Ryrkaypiy ‘over-run’ by >50 polar bears is probably due to more Chukchi Sea bears

From Polar Bear Science

Posted on December 5, 2019 |

A scary-sounding headline from the BBC today screams “Ryrkaypiy: Far-north Russian village overrun by polar bears“. A little research would have shown (as I do below) that this sort of event is not unusual for this village, there is adequate sea ice off the coast to allow polar bears to hunt for seals if they choose to do so, and the photos provided do not support the claim that almost all of the polar bears “appeared to be thin” (see photo below and others). Similar incidents happened in 2013 and 2006. Increasing numbers of Chukchi Sea polar bears is the most plausible explanation for the recent abundance of bears at this village.

BBC Russian village Chukotka over run by polar bears BBC 5 Dec 2019 headline

BBC headline, 5 December 2019. Does that look like garbage these fat bears are feeding on or the frozen remains of dead walruses at the base of the Cape Schmidt cliff?

Ryrkaypiy location BBC 5 Dec 2019

Location of Ryrkaypiy, as provided by the BBC.

Recent scientific studies have shown Chukchi Sea polar bears are in excellent condition and reproducing well despite recent declines in summer sea ice and there is no scientific evidence that this situation changed markedly this year (Adam et al. 2019; AC SWG 2018; Regehr et al. 2018; Rode et al. 2014, 2018). The latest survey estimated about 3,000 bears in the Chukchi Sea. On the contrary, there is every reason to suggest that more polar bears visiting Chukotka settlements in recent years is due to growing numbers of bears – as I suggested earlier this year for the rising problems with bears in Labrador. In other words, as was true in the 1980s, seeing more bears often means there are more bears.

Apparently, the BBC simply passes along all sensational claims made by WWF personel without any fact checking at all (5 December 2019), not even to press the informants to provide precise dates for these events (my bold):

“More than 50 polar bears have descended on a village in Russia’s far north.

All public activities in Ryrkaypiy, in Chukotka region, have been cancelled, and schools are being guarded to protect residents from the bears.

Conservationists say climate change could be to blame, with weak coastal ice forcing the bears to search for food in the village rather than at sea.

The animals were “both adult and young… there were females with cubs of different ages”, she said – adding that almost all of them appeared to be thin.

The polar bears normally live on Cape Schmidt, just 2.2 km (1.4 miles) from Ryrkaypiy.

WWF conservationist Mikhail Stishov said the area had been experiencing unusually warm weather.

“If the ice were strong enough the bears, or at least some of them, would have already gone to sea, where they could hunt for seals or sea hares,” he said.”

Anatoly Kochnev told Tass news agency that polar bear visits are increasingly frequent – and that just five years ago [2014], only about five bears got close to the village.

“I as a scientist believe [Ryrkaypiy village] should not remain there,” he said. “We try to control the situation, but nobody would want to think what may happen there in three to five years.”

Biologist Anatoly Kochnev, described in this pieces as “a polar bear specialist from the US-based Institute of the North” – i.e. the Institute of Biological Problems of the North – is the same Russian local who acted as scientific advisor to the Netflix film crew that lied about polar bears being involved in the deaths of walrus falling from a high cliff near Ryrkaypiy (see posts here, here, here, and here) and who earlier this week claimed dire consequences will surely come to a polar bear with the number “T-34” spray-painted on its side recently spotted in Chukotka by WWF members stationed there. Referring to a point only five years ago when there were few bears (2014) is a convenient bench mark that allows him to ignore the fact that the year before that, in 2013, the village had more than 40 bears to contend with, and that in 2006 there was also a large influx of bears (details below).

Recent history of polar bears at Ryrkaypiy

Ryrkaypiy is located the base of a spit where walrus herds have congregated every few years in the fall, since at least 2007. Walrus numbers are way up compared to what they were in the 1990s and the size of herds that have come ashore in recent years have been rather astonishing. The map below shows the town (where the “Google” label sits) just a little over a mile from the cliffs where the infamous Netflix and BBC walrus videos were shot in 2017 (oddly, this is not mentioned in this latest BBC piece). A mile is nothing for a polar bear: bears that ‘normally’ hang out on the spit are close enough to the village to cause trouble if they are so inclined.

