This year’s baseless media frenzy over walrus survival and loss of summer sea ice blamed on human-caused global warming was initiated by a press release from US Fish and Wildlife last week (16 August 2017, pdf here: “Pacific walruses haul out near Point Lay earlier than in previous years“). Quote below, my bold:
In the first week of August, several hundred Pacific walruses were observed on a barrier island near the Native Village of Point Lay, a small, Iñupiaq community on the northwest coast of Alaska. This is the earliest date yet for the haulout to form…This year, sea ice has retreated beyond the continental shelf earlier than in previous years
But is this all true? In a word, no — and it didn’t take much research to uncover the truth.
UPDATE 24 August 2017: A few minutes after this post was published, I became aware that just yesterday, 20 conservation activist organizations, lead by the Center for Biological Diversity (who led the polar bear listing charge) issued a press release regarding a letter (pdf here) pressuring the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list Pacific walrus as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Apparently, a decision must be made by the end of September on whether to actively list walrus or not. The text below has been amended to reflect this development.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Summary, walrus
Tagged Alaska, Chukchi Sea, climate change, earliest, endangered, ESA, fact check, facts, global warming, haulout, hype, Point Lay, sea ice, summary, US Fish and Wildlife Service, video, walrus
I knew it was coming up and then forgot to check, but sometime about 2 weeks ago blog views here at PolarBearScience passed the one million mark — more than two months ahead of my 5th anniversary.
Over 1 million views, four polar bear books (including my first novel, the polar bear attack thriller EATEN), several white-paper type publications (here, here, and here), several magazine articles (one here), two videos (see below), and a scientific paper on polar bear conservation that was peer reviewed before it’s publication at PeerJ Preprints.
Not bad for a five year stint on a blog with a single species focus. Continue reading
The New York Times reported this morning: “Donald Trump Is Elected President in Stunning Repudiation of the Establishment.”
I’ve never been very interested in politics but this result has me wondering. Could the new president reverse the Endangered Species Act (ESA) decisions listing polar bears and other species as ‘threatened’ with extinction due to future threats from global warming?
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Summary
Tagged advocacy, Arctic, bearded seals, climate change, election, ESA, extinction, global warming, media, polar bear, president, ringed seals, threatened, Trump, walrus
Veteran Yale University research ecologist Dan Botkin has a new book coming out tomorrow (Saturday 15 October) that you might want to look at:
A number of chapters are relevant to polar bears, including these three:
“Myth 11: Without Human Interference, Earth’s Climate is Stable”
“Myth 13: Climate Change Will Lead to Huge Numbers of Extinctions”
“Myth 25: Compared to Climate Change, All Other Environmental Issues Are Minor”
I found the book clearly written in a readable style (Table of Contents here). It provides timely insight into critical issues related to conservation and species extinction, with many real-world examples that counter theoretical assumptions (polar bears are discussed in the Overview). I found the energy issues (Myths 23 and 24) an awkward distraction but others might find them of interest. It’s a good companion to Bjorn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist (an excellent reference from 2001 but much more detailed).
Pre-0rders now being taken:
Twenty-five Myths That Are Destroying the Environment: What Many Environmentalists Believe and Why They Are Wrong. Daniel B. Botkin 2017. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Lanham, MD 20706. $12.71 PAPERBACK; $7.51 KINDLE
Peak inside via Amazon, more about Dan Botkin and his publication record, and the book below.
Posted in Book review, Conservation Status, Population
Tagged conservation, Daniel Botkin, ecology, extinction, marine mammals, myths, new book, polar bear, review, sea ice, walrus
Walrus researchers from the US Geological Survey have a new report on the history of walrus haulouts in the Chukchi and Bering Seas – yet their media efforts (via press release and interviews) fail to mention the relationship between fluctuating size of walrus haulouts and fluctuating walrus population size that is evident in that history. In fact, overall population size is not mentioned at all.
Two articles came out over the weekend that announced the results of this new joint US-Russian initiative [PBS, Walrus beaching in Alaska might not be as harmful as it looks. Here’s why – 31 July 2016 and ADN, Alaska and Russia join forces to create 160-year database of walrus haulouts – 31 July 2016]
But neither articles nor the new USGS paper they are touting (Fischback et al. 2016) mention the huge summer/fall haulouts of females, calves, and juveniles that were documented in the 1970s that coincided with the huge population size at that time, which crashed in the 1980s.
Only now has the population grown (to at least 200,000) to the point that huge haulouts are again being reported – conservation has done it’s job. But when walrus numbers get too high the animals out-strip their food source and numbers plummet, as they did in the 1980s (Fay et al. 1989; Garlich-Miller et al. 2011). See my fully referenced summary paper, Crockford 2014 (On The Beach: Walrus Haulouts are Nothing New).
