Polar bear spotted on Bear Island (Barents Sea) this winter for the first time in 8 years

Reposted from Polar Bear Science

Posted on July 31, 2019 |

Polar bear spotted on Bear Island (Barents Sea) this winter for the first time in 8 years

A polar bear was spotted this year on Bear Island (Bjørnøya) in the southern Barents Sea on 8 March by the crew at the Meteorological Station. The last time these workers had seen a polar bear was 2011 but this year extensive Barents Sea ice literally brought a bear to their doorstep, similar to the way that sea ice brings bears to southern Labrador and Newfoundland in late winter and spring.

Bear island 8 March 2019_first bear seen by Meteorological Institute station crews since 2011_Bjørnøya Meteorological Station photo

After below-average ice cover around Svalbard for most of the winter months of January and February, by early March the ice had expanded so far to the south it reached Bjørnøya. It was the kind of ice that hadn’t been seen in decades and almost immediately, a polar bear was spotted on shore. Given the length of time that the ice surrounding the island persisted, it is likely more bears came ashore but were not seen: the Meteorological Station at the north end of the island is the only place that people live over the winter (see maps below).

The ice conditions that bring polar bears to Bjørnøya are pretty straightforward: no ice in late winter, no bears onshore.

Bear Island_Bjornoya_Location_Wikipedia

As I discussed in a previous post, the pack ice descended on Bear Island 3-4 March, a few days before the bear was seen on the north coast. The Meteorological Station is located at the north end of the island (find the star on the map below):

Bear Island_Bjornoya_closeup_Wikipedia

According to a report published in the weekly newspaper Svalbardposten (21 March 2019), the crew of the Meteorological Station were just settling in to watch a film on the evening of Friday 8 March. They had set up to use a mound of snow as a makeshift projection screen when a polar bear stood up on it (see photo below), causing the crew to decide to move inside to watch their movie!

bear-island-8-march-2019_first-bear-seen-since-2011_bjc3b8rnc3b8ya-meteorological-station-photo-svalbardposten

The photos show a bear in good condition for early March: abundant newborn Arctic seals (which polar bears depend upon to replenish fat lost over the winter and to fatten up ahead of summer) was still many weeks away at that point in the season.

A few days later (as shown in the Norwegian Ice Service ice chart below), the island was surrounded by ice that stayed until 21 March or so:

Svalbard ice extent 2019 March 12_NIS

Nick Hughes, who heads the Meteorological Institute, told Svalbardposten that ice conditions at mid-March were almost ‘normal’ (i.e. as they had been before 2007), see photo below. This was not loose floes but consolidated pack ice. He said there used to be solid ice around Bear Island every year until 2006 but after that ice only reached the island in a few years (2009, 2011, and 2013) and even then remained for only short periods (he does not specify how short). There was apparently ice for only a few days in 2018.

Bear island mid March 2019_concentrated ice surrounded the island as it did in the old days_Meteorological Station photo SVALBARDPOSTEN

Station manager Ragnar Sansteba, who has been on the island since 2007, saw one bear in 2008 (that perhaps arrived on an isolated ice floe), several in 2009, two in 2010 and seven in 2011. He also saw bear tracks (but no bear) in 2013.

Oddly, over the last few years when this phenomenon has happened in Labrador and Newfoundland (especially in 2017), at least one polar bear specialist as well as others have been quick to blame sighting of polar bears ashore in late winter and early spring on something referred to as ‘failed’ sea ice – even when this could not have been further from the truth (ice was extensive, thick, and was still present into June).

In contrast, this year sea ice around Newfoundland came later, was much less extensive, less concentrated, and present for a shorter period of time during spring than it was in 2017, and polar bear sightings onshore were much less common. I heard of only a few in early spring, see here, here, and here, and a few later in the season (May), here, here, and here, compared to almost two dozen in 2017 (Crockford 2018, 2019a, 2019b). That would suggest less extensive and less concentrated ice offshore in spring on the east coast of Canada results in fewer bears onshore, not more.

In other words, when ice brings a healthy polar bear population into contact with land, a few curious bears are almost certain to go exploring.