kozhevnikova-cape-with-ryrkaypiy-aerial-marked_montford-15-april-2019-story

Here’s another view of the village, as seen from the spit littered with walrus carcasses (moved around by storms), taken on 27 September 2017 by Chukotka resident Yevgeny Basov :

24_corpses-on-the-spit-taken-there-by-a-storm_27-sep-2017_3149983_original

In 2013, “more than 40” polar bears were reported to be threatening Ryrkaypiy residents because they were drawn to two whale carcasses washed ashore nearby:

Bear scare: Crowds of polar predators ‘besiege’ Russian Far East town“(11 November 2013):

“Forty-three predators have gathered together near the village of Ryrkaypy, according to WWF Russia. Polar bears were spotted near the remains of two dead whales, washed onto the beaches several kilometers away from the Chukotka settlement.

The last time a large number of polar bears gathered in one place was discovered on the Arctic coast of Chukotka in the fall of 2006,” head of the Polar Bear Patrol WWF project Viktor Nikiforov said.”

Online news outlet Gizmodo reported in late October 2017:

“…Ryrkaypiy, a tiny village located on the northern coast of Chukotka bordering the Chukchi Sea. According to a report by the Siberian Times, 5,000 walruses recently hauled out on a shoreline near the village. The walruses were followed by about 20 polar bears, no doubt drawn by the stench of thousands of blubbery, flippered meals.

The arrival of the bears caused the walruses to panic, and many attempted to
flee. Per the Siberian Times, “several hundred” fell to their deaths off the cliffs of the nearby Kozhevnikova Cape. The bears, naturally, went to town on the carcasses.”

In 2007, polar bears descended on the village after a massive herd of 40,000 walrus spent time on the spit that fall, leaving more than 500 carcasses on local beaches from animals that had died naturally from falls or trampling. Later that fall, a Swedish WWF conservation officer named Tom Arnbom spent time in Ryrkaypiy and on a blog post dated 28 November, predicted that polar bears would cause a lot of trouble over the first few weeks of December as they moved in to feed on the carcasses.

Sea ice conditions in Chukotka

Sea ice charts from NSIDC Masie show that as of 4 December 2019 (the date of the BBC article) there was sea ice along the Chukotka coast. The archives show it has been there for weeks. It is not a wide expanse of ice but similar to the strip of newly-formed ice that forms along Hudson Bay which allows polar bears there to resume hunting in the fall. Polar bears need an ice-edge to hunt seals, not miles of unbroken ice. Ryrkaypiy is just east of the W180th parallel marked on the map that transects Wrangel Island.

sea-ice-2019-dec-4-masie-chukchi-sea-close-up-e1575587789111

Masie sea ice chart for 4 December 2019.

And was sea ice lacking along that coast in early November 2013, when more than 40 bears beseiged the village? Absolutely not, as the map below shows (for the 11 November, date of the news report):

sea-ice-2013-nov-11-day-315-masie-chukchi-sea-close-up-e1575588398884

Masie sea ice chart for 11 November 2013.

Bottom line: This year’s event was not markedly different from the influx of bears that terrorized the village in 2013 and 2006. Lack of sea ice caused by human-caused global warming is not causing increasing numbers of polar bears to congregate around Ryrkaypiy in the late fall. A combination of increasing numbers of bears plus an abundance of walrus that have died of natural causes earlier in the year are almost certainly the proximate cause. Carcasses of walrus and dead whales are an attractive source of food for polar bears who must replenish fat they have lost over the summer before the cold and darkness of winter sets in.  These sources of fat are just as useful to bears for that purpose as seals, just easier to access. Smart bears.

References

AC SWG 2018. Chukchi-Alaska polar bear population demographic parameter estimation. Eric Regehr, Scientific Working Group (SWG. Report of the Proceedings of the 10th meeting of the Russian-American Commission on Polar Bears, 27-28 July 2018), pg. 5. Published 30 July 2018. US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Adam, R., Bryan, A., Quakenbush, L., Crawford, J., and Biderman, L. 2019. Bearded seal productivity in Alaska using harvest-based monitoring, 1975-2016. Poster presentation, Alaska Marine Science Symposium, 28 January-1 February.

