Promoters of Polar Bear Catastrophe in Hudson Bay Gloss Over Recent Good Ice Conditions

From Polar Bear Science

Dr. Susan Crockford

Hudson Bay has been oddly slow to freeze this year, which has led to a predictable bit of hand-wringing from certain biologists reiterating prophesies of polar bear population collapse. However, since 2009, the last time that freeze-up was anywhere near this late was 2016. In other words, far from this years’ late freeze-up being a picture of ‘the new normal,’ conditions in 2021 are actually unusual compared to the last twelve years.

Perhaps the last bear leaving Cape Churchill for the sea ice, 4 December 2021.

Moreover, considering that 2021 fall ice formation for the Arctic in general is well ahead of 2016 (and every year since, except 2018), it’s hard to see why human-caused global warming caused by ever-increasing CO2 emissions explains the slow freeze-up of Hudson Bay. Timing of Hudson Bay freeze-up has always been highly variable from one year to the next (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017: Fig. 3, copied below). The average freeze-up date in the 1980s was 16 November ± 5 days, while from 2005-2015 this had shifted about a week to 24 November ± 8 days (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017:230). This year freeze-up was later than usual but last year and the three years before that the ice froze as early as it did in the 1980s. Cue the zombie apocalypse.

According to an article in The Guardian last week: No easy fix’: polar bear capital of the world turns to electric buggies to save the bears (3 December 2021):

“We’re not getting the good years of sea ice formation that we used to have. We’re getting bad years and OK years,” said Andrew Derocher, a professor of biology at the University of Alberta. “When you do that over a long enough period of time, you can expect that your population is going to decline.”

However, Derocher grossly mischaracterizes the long-term freeze-up data for Western Hudson Bay. The most recent published data (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017) soundly refutes his statement to The Guardian. Moreover, Derocher has not updated this information in the scientific literature since 2015 even though he must calculate it every year. All I can do is publicly document the phenomenon based on sea ice charts and reports from local observers.

Based on published and privately recorded daily sea ice data (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017: Fig. 3, copied below), there have been one or two late freeze-up years (‘bad’ in Derocher-parlance) each decade since 1979: 1981, 1994, 1998, 2009, 2010, 2016, 2021. The frequency of bad years has never been higher than twice per decade and has not increased over time. ‘OK’ years would have bears leaving the ice by the last week of November, which happened in 2010-2015 last decade. 2016 was ‘bad’: freeze-up was quite late. However, in 2017, 2018, and 2019, bears left shore about the same time they did in the 1980s (by the second week of November or so), which by Derocher standards are ‘good’ years. That’s three good years in the 2010s, six OK years and one bad year; for the 2020s so far, one good year and one bad. Even the 1980s had one bad year and two OK years among the good years.

In other words, the most recent full decade can most honestly be described as a mix of good and OK years similar to the 1980s.

Fig. 3 from Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017.

While freeze-up in 2016 was late and bears didn’t leave until the second week of December, virtually all bears came ashore in very good condition in July, which meant the extra wait for fall ice was not a problem.

The Guardian piece later stated:

It had been 156 days since most of the bears last ate. At 180 days, starvation begins to set in.

Ice is also breaking up earlier in the season, meaning bears are forced to return to land weeks earlier than normal and have a smaller window for hunting.

Over the last decade, the bears have lost nearly a total of 12 days of ice on either end of the season.  

“We’ve always been concerned about an early break-up with a really late freeze-up,” said Derocher. “And that would be the worst-case scenario for polar bears.”

Let’s look at that scary-sounding claim of number of days onshore and starvation. According to Derocher and colleagues, 3 December marked 167 days ashore for WH bears, which means the average date ashore at breakup for all bears in 2021 was Day 170 or 19 June. In the fall, all indications are that some bears had left shore by 26 November and virtually all had left by 4 December. If we call it 168 days, that’s definitely a longer sojourn on land than the 1980s but no longer than it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s (see graph above, panel C).

However, there were no reports of especially thin or starving bears this year (most summer photos were of bears in good condition) or any reports of cannibalism: I’m absolutely sure that if there had been, Derocher would have said so. Body condition of bears when they come ashore matters: the conundrum of 1983 was that breakup wasn’t early that year yet most bears came ashore in less than good condition and by mid-November, many were very thin and likely struggled to make it through the winter (Ramsay and Stirling 1988).