Here’s the concern: When (not if) a population crash happens again, will it be blamed on global warming rather than natural causes? According to the PBS article:
“The database is supposed to help federal officials with conservation, especially as more ships start sailing through the newly open waters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is determining whether walrus should be listed as a threatened species.” [my bold]
My GWPF video on the issue (The Walrus Fuss) below:
See excerpts from the USGS database below, with a map:
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat, walrus
Tagged Alaska, beaching, Bering Sea, change, Chukchi Sea, facts, Fischbach, global warming, GWPF, haul out, haulout, history, Point Lay, population size, report, St. Lawrence Island, threatened, USGS, video, walrus, Walrus Fuss
Last Wednesday (8 June 2016), the US Coast Guard rescued walrus hunters from Shishmaref in the Bering Strait who got stuck in sea ice that is barely visible on sea ice maps. It’s a rare glimpse of what sea ice really looks like up close compared to what you see on the ice maps.
Watch the video here: https://www.dvidshub.net/video/embed/467959
[Unfortunately, the screencaps from the video, like the one below, are less impressive than the film. In the video, you can see the hunters walking on the ice around their trapped boat – the ice does not visibly move]
Have a look at the sea ice maps below for the day the incident took place. They show what appears to be hardly any ice in the area.
This is a good lesson for assessing what’s been going on in the Beaufort Sea a bit further east, where winds and currents have opened up a rather large patch of open water surrounded by considerable expanses of sea ice – at issue is the possible impact on polar bear spring feeding for April and May.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Barrow, bearded seal, Beaufort Gyre, Beaufort Sea, Bering Strait, Chukchi Sea, observations, polar bear habitat, polynya, sea ice, sea ice maps, spring feeding, walrus, Western Arctic
A new paper that combines paleoclimatology data for the last 56 million years with molecular genetic evidence concludes there were no biological extinctions [of Arctic marine animals] over the last 1.5M years despite profound Arctic sea ice changes that included ice-free summers: polar bears, seals, walrus and other species successfully adapted to habitat changes that exceeded those predicted by USGS and US Fish and Wildlife polar bear biologists over the next 100 years.
Cronin, T. M. and Cronin, M.A. 2015. Biological response to climate change in the Arctic Ocean: the view from the past. Arktos 1:1-18 [Open access] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s41063-015-0019-3
Thomas Cronin is a USGS paleoclimatologist at the Eastern Geology and Paleoclimate Science Center, and Matthew Cronin is a molecular geneticist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (see previous posts here and here about Matt’s work on the genetics of polar bear evolution).
From the Abstract:
Arctic climatic extremes include 25°C hyperthermal periods during the Paleocene-Eocene (56–46 million years ago, Ma), Quaternary glacial periods when thick ice shelves and sea ice cover rendered the Arctic Ocean nearly uninhabitable, seasonally sea-ice-free interglacials and abrupt climate reversals.
The final discussion and two summary graphics from this paper (copied below) are especially useful:
Posted in Evolution, Sea ice habitat, Summary
Tagged adaptation, Arctic, arctic seals, biological responses, climate change, climate extremes, Cronin, evolution, facts, genetics, glacial, he, ice-free summer, information, interglacial, LGM, marine mammals, paleoclimate, polar bear, resilience, sea ice, USGS, walrus
So, I guess they didn’t all die because of lack of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea. I said back on 28 August, just after the some unauthorized photos were publicized, that this haulout looked just as large as last year’s, if not larger (walruses are occasional prey of polar bears).
Now confirmed by an official US Fish and Wildlife Service estimate of 35,000 – not 36,000 mind you, or 34,000 – it was definitely 35,000. Odd, that. And surprisingly, they didn’t bother going out to count them until the day President Obama came to town. Would FWS have even bothered to get a count if there hadn’t been something newsworthy to tie it to?
Even more strange is the fact that this year, there was no accompanying hype. There were no links in any of the stories to FWS or USGS propaganda website pages, like there were last year (nor even a link to a press release). No mention of the FWS plan to have walruses declared ‘threatened with extinction‘ because of global warming. And no mention of prosecution of the photographer who took the photos on 23 August, from the required distance, but without a permit. Note the permit number stamped on the official NOAA photo provided below (taken 2 September 2015), which few outlets carried, probably because it looks nothing like a photo of walruses on a beach:
It appears that this year 35,000 walruses on a beach is a non-story. Go figure. Excerpts from the one, widely-circulated story below, from three days ago. See previous post for more walrus background, map, and video.
