A few polar bears have become stranded on small islands north of Svalbard since the local sea ice retreated — of which the bear that mauled a cruise ship guard last month was but one — and if return of the ice is as late as last year, those handful of bears are likely doomed to die of starvation. This is not due to climate change but rather bad judgment on the part of these few bears. They were not forced ashore: if they’d stayed on the ice like the rest of the population, they’d have likely been just fine.
Similar to the bear in northwestern Hudson Bay that fatally mauled a young father in early July, these bears were likely lured ashore by the prospect of masses of bird eggs present on island rookeries. But they overstayed their window of opportunity and the ice retreated without them.
Fledgling birds and bird eggs are not replacements for seals in a bear’s diet but when the season of easy seal kills winds down, as it does in late spring, easy-picking sea bird eggs may be enticing enough to lure a few bears ashore when they’d be better off on the ice.
That is not the fault of climate change.
Unlike bears in Hudson Bay and many other regions — including the Lancaster Sound area of Canada where the National Geographic “starving” bear was filmed last summer — these bears were not forced ashore by retreating ice: they chose to do so.
Posted in Life History, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged attack, Barents Sea, climate change, polar bear, Refuge, sea ice, stranded, summer, Svalbard
“I’ve lived here all my life and there are more bears every year. I read stories about polar bears being on the brink of extinction because of global warming, look out of my window and start to laugh.” Tori Sims, Kaktovik (Mail on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2013).
As you can see, Kaktovik is in the news again. This tiny community sits on the edge of the Beaufort Sea, on Barter Island on the North Slope of Alaska (Fig. 1). It lies within the Southern Beaufort polar bear subpopulation, which has been classified as “declining” by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (Obbard et al. 2010).
The determination of “declining” was based on a small dip in population numbers between 2001 and 2006 (not statistically significant), plus a decline in body size and condition, and smaller litter sizes documented between 1986 and 2006 (Rode et al. 2010). A new population survey is underway.
Figure 1. Kaktovik, Alaska, from Google maps. Click to enlarge.
There have been suggestions that bears become “stranded” along the Alaska coast near Kaktovik because of retreating sea ice, and that more bears present in this area in recent years are an indication that they are in trouble due to global warming.
I’ve compiled some quotes, maps, and links to stories, photos and videos about Kaktovik polar bears to show that this claim is false.
Posted in Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Alaska, Beaufort Sea, body condition, extinction, IUCN, Kaktovik, Mail on Sunday, North Slope, Polar Bear Specialist Group, polar bears, population decline, Southern Beaufort, stranded