Tag Archives: Vongraven

Baffin Bay polar bear status – waiting for the count

Here’s a quick summary of the status of Baffin Bay polar bears, a subpopulation I’ve not previously discussed in detail. Nothing especially earth-shattering here, except perhaps to wonder about the involvement of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in a new helicopter survey of the region.

Baffin Bay (Fig. 1) is north of Davis Strait. It lies between western Greenland and Baffin Island in the eastern Arctic.

Unlike the other north/south neighbour-pair of Western/Southern Hudson Bay   (which I discussed previously), the sea ice history for Baffin Bay/Davis Strait is not as similar: Davis Strait bears have a much longer on-shore fast than Baffin Bay bears (see last post here). However, all four of these subpopulations have ‘seasonal sea ice’ – that is, the ice melts completely in late mid-to-late summer, forcing bears onshore for varying lengths of time until fall freeze-up.

Figure 1. The Baffin Bay subpopulation region lies north of Davis Strait (map on the left from Vongraven and Peacock 2011: Fig. 3) and management is shared between Canada (Nunavut) and Greenland. In total area, it covers 1.08 million km2 and its “suitable ice habitat in spring” (according to Taylor and Lee 1995) is 413,500 km,2 somewhat less than Davis Strait. The map on the right shows the sea ice extent at the end of March 2010 (NSIDC), the winter maximum.

Figure 1. The Baffin Bay subpopulation region lies north of Davis Strait (map on the left from Vongraven and Peacock 2011: Fig. 3) and management is shared between Canada (Nunavut) and Greenland. In total area, it covers 1.08 million km2 and its “suitable ice habitat in spring” (according to Taylor and Lee 1995) is 413,500 km2, somewhat less than Davis Strait. The map on the right shows the sea ice extent at the end of March 2010 (NSIDC), the winter maximum.

A peer-reviewed paper published last year (Rode et al. 2012) compared body condition vs. sea ice changes in Davis Strait and Baffin Bay (discussed here). But while that research contributed to an updated population estimate for Davis Strait (Peacock et al. 2013, discussed here), it did not do the same for Baffin Bay. This is likely because the body condition work in Baffin Bay was split between spring and fall, and it has already been determined that many Baffin Bay bears are offshore in the spring and not available for counting using shore-based methods.

That’s a shame, because the last population estimate was completed back in 1997 (Taylor et al. 2005) and it is now seriously out of date.

However, it appears the Government of Nunavut is currently in the process of surveying this region by helicopter, so a new population estimate should be available soon.

But this aspect of the survey might surprise you — a press release issued February 11, 2013 by WWF contained the following statement:

Results from the above-noted surveys will be completed and shared beginning in April 2013.

WWF made contributions of $82,000 to the Government of the Northwest Territories and $111,000 to the Government of Nunavut via Environment Canada, towards the total costs of these surveys. These funds were raised through the Arctic Home campaign from engaged Canadians and matched by The Coca-Cola Company.”  [my bold]

So, of the hundreds of millions the WWF pulls in from donations, they passed along less than $100,000 [$96,500 plus an equal contribution by Coca-Cola) to offset “the total costs of the survey.

We are not told what those total costs are, but I expect they run well over a million dollars for a multiyear/multi-region project like this, perhaps over two million. Which makes $96,500 rather a drop in the bucket. That might have paid for some of the jet fuel for the helicopters used for the survey, but probably not all of it.

Status details below.
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Misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic still not fixed

UPDATE FEBRUARY 19, 2014The misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic is now GONE (as of January 31, 2014). A new 2013 status table is offered by the PBSG here. It has detailed text explanations and harvest information, with references, hyperlinked to each subpopulation entry (“Press the subpopulation hyperlink and more information will appear“) and may have replaced the “State of the Polar Bear” graphic that the PBSG commissioned for upwards of US$50,000, although the PBSG website says it is being “updated [A pdf copy of the 2013 colour table is here, and my commentary on it is here.] I have left the original post as is, below.

This is an update regarding the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG)’s fancy, multilevel State of the Polar Bear web graphic that I discussed previously here, here, and here.

To refresh your memory, two points about this graphic stand out, both regarding polar bear population estimates:

1) The population estimates listed on the Nations map (copied below) add up to 22,600-32,000 – far higher than the official estimate of 20,000-25,000 polar bears worldwide.

2) The population estimates listed on the upper layer of the Subpopulation map add up to just 13,036 – not even close to the official estimate of 20,000-25,000 polar bears worldwide.
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Misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic cost advocate scientists more than US$50,000

UPDATE FEBRUARY 19, 2014The misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic is now GONE (as of January 31, 2014). A new 2013 status table is offered by the PBSG here. It has detailed text explanations and harvest information, with references, hyperlinked to each subpopulation entry (“Press the subpopulation hyperlink and more information will appear“) and may have replaced the “State of the Polar Bear” graphic that the PBSG commissioned for upwards of US$50,000, although the PBSG website says it is being “updated [A pdf copy of the 2013 colour table is here, and my commentary on it is here.] I have left the original post as is, below.