The article states that “at 180 days, starvation sets in”. This is a gross misrepresentation of the model prediction to which it refers (Molnár et al. 2010). The model predicts that 9-21% of adult males would be at risk of starvation at 180 days (6 months) ashore, up from 3-6% of males at risk of starvation at 120 days (4 months) ashore (which was routine for WH bears in the 1980s).

Starvation is therefore not a given at 180 days, but a possibility. So far, there has never yet been a year where the population spent 180 days ashore, so there are no data, only the model prediction. While 2003 was close to that ‘starvation risk’ threshold, there is nothing in the literature about 2003 being a year of starving adult bears: that honor goes to 1983 (Ramsay and Stirling 1988).

Further on, the Guardian article had even more comments from Derocher:

Already, the bears are showing warning signs.

The weight of pregnant polar bears has declined over the years, as have new births. Bears typically lose one kilogram of weight each day they remain on the tundra instead of ice – further adding pressure on the population.

The bear population has dropped by nearly 30% since 1987. If current trends hold, the bears are predicted to undergo a reproductive failure by 2040, accelerating the species’ demise.

“Eventually, you’ll pretty much have like a zombie population of polar bears that just can’t sustain themselves and it’s a matter of time before they’re extirpated. When? That’s the million-dollar question,” Derocher said.

I recently pointed out that a claim by polar bear researcher Nick Lunn that unpublished data on weights of pregnant WH polar bears had declined 15% between 1980 and 2019 actually meant that bears in 2019 were heavier than they were in the 1990s and early 2000s. I’ve also commented at length on this claim about a 30% decline in WH numbers since 1987, which is a deliberate misrepresentation of the data (Crockford 2019, 2021; Dyck et al. 2017). Furthermore, the 2020 model mentioned by Derocher that predicts WH reproductive failure by 2040 uses implausible ‘business as usual’ sea ice projections that shouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone (Hausfather and Peters 2020; Molnár et al. 2020).

Finally, as for the suggestion of an imminent ‘zombie’ polar bear population in Western Hudson Bay, isn’t it funny that Derocher failed to point out that the slower-than-usual freeze-up of Hudson Bay this year is likely to be beneficial for polar bears? A slow freeze-up allows the bears an extended period of ice-edge fall seal hunting before the extreme cold and darkness of winter makes that activity extremely difficult, and almost certainly forestalls impending starvation. No, he wouldn’t want to mention that: it would kill the zombies.

References

Castro de la Guardia, L., Myers, P.G., Derocher, A.E., Lunn, N.J., Terwisscha van Scheltinga, A.D. 2017. Sea ice cycle in western Hudson Bay, Canada, from a polar bear perspective. Marine Ecology Progress Series 564: 225–233. http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v564/p225-233/

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

Crockford, S.J. 2021. The State of the Polar Bear Report 2020. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 48, London. pdf here.

Dyck, M., Campbell, M., Lee, D., Boulanger, J. and Hedman, D. 2017. 2016 Aerial survey of the Western Hudson Bay polar bear subpopulation. Final report, Nunavut Department of Environment, Wildlife Research Section, Iglolik, NU. http://www.gov.nu.ca/environnement/information/wildlife-research-reports#polarbear

Hausfather, Z. and Peters, G.P. 2020. Emissions – the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading [“Stop using the worst-case scenario for climate warming as the most likely outcome — more-realistic baselines make for better policy”]. Nature 577: 618-620

Molnár, P.K., Derocher, A.E., Thiemann, G.W. and Lewis, M.A. 2010. Predicting survival, reproduction and abundance of polar bears under climate change. Biological Conservation 143:1612−1622.

Molnár, P.K., Bitz, C.M., Holland, M.M., Kay, J.E., Penk, S.R. and Amstrup, S.C. 2020. Fasting season length sets temporal limits for global polar bear persistence. Nature Climate Change.  https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0818-9

Ramsay, M.A. and Stirling, I. 1988. Reproductive biology and ecology of female polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Journal of Zoology London 214:601-624. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-7998.1988.tb03762.x/abstract

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Tom Halla
December 10, 2021 6:05 pm

Andrew Derocher seems more interested in pushing his theory than testing it.