Or, as Bear Island station manager Ragnar Sansteba is quoted as saying:

“…with the sea ice comes the polar bear wandering.”

References

Crockford, S.J. 2018. State of the Polar Bear Report 2017. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report #29. London. Pdf here.

Crockford, S.J. 2019a. State of the Polar Bear Report 2018. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 32, London. pdf here.

Crockford, S.J. 2019b. The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

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44 thoughts on “Polar bear spotted on Bear Island (Barents Sea) this winter for the first time in 8 years

  1. The last time these workers had seen a polar bear was 2011.

    The pack ice descended on Bear Island 3-4 March”, “stayed until 21 March or so.”

    I guess that makes it: The last bear on Bear Island.

  2. Ian Stirling is a world renowned polar bear expert who, sadly, has drunk the CAGW Kool-Aid. He is an expert though. I would guess that Crockford has done way less than 1/10 the field work that Stirling has done. He and his assistants really got up close and personal with the animals.

    Stirling’s folks taught a Government of Canada polar bear awareness and survival course back in the 1970s. One of the facts that sticks in my mind is this: Polar bears are wide ranging. You should not take their absence for granted anywhere in the arctic. They have been spotted transiting the Victoria and Albert Mountains.

    In light of the above, I would not read too much into the sighting of a single bear.

    BTW, why should I, a total polar bear non expert, think Dr. Stirling is wrong about what happens to polar bears in a much less icy arctic? He’s an expert on polar bears as they currently exist. He has no answer as to how they survived for a few thousand years of the early Holocene when there was much less ice.

    • commieBob – August 2, 2019 at 12:16 am

      Ian Stirling is a world renowned polar bear expert who, sadly, has drunk the CAGW Kool-Aid.

      Now commieBob, ……. Ian Stirling can‘t have his cake and eat it too.

      Being both a “renowned expert” and a ”Kool-Aid drinker” is directly contrary to one’s intellectual abilities.

      He is an expert though. I would guess that Crockford has done way less than 1/10 the field work that Stirling has done

      Laboring “long n’ hard” doing field work doesn’t make one an “expert” at anything except maybe being slow, lazy and/or unproductive.

      “DUH”, …… seniority (total hours on the job) only counts if you are a government employee. And government employee “seniority” and/or “pay grade” ……. is the same as “expertise status”.

      He’s an expert on polar bears as they currently exist. He has no answer as to how they survived for a few thousand years of the early Holocene when there was much less ice.

      Hells bells, ya don’t hafta be a “polar bear expert” to figure that one out.

      “DUH”, the literal fact is, ….. Polar Bears are not in any way “dependent” upon pack ice or sea surface ice for their survival.

      In actuality, ……. said snow-covered sea surface ice is a detriment to the Polar Bear’s survival.

    • ** He’s an expert on polar bears as they currently exist. **
      I disagree.
      Dr Crockford has shown that less ice is no problem for bears.
      Thick winter ice in colder winters is worse as the bears have a more difficult time getting at the seals.

      • Thick winter ice in colder winters is worse as the bears have a more difficult time getting at the seals.

        That statement might be a cause of confusion for some readers.

        Thick winter ice makes it more difficult for PBs to find or locate seals that are on top of the ice, ….. getting at them after the seal is “located” is a different problem for the bear.

        The female seal is the one that has to “get” through the thick ice..

    • commieBob,

      You are right – the sighting of one bear is not significant or even surprising EXCEPT that it was a sign that sea ice had reached that far south. As soon as I saw the ice had surrounded Bear Island and remained for weeks, I was watching to see if any published reports of bears on the island appeared. As explained in the post, reports of large numbers of polar bears onshore along the coast of Labrador and northern Newfoundland have recently been dismissed by ‘experts’ as an indicator of poor ice conditions, which was clearly nonsense.

      Your last question is a good one (“why should I, a total polar bear non expert, think Dr. Stirling is wrong about what happens to polar bears in a much less icy arctic?”). For you and others who have asked the same question, I am happy to answer it.