Regehr, E.V., Hostetter, N.J., Wilson, R.R., Rode, K.D., St. Martin, M., Converse, S.J. 2018. Integrated population modeling provides the first empirical estimates of vital rates and abundance for polar bears in the Chukchi Sea. Scientific Reports 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-34824-7 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-34824-7

Rode, K.D., Regehr, E.V., Douglas, D., Durner, G., Derocher, A.E., Thiemann, G.W., and Budge, S. 2014. Variation in the response of an Arctic top predator experiencing habitat loss: feeding and reproductive ecology of two polar bear populations. Global Change Biology 20(1):76-88. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.12339/abstract

Rode, K. D., R. R. Wilson, D. C. Douglas, V. Muhlenbruch, T.C. Atwood, E. V. Regehr, E.S. Richardson, N.W. Pilfold, A.E. Derocher, G.M Durner, I. Stirling, S.C. Amstrup, M. S. Martin, A.M. Pagano, and K. Simac. 2018. Spring fasting behavior in a marine apex predator provides an index of ecosystem productivity. Global Change Biology http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.13933/full

48 thoughts on “Ryrkaypiy ‘over-run’ by >50 polar bears is probably due to more Chukchi Sea bears

    • Every time I wait for 2or 3 days the alarmist story collapses. And why do I wear the label of Skeptic proudly ?

      I graduated as a Scientist in the 80’s and believe in the Scientific Method.

      These post normal people task me.

      • This article seems to indicate that a persistent southerly warm wind is causing it. If the water is cold enough to freeze and a southerly wind is pushing the new ice north that would have the same effect as no ice forming.

        During winter 2018 the sea ice in the Bering Sea reached record-low levels thanks to persistent warm southerly winds. These conditions caused the ice to retreat to the northern reaches of the 800,000 square mile body of water. … Ice in the Bering Sea forms when cold winds over the Chukchi Sea come blasting down from the north.

        https://www.noaa.gov/stories/unprecedented-2018-bering-sea-ice-loss-repeated-in-2019

    • icisil,

      PDO is warm . It is remarkable how the sea-ice expands into Bering Strait (and even south of it) when the PDO turns cold.

      The existence of a “warm blob” in the Gulf of Alaska can make the jet stream more loopy, and swing the huge gales swiveling around the semi-permanent Aleutian Low right up through Bering Strait. At the end of November this happened, and the south gales rammed the expanding sea-ice back to the north, reversing the expansion of Sea Ice in Chukchi Sea for around five days.

      The PDO was likely warm when the Herald was able to land a boat on the difficult shore of Herald Island (named after the ship) in 1848, (only landing possible is on the northwest corner.) The PDO was likely cold when the Jennette got trapped in sea-ice south of the same area in 1879.

  1. So easy to run an alarmist line on these remote areas where independent checking is so challenging.

    Just like “the Great Barrier Reef is mostly dead” stories, when independent researchers actually go there, we find out the alarmist reports were bunkum.

  2. Don’t ever think that polar bears are cuddly and fun, as made clear in this video, Incredible footage of BBC cameraman and hungry polar bear:

    • I think my BS detector is broke. I suspect it has something to do with what’s going on in congress right now. I wish these people would just leave the damned bears alone and let them do what they do. How long have we been exposed to this continual wailing about Polar Bears? And the WWF? What are we going to find out next about them? That donations from Leo DiCaprio are helping them fund Polar Bear poachers?

  3. The BBC would have absolutely no interest in reporting on Polar Bears ot their activities or Ryrkaypiy and its villagers and their difficulties, were it not for the part that it can play in the BBC’s continuing propaganda exercise on behalf of ‘Global Warming Climate Change’. The same goes for unfortunate Walruses at the bottom of the cliff.

  4. (SNIPPED)

    (No more off topic personal question accepted, do you have anything to offer about her post?) SUNMOD

  5. Why there is no punishment for scientists who are promoting those false alarms? If there was a law for each and every wrong prediction by a reputed scientist, then climate science would be a much better position now. BBC and other government media should play an unbiased and sensible role – are they following that? Enforcement of lawsuit is the only option today. How much emotional damage are caused by those unethical scientists are unbelievable. The legal system should step forward urgently.

  6. A quick google shows that Ryrkaypiy is where it is because because walrus go there.

    The economy of Ryrkaypiy seems to be based on reindeer herding. In that regard, they could move inland and solve most of the polar bear problem. If they want to hunt walrus, they could get there by snowmobile or ATV. That works just fine for Canadian Eskimos.