Last edited 1 month ago by Tom Halla
LdB
Reply to  Tom Halla
December 10, 2021 7:57 pm

He is paid to push it by certain NGO’s that use it to get donations … it’s a business which when done by crooks is usually called a shake-down.

Can I get your credit card number for a 12month subscription to save the polar bears?

Last edited 1 month ago by LdB
stewartpid
Reply to  Tom Halla
December 11, 2021 5:07 am

Too funny …. I had noticed last week that the Canadian gov’t had stopped updating their Hudson Bay ice graphs on the Canadian Ice Services site and they still aren’t updating and are now 3 weeks out of date. They don’t want to show the ice increasing … too inconvenient I suppose.
Ostrich like behaviour … or Mickey Mann behaviour … oops now Mickey will sue me 🙁
Ice Products – Product – Product Search – Canadian Ice Service (ec.gc.ca)

And yet they show the ice growing on their animated map Ice concentration map: last 10 days – Canada.ca

Duane
December 10, 2021 6:14 pm

Ice formation can be neither “good” nor bad. Climate can be neither “good” nor “bad”.

Animal species are successful only to the extent that they are adapted to whatever conditions they live in, and can adapt to normal changes that occur in the natural world.

By the way polar bears have existed for millions of years, throughout the entire Pleistocene and Holocene, going through dozens of glaciations and interglacials and minor cycles of warming and cooling within, with wildly varying ice coverages and prevailing temperatures.

So it is painfully obvious that polar bears are highly adaptable to whatever ice conditions may be. Just as are humans and our predecessors who’ve also lived through all those wild gyrations in climate.

Mr.
Reply to  Duane
December 10, 2021 7:18 pm

Yeah but did the poley bears ever catch an epidemic of “self-inflicted stoopid” like the human species is currently suffering?

Rick W Kargaard
Reply to  Duane
December 11, 2021 7:09 am

And they didn’t need any help from feverish hand wringing professors.

goldminor
December 10, 2021 6:39 pm

As usual the explanation for why the late freeze up is occurring can be visually seen on earthnullschool. Warm winds moving north. … https://earth.nullschool.net/#current/wind/surface/level/orthographic=-87.81,61.17,1363/loc=45.390,75.522

Last edited 1 month ago by goldminor
Retired_Engineer_Jim
Reply to  goldminor
December 10, 2021 9:34 pm

But that is because of Climate Change(c)!

Ireneusz Palmowski
Reply to  goldminor
December 11, 2021 3:53 am

comment image

2hotel9
Reply to  goldminor
December 11, 2021 7:54 am

Here in western PA we are already up to 58 and lots of warm air moving north in a hurry. One helluva thunder storm around 3:30 this morning.

John Hultquist
December 10, 2021 8:33 pm

RCP 8.5 is schist, and RCP 6 is a stretch.

Thanks, Susan, for the summary.

griff
December 11, 2021 12:28 am

If you read the accounts of those who monitor and observe the Hudson Bay population, it is clear that the population is in trouble and that changing and recently more variable ice conditions are a factor.

How long can Watts keep running cherry picked ‘nothing to see here’ stories?

Reply to  griff
December 11, 2021 12:37 am

As long there is nothing to see 😀

Oldseadog
Reply to  griff
December 11, 2021 2:29 am

If you read the accounts of those who live with and monitor all Polar Bear populations including Hudson Bay, it is clear that the population is in no trouble and recent variable ice conditions are not relevant.

There, fixed it for you griff.

(I haven’t given links because you never do, you can find them yourself.)

Richard Page
Reply to  griff
December 11, 2021 3:59 am

If you read the accounts of those who will only get paid if the Polar Bears are in trouble, then it is clear that the Polar Bears are in trouble. If, on the other hand, you widen your search to include all scientists and interest groups researching the Polar Bears, then they’re not doing too badly at all – it should be heralded as a conservation success story.

Joao Martins
Reply to  griff
December 11, 2021 4:14 am

If you read the accounts of those who monitor and observe the Hudson Bay