In 1983, it was claimed that freeze-up of Hudson Bay was so late that polar bears didn’t leave the shore until the 4th of December – several weeks later than had been usual at that time. However, the fact that sea ice charts show significant ice offshore weeks before that time suggests something else was probably going on.
About three weeks ago, CBC News republished an article (with video) from their 1983 archives for 1 December, about the plight of the people of Churchill who had already suffered one death and one serious mauling by polar bears. That was thirty-seven years ago, long before lack of sea ice was blamed for everything bad that happened to Western Hudson Bay polar bears. In fact, rather than a really late freeze-up, it appears the problem had more to do with the fact the bears had had an especially tough spring that year and arrived onshore in only ‘OK’ condition – and as a consequence, the town dump became such a strong attractant for many bears that they were reluctant to leave when the sea ice formed offshore.
The first report of the Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill, Manitoba was released today (1 September), a full seven weeks later than last year due to many bears remaining on the Western Hudson Bay ice much later than they have done in the past.
As I mentioned previously, as long as I’ve been collecting these published reports (2015), there has not been a first report of the season issued later than the second week in July, so this year is really unusual and I suspect similar to the 1980s.
I thought it possible that this was a Covid-related delay getting conservation officers to Churchill but as you’ll see above, that appears not to be the case: there simply have been not enough serious problems with bears in Churchill to warrant sending officers out before last week. No information on the general condition of bears was included this year, as it has been in other years (see below). Activity this last week in August 2020 was similar to the first week in July 2018.
This year, the last collared Western Hudson Bay polar bear to leave the ice left as late, or later, than the last collared bear did in 2009 (which was an unusually late breakup year) and so far, all bears spotted have been in good physical condition despite inhabiting one of the most southern regions of the Arctic. All the while, sea ice experts have been hand-wringing about low Arctic sea ice –– in general and as polar bear habitat.
A female with two yearling cubs on the shore of Wakusp National Park, Western Hudson Bay on 24 August 2020. Taken via livecam from almost a mile away.
Polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher published a tracking map of his collared polar bear females that shows one bear (out of 11) still on the rapidly diminishing ice north of Churchill in Western Hudson Bay – and where there is a collared female, there is almost certainly other bears doing the exact same thing:
Without evidence to support such a claim, Derocher (below) assumes this collared female is probably hunting seals. In fact, last year he admitted that most bears on Hudson Bay from at least July onward are unlikely to be successfully hunting seals:
Contrary to all expert expectations, five female polar bears (45%) out of eleven that had tracking collars attached last year were still out on the sea ice that’s lingering along the western shore of Hudson Bay as of 7 August. And if five collared bears are out there, then there are almost certainly many more without collars doing the same thing. This pattern of bears staying out on the ice long after the so-called ‘critical threshold’ of 50% concentration has passed has been going on since at least 2015 and many bears on tracking maps in July and August appear to be on ice that doesn’t exist.
There are two explanations for this pattern and both are likely true: 1) much more ice actually exists on Hudson Bay than satellites can detect and 2) polar bear experts are wrong that Western Hudson Bay polar bears head to land soon after sea ice concentration drops below 50%. Models that predict a catastrophic future for Western Hudson Bay polar bears (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2013; Molnar et al. 2020) assume that ice coverage of less than 50% in summer greatly reduces polar bear survival. However, if polar bears do not always head to land when sea ice drops below 50% then the models cannot possibly describe their future accurately. In other words, depending on the discredited ‘worst case’ RCP8.5 climate scenario for the most recent polar bear survival model that extrapolates from Western Hudson Bay bear data to many other subpopulations, as I discussed previously, may not be its only fault.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged assumptions, behavioural plasticity, breakup, contradictions, extinction, Hudson Bay, melt ponds, polar bear, predictions, RCP8.5, sea ice, western hudson bay
In something resembling a new pattern for Western Hudson Bay polar bears, most of the animals are still out on the ice in late July this year, just like they were in the 1980s. The same thing happened last year but was brushed off as a happy anomaly. However, after last fall’s 1980s-like early freeze-up, this makes the sixth year in a row of good to very good sea ice conditions for Western Hudson Bay polar bears. No wonder polar bear experts haven’t published these data: good sea ice conditions along with polar bears coming ashore fat and healthy are not just inconvenient – they threaten to destroy the extinction panic narrative that depends on Western Hudson Bay bears showing evidence of harm from reduced sea ice.
Fat mother and cub onshore at Wakusp National Park, Western Hudson Bay 18 July 2020, one of the first of the season.