    I agree with the person who said to move the village.

  7. “…the W180th parallel marked on the map that transects Wrangel Island.”

    Lines of latitude are parallel, those of longitude not so.

  8. Someone’s imagination is running away with things. Aren’t polar bears nearly extinct? I’m a bit surprised the BBC reported it as it does not not fit their narrative.

  9. “Here’s another view of the village, as seen from the spit littered with walrus carcasses”

    All of those walrus carcasses are missing the tusks with which they fell over the cliff.
    Anyone search the film crew and advisor’s luggae?

    • That’s a good one,

      ATheoK December 8, 2019 at 9:20 pm

      “Here’s another view of the village, as seen from the spit littered with walrus carcasses”

      All of those walrus carcasses are missing the tusks with which they fell over the cliff.
      Anyone search the film crew and advisor’s luggae?
      ____________________________________

      Animal lovers, pet lovers are paid in Ivory. As with the film crew.

      + female pet lovers, animal lovers are paid in

      rosa plush dolphins, shiny little Swarowsky brass crowns with glass pearls, riding on Unicorns.

  10. Thank you Susan for yet another forensic scientific demolition of alarmist misinformation. Your dedication in the face of constant harassment from the climate change attack dogs has my total admiration.

    Please keep up the good work.

    • I see our one trick pony is up to his old tricks.
      All the other factors presented are completely ignored, it must be because of the only thing that interests it.

      • Griff,

        It’s quite true that the ice is lower than usual along the Chukotka coast, but as I’ve also pointed out, there is plenty enough ice for the bears to go out hunting seals. Hudson Bay bears leave the shore in a hurry when there is as much ice as has been present off Cape Schmidt since late November.

        However, consuming long-dead walrus is far easier than hunting for seals – these bears are smart enough to realize that.

        If the village wants to get rid of it’s fall polar bear problem, it will have to move ALL of the carcasses of dead walrus off nearby beaches every year as they accumulate. Or, they could move the village, as has been suggested.

        This is not a sea ice problem.

        Walrus numbers are way up and so are bear numbers: problems with bears in the fall at this location has been going on for more than a decade and is not going to go away by itself.

        There have been several further media reports on this incident and I have updated my original post with links to these stories and my comments. Take another look here: http://polarbearscience.com/2019/12/05/ryrkaypiy-over-run-by-50-polar-bears-is-probably-due-to-more-chukchi-sea-bears/

  11. Conservationists say climate change could be to blame, with weak coastal ice forcing the bears to search for food in the village rather than at sea. – article

    If Da Bearss are searching for food in the village, they’re probably going after whatever they can find in the garbage dump, as well as the seals. Hoomans waste a lot of stuff – TONS of it. Bears don’t care. They make use of it. And polar bears are some of the nastier, and quite aggressive, ursine critters.

    I don’t know what point WWF is trying to make other than ‘send us more money!’, but thanks for the article. I don’t see no skinny bears in any of those photos.

    • An article in todays National Post uses the word “emaciated” to describe the bears physical condition. Im no biologist but from the photo they look rather well fed to me.

  12. That photo of dead walruses lying on a low-lying spit of sand doesn’t look like it has any “cliffs” for walruses to fall from. If they were washed up there by a storm in September, they would provide a huge free feast for any polar bear in the area, without the trouble of hunting live prey.

    So, are the alarmists trying to blame “global warming” or “climate change” for an Arctic storm that killed some walruses, and provided a feast for polar bears? Whose side is Al Gore and the climate alarmists on–are they pro-walrus or pro-polar-bear? Doesn’t this represent a conflict of interest, since polar bears and walruses are mortal enemies of each other?

    • The tendency is for that bitter cold Canadian air, once formed, is to keep building up until it breaks out en masse toward the south like a broken dam. Might take days or weeks, but it’ll come. The mid-Appalachians where I’m at is often a target accompanied by a major snow-storm.

  13. “Increasing numbers of Chukchi Sea polar bears is the most plausible explanation for the recent abundance of bears at this village.

    [ ]

    “Here’s another view of the village, as seen from the spit littered with walrus carcasses (moved around by storms),”

    – and not one of that carcasses pitted, torn by their “hunting predators”, the “hungry polar bears”.

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