spot any “starving” bears! 

What you will see is the relative size of the bears: notice how much larger males are than females, how small cubs-of-the-year are relative to big males. Oh, and notice all the big fat polar bear butts. I can’t include any of the photos here because of copyright rules (the one above is from 2007) but I have included a map showing the location of Kaktovik, a quote from the article, and a link to my previous post on Kaktovik bears, which has a wealth of background information. Continue reading

Polar bear researchers still withholding Hudson Bay data

The latest polar bear propaganda emanating from The Guardian is unscientific nonsense fed to them by activist Canadian polar bear researchers: Polar bear numbers in Hudson Bay of Canada on verge of collapse.

This episode of Goldenberg’s polar bear grandstanding includes a photo caption with a totally unsubstantiated claim that some folks might call a lie:

Melting ice is cutting polar bears off from their food source in Hudson Bay, and death rates have soared.

“Death rates have soared”? Where are all the bodies? Show us the starving bears!

In fact, the ice of Hudson Bay melts every summer and always has done. When it does, polar bears go ashore and live off the many inches of stored blubber they put on during their spring feasting on fat baby seals. The last three years, the open-water season has been only about two weeks longer than it was in the 1980s. There has been no steady increase but lots of variability.

Below I dismantle the rest of this transparently political posturing ahead of the international polar bear forum next week.
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Challenging “save the polar bear” propaganda

[Updates: Note correction to point 6 and links added at the end of the post]

Polar Bears International has mustered the UK newspaper, The Guardian, to provide free publicity for a “save the polar bear” propaganda event coming up tomorrow, November 6.

From The Guardian Environment Blog:

“On Wednesday, 6 November at 10am EST and 3pm GMT you will have a chance to ask a scientist [Steven Amstrup] and a conservationist [Krista Wright] about the latest research on the state of polar bears – and the efforts to protect them.”

The “participants” of this webchat are Polar Bears International (PBI) employees. PBI is a lobbyist organization that uses its influence to pressure politicians and supposedly impartial scientific organizations, like the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG), to make decisions that fit their agenda. The PBI rallying cry is “Save Our Sea Ice.They are committed to promoting legislation to curtail supposed effects of anthropogenic global warming and are using polar bears as a tool to do so.

Dr. Steve Amstrup is now a full-time, professional activist and spokesperson for PBI (Chief Scientist and Vice President”), a job he took on after a long career as a polar bear biologist. Arranging “webchats” like this is part of the job he is now paid to do.

Krista Wright has a Bachelors degree in Outdoor Education and has worked for NGOs for more than 20 years. She joined PBI in 2009 and is now the Executive Director (i.e., an administrator). She is described as “a passionate conservationist who is deeply concerned about the effects of global warming on polar bears, the Arctic, and the planet.She brings emotion to this event, not science.

Below I dissect some of the fear-mongering background presented at The Guardian, one point at a time; Guardian quotes are in italics, numbered; my responses are below, with links to pertinent previous posts that are fully referenced:

[Links to video and the webchat Q & A have been added at the end of this post as updates]

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Churchill polar bear attack shamelessly used to advance global warming agenda

I guess Suzanne Goldenberg, writing for The Guardian, just couldn’t help herself with this latest story (November 4):Polar bear attacks: scientists warn of fresh dangers in warming Arctic. Two people injured in latest attack as hungry bears deprived of access to sea ice increasingly look for food on land.

Reporting on the attack is one thing — several papers covered this over the weekend (see Featured Quote #46, posted yesterday, for links to two of them). However, Goldenberg shamelessly makes this about global warming, aided and abetted by Polar Bears International (PBI) representative Steven Amstrup, a claim that doesn’t hold up to even minor scrutiny.

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Polar bear cannibalism and sea ice, the spring of 1976

Remember Ian Stirling’s claim that late freeze up in Western Hudson Bay in 2009 was forcing polar bears to resort to cannibalism (here and here), with gut-wrenching images and video provided for the media? Or Steve Amstrup’s claim for a similar phenomenon in the Southern Beaufort in 2004?

I pointed out that Stirling’s claim was way overblown and that Amstrup’s incidents were almost certainly the result of heavy ice in the spring (not low ice in summer), similar to the heavy ice conditions and polar bear starvation documented in the same region back in 1974-1976.

It turns out that the heavy ice conditions documented in the Eastern Beaufort in the mid-1970s had much broader effects on polar bears and ringed seals than has been appreciated.
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