Posted in Life History, walrus
Tagged Alaska, Chukchi Sea, haul out, haulout, hype, Point Lay, prey, sea ice, threatened, walrus
A photo of a mass walrus haulout at Point Lay, Alaska taken a few days ago from a distance show thousands of animals. But no one’s counting because apparently, no one’s interested.
The picture on the left (above, courtesy Alaska Dispatch News) was taken 23 August by global warming activist photographer Gary Braasch, the day after a news report appeared about the US Fish & Wildlife Service and aviation authorities asking the media to approach USFWS about walrus photos and information that gave no hint that a large haulout of walruses was already in place (22 August 2015, “Federal agencies, Point Lay seek to minimize walrus disturbances” ):
“Federal agencies are stepping in to shield a North Slope village from the possibility of a deluge of international attention should a large walrus haulout develop nearby, as it has in years past — agreeing to act as an information clearinghouse on behalf of the Native Village of Point Lay.” [my bold]
Here is what the global warming activist site that published the pictures says about the haulout:
“Thousands of Pacific walrus are coming ashore near Point Lay, NW Arctic coast of Alaska. The huge sea mammals and young began coming up on this barrier island along Kasegaluk Lagoon about August 20, according to local natives. This is one of the earliest known summer haul outs of the walrus along the Alaska coast of the Chukchi Sea, according to wildlife biologists.” [my bold]
They say “thousands.” But the photos taken, reproduced in the Alaska Dispatch News story I read, were taken from a greater distance than the famous photo of ~35,000 animals released by government officials last year and looks like the total could be as large, or larger, than the 2014 haulout.
Said a Washington Post story (27 August 2015):
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed to the Post Wednesday evening that a mass of walruses had “hauled out,” or gathered on shore, near the remote community of Point Lay. The service did not estimate the number or provide images. But photojournalist Gary Braasch has posted dramatic photographs, taken during an Aug. 23 flyover, of what appear to be at least several thousand walruses crowding onto a barrier island.” [my bold]
Posted in Advocacy, Sea ice habitat, walrus
Tagged Alaska, Chukchi Sea, climate change, Gary Braasch, global warming, NOAA, photograph, Point Lay, population estimate, sea ice, starving, US Fish and Wildlife Service, USFWS, USGS, walrus
Now we have poor hunting conditions in the Bering Strait touted as evidence that “walrus migration patterns have changed” with the implication that this is because “…the past eight years have had the eight lowest amounts of summer sea ice on record” due to man-made global warming.
A subsistence lifestyle is hard, particularly so if it depends on a highly mobile, migratory herd animal. Think Barren-ground Inuit caribou hunters, who often starved because herd sizes declined for a few years or moved unpredictably.
Many factors – seasonal weather, last year’s winter conditions, size of the herd, food supply – all affect where and when a migratory herd will move and the likelihood it will be positioned for optimal harvesting by hunters. Add another highly variable factor into that – Bering Sea ice – and you have a highly unpredictable food supply, especially if you sit in one spot (like on St. Lawrence Island) and expect that migratory herd animal to come within reach.
Hunting walrus from St. Lawrence Island depends on just the right combination of ice and winds. Too much ice is not good, too much open water is not good, and too much wind is not good.
Alaska Dispatch, courtesy the Associated Press, reports St. Lawrence natives are again short of walrus meat because of “warm temperatures”: “Warming temps push walrus north, leaving Alaska villages without traditional food source” (Rachel D’Oro, The Associated Press, August 6, 2015). And the caption of the above USGS (A. Sonsthagen) photo predictably implies all current hunting troubles can be blamed on climate channge:
“The walruses in this July 2012 file photo are hauled out in the Eastern Chukchi Sea. Walrus migration patterns have changed as sea ice and other environmental factors have shifted — and that’s spelled trouble for Alaska Native communities who hunt them for subsistence.”
The people of St. Lawrence Island and the Bering Strait that depend on walrus for subsistence have my sympathy, they indeed have a hard life – but this is not a tale of woe about the status of Pacific walrus and changing summer sea ice.
Bering Strait natives hunt walrus in spring, from mid-April to early June (Huntington et al. 2013). All indications are that walrus are moving differently than they used to in summer because the population is now very large. As far as I know, there is no new population information on walrus that wasn’t available last year, when I covered this topic extensively (Crockford 2014; video below).
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat, walrus
Tagged Alaska, Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, climate change, migration, polar bear, prey, sea ice, spring, St. Lawrence Island, subsistence hunting, summer, video, walrus