      Dr. Stirling is wrong because the evidence shows he is wrong: he formed an opinion, based on his years of experience, that polar bears would be decimated by a huge decline in summer sea ice. The prediction made in 2007 was that 2/3 of the bears would be gone when summer sea ice declined to ~40% less than 1980 levels. Yet, since 2007 the sea ice has been at those ‘devastating’ levels without thousands of polar bear deaths. In fact, polar bear numbers have increased substantially (best case scenario) or remained virtually constant (most pessimistic estimates accepted by the IUCN Red List in 2015) since 2005.

      Don’t forget, back in the early 2000s, Stirling could not have *known* that the bears would be devastated by low summer sea ice, since those conditions had not happened within his lifetime (or within the record of polar bear research that far). It was therefore only his professional opinion that a catastrophic decline in numbers would result from an extended period of much reduced summer sea ice.

      However, his prediction was ultimately shown to be wrong. The fact that he is still refusing to acknowledge that he was wrong is sad but hardly unusual. Stirling staked his professional reputation on that prediction and to admit he was wrong would cause a huge loss of face.

      My new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, discusses this issue in some detail, with references.

      • It’s sad indeed. I worked in close proximity with him and his people and have great respect for him.

    • He has no answer as to how they survived for a few thousand years of the early Holocene when there was much less ice.

      Clearly, they survived by killing and eating seals. Which must also have been in sufficient abundance in those hellishly warm times.

  3. From Wiki:
    -“Bear Island was discovered by the Dutch explorers Willem Barents and Jacob van Heemskerk on 10 June 1596. It was named after a polar bear that was seen swimming nearby. The island was considered terra nullius until the Spitsbergen Treaty of 1920 placed it under Norwegian sovereignty. “-

    -“The only indigenous land mammals are a few Arctic foxes. Despite its name, Bear Island is not a permanent residence of polar bears, although many arrive with the expanding pack ice in the winter. Occasionally, a bear will stay behind when the ice retreats in spring and remain through the summer months.[12] Moreover, the sub-population of Ursus maritimus polar bears found here is a genetically distinct set of polar bears associated with the Barents Sea region.[13]”-
    Apparently the seas around the island are rich in several species of seal, so that is probably why the bear in that photo looks so well fed.

    • Yes, it really looks stupid, and not climate-conscious at all. It will never make it to a WWF poster!

  4. Reminds me of this;

    “If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to see or hear it, does it fall?”

    A polar bear *spotted* for the first time in 8 years. Does not mean no bear ever in that area in that time. It means just no-one was there to witness, or spot, it in 8 years.

  5. Gosh! I hope people don’t become too concerned, they might begin to believe that the Climate is variable from time to time! Perhaps more expeditions with the green folk need to be made, it might help fatten some bears up! Sarc off!

  6. There has until this year been no ice north of Svalbard or in the polar bear denning areas south and east of it for some years at all or until very, very late winter… the late arrival of ice there this year is very much an outlier event and nothing to celebrate in these days.

  7. “In other words, when ice brings a healthy polar bear population into contact with land, a few curious bears are almost certain to go exploring.

    Or, as Bear Island station manager Ragnar Sansteba is quoted as saying:

    “…with the sea ice comes the polar bear wandering.””
    __________________________________________________________

    Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)

    Inuit poetry refers to the polar bear as Pihoqahiak, “the ever-wandering one.” Polar bears spend many months of the year at sea hunting seals, their main dietary staple, and can swim and run long distances.

    https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/11-amazing-facts-about-canadas-bear-species

    https://www.google.com/search?q=Canadian+indigenous+polar+bear+white+ghost+wandering&oq=Canadian+indigenous+polar+bear+white+ghost+wandering+&aqs=chrome.

    • Polar bears spend many months of the year at sea hunting seals, …… and can swim long distances.

      “WOW”, ….. I didn’t know that Polar Bears could swim fast enough to catch a seal.

    • Almost certainly not. Shooting Polar Bears is prohibited except in self-defence on Svalbard.

      And those weathermen may have committed a violation in any case. It is forbidden to move around outdoors without a firearm outside Longyearbyen town.

      • “It is forbidden to move around outdoors without a firearm outside Longyearbyen town”?!?!

        How can that be? Don’t they have mass shootings every hour on the hour?!?

        Surely there are no Lefties on the island. It would be unbearable for them (tee hee).

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