Posted in Advocacy, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged breakup, catastrophe, extinction, good years, Hudson Bay, models, polar bears, prediction, proxy, sea ice, trends, western hudson bay
Apparently, a prediction that polar bears could be nearly extinct by 2100 (which was first suggested back in 2007) is news today because there is a new model. As for all previous models, this prediction of future polar bear devastation depends on using the so-called ‘business as usual’ RCP8.5 climate scenario, which has been roundly criticized in recent years as totally implausible, which even the BBC has mentioned. This new model, published today as a pay-walled paper in Nature Climate Change, also did something I warned against in my last post: it uses polar bear data collected up to 2009 only from Western Hudson Bay – which is an outlier in many respects – to predict the response of bears worldwide. The lead author, Peter Molnar, is a former student of vocal polar bear catastrophist Andrew Derocher – who himself learned his trade from the king of polar bear calamity forecasts, Ian Stirling. Steven Amstrup, another co-author of this paper, provided the ‘expert opinion’ for the failed USGS polar bear extinction model featured in my book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.
Well, these authors and their supporters got the headlines they crave, including coverage by outlets like the BBC and New York Times (see below) but I have to say that the combination of using out-of-date Western Hudson Bay information on when polar bears come ashore in summer and leave for the ice in fall (only to 2009) to make vague projections (‘possible’, ‘likely’, ‘very likely’) about all other subpopulations in addition to depending on the most extreme and now discredited RCP8.5 climate scenario (Hausfather and Peters 2020) for this newest polar bear survival model is all that’s needed to dismiss it as exaggerated-fear-mongering-by-proxy. Why would anyone believe that the output of this new model describes a plausible future for polar bears?
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Amstrup, business as usual, climate change, exaggeration, extinction, ice-free season, model, Molnar, polar bear, proxy, RCP8.5, sea ice, western hudson bay
Don’t expect to hear this news from polar bear activists busy promoting the supposed threat to polar bears from declining Arctic sea ice but ice cover over Hudson Bay so far this summer has been very similar to what it was in the 1980s – often promoted as ‘the good old days’ for Western Hudson Bay polar bears. As of the end of June 2020, very concentrated ice (9/10-10/10) more than 1 metre thick still covered most of the bay and there was still no open water near Churchill along the west coast down into James Bay.
Polar bear activists don’t like to have current Hudson Bay sea ice reality ruin their social and news media narrative that ‘polar bears are all gonna die’, so they instead emphasize the obsolete ‘declining trend’ for Western Hudson Bay breakup dates that haven’t been updated since 2015 (e.g. Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017; Lunn et al. 2016). They do this despite the fact their colleagues admit polar bears don’t catch many seals after late June (regardless of sea ice conditions) because it is past the peak spring feeding period (Obbard et al. 2016; Lippold et al. 2019). Like in the 1980s, in 2015 and 2019 some bears stayed on the ice until early August and 2020 is shaping up to be another 1980’s-like summer.
Here is a quick compare and contrast of sea ice habitat for polar bears in Canada and the Southern Beaufort region of eastern Alaska near the end of June, 2012-2020.
Similarities between Hudson Bay ice/open water in the sea ice charts below are striking. Ice cover at the end of June shown in these charts since 2012 reinforces the fact, documented in the peer-reviewed literature, that there has been no continued declining trend in dates of sea ice breakup for Western and Southern Hudson Bay since 1998 at least (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017; Lunn et al. 2016). WH bears are still on the ice.
As a consequence, recent declarations of impending doom for Hudson Bay polar bears, based on claims of reduced population size and health of these subpopulations – which in any case are statistically insignificant for WH and SH (Obbard et al. 2018; Dyck et al. 2017) – must be due to some other cause (Crockford 2020).
In all areas, winds rather than melt due to increased temperatures drive much of the expansion of open water at this time of year.
Posted in Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Alaska, Beaufort, breakup, Canada, cause and effect, Hudson Bay, melt, polar bear, population decline, sea ice, western hudson bay
No early breakup of Hudson Bay sea ice again this year: there is still extensive thick first year ice over most of Hudson Bay and all female polar bears fitted with tracking collars in Western Hudson Bay are still on the ice:
W Hudson Bay polar bears still out on the ice that’s packed together by winds. AE Derocher, 12 June 2020
Breakup of Hudson Bay sea ice as it relates to polar bear movement to land has been about the same since 1999 (about 2 weeks earlier than in the 1980s) and this year is shaping up to be no different: there is still no declining trend in date of sea ice breakup in Western Hudson Bay despite repeated predictions of imminent doom. An especially ‘early’ breakup year would have bears ashore before 15 June. Last year (2019) the first WH bear onshore was caught on film 5 July and problem bears were not recorded onshore in Churchill until the 2nd week of July.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged breakup dates, declining population, early breakup, Hudson Bay, polar bear, sea ice, threatened, trends, western hudson bay