I’ve had some time to do a little digging regarding the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) State of the Polar Bear web graphic. It turns out this fancy but misleading document was designed by a US company called Periscopic (Portland, Oregon) at a cost of US$50, 000-70,000. So apparently, rather than put $70,000 towards much-needed polar bear research, the PBSG chose to use the money to tell people, in a slightly different way, that it thinks polar bears are doomed. [see UPDATE: April 1 2013]

Just to refresh your memory, last month I pointed out that this fancy summary “tool,” which sits prominently on the home page of the PBSG website, suggests that there are now 22,600-32,000 polar bears worldwide, when tallied by nation (when you add up the individual population estimates provided on each of the two maps on this web “tool” (without clicking through to more detail), you get two different numbers that have no resemblance to the “official” estimate of 20,000-25,000: the page “Nations” gives totals by country that add up to 22,600-32,000 and the numbers given on the “Subpopulations” page (when you hover your mouse over each of the 19 regions) add up to only 13,036 – a far cry from 20,000-25,000 official estimate).

A few days later, I got a response to the email I’d sent to Norwegian polar bear biologist Dag Vongraven, who said it was his job to supervise work on this summary. But, he said, he had “not yet had time to review all details in it as well as I should.” So it seems that without a careful review of the final product, the graphic was posted on the home page of the PBSG website (sometime in October 2012).

It turns out there had been a discussion at the 2009 PBSG meeting, documented in its official report (Obbard et al. 2010:11, Fig. 1 below), about their intention to hire Periscopic as part of on-going PBSG website developments supervised by Vongraven. Several PBSG members agreed this would be a good idea and offered to help by providing data. Continue reading

Update: Polar bear population now 22,600-32,000 – when tallied by nation

UPDATE FEBRUARY 19, 2014The misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic is now GONE (as of January 31, 2014). A new 2013 status table is offered by the PBSG here. It has detailed text explanations and harvest information, with references, hyperlinked to each subpopulation entry (“Press the subpopulation hyperlink and more information will appear“) and may have replaced the “State of the Polar Bear” graphic that the PBSG commissioned for upwards of US$50,000, although the PBSG website says it is being “updated” [A pdf copy of the 2013 colour table is here, and my commentary on it is here.] I have left the original post as is, below.

[See followup posts here and here (April 1)]

Two days ago, I got a short note from PBSG chairman and website manager Dag Vongraven of the Norwegian Polar Institute, Tromso. He was responding to an email I sent him earlier this week asking about the apparent increase in global polar bear numbers when tallied by nation as depicted in the “State of the Polar Bear” dynamic “tool” featured on the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) website, which I discussed in a previous post here. The tally by nation in that PBSG document suggests that the world population estimate for polar bears is 22,600-32,000 – far higher than the 20,000-25,000 “official” estimate.

Apparently, this tool was developed by a US-based web company under Vongraven’s supervision. But, he says, he has “not yet had time to review all details in it as well as I should.So, without a careful final review, the document was posted on the front page of the PBSG website, where it has been featured for several months.

The “tool” consists of three maps – that’s it. They are titled Subpopulations, Nations, and Ecoregions. I previously discussed the population totals by Nation, but when I went back and looked at the Subpopulation numbers, I realized they are very odd as well.

The total population estimate listed on the Subpopulation map add up to just 13,036 – not even close to the 20,000-25,000 “official” estimate. The map (see screen cap below) gives no number (estimate = 0) for the following subpopulations, all of which have an official estimate (see previous post here, estimates from the 2009 PBSG report in square brackets): Foxe Basin [2,197], Viscount Melville [161], Laptev Sea [800-12,00] and Barents Sea [2,650]. On the map below, all of the regions coloured grey have no estimate provided (estimate = 0). In addition, there is no estimate provided for the Chukchi Sea subpopulation, coloured orange in this map, as per the official estimate [you can’t see the numbers given in this screen cap because they only show up when you hover your mouse over the region].

So when you add up the individual estimates provided on each of the two maps on this web tool, you get two different numbers that have no resemblance to the “official” estimate of 20,000-25,000.

"Subpopulation" status, from the Polar Bear Specialist Group special tool, "The State of the Polar Bear." downloaded January 17, 2013

“Subpopulation” status map, from the Polar Bear Specialist Group dynamic web tool, “The State of the Polar Bear.” [downloaded January 17, 2013]. Population estimates for each region show up on the original web-based tool when you hover your mouse over the map. All of the regions coloured grey, as well as one of the orange-coloured regions (Chukchi Sea, centre top), do not have a number provided.

 Vongraven says he is recovering from surgery and so it may be awhile until someone takes a look to see what’s up with this tool. He did not seem overly concerned about it. But he assured me that the official polar bear estimate of 20,000-25,000 has not changed, although it may after the next population review at the PBSG meeting later this year.

The point is this: if you were a high school student or a teacher looking for a simple and authoritative summary on the status of the polar bear, this tool would look very attractive. The IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group want us to consider them the ‘premiere’ experts on polar bear numbers worldwide but these maps do not accurately summarize the current state of knowledge about global polar bear population numbers. The maps are misleading and confusing. We may never know who’s bright idea this was but I in my opinion, it’s a dud.

[the “State of the Polar Bear” tool was still up on the PBSG website, in its original state, the last time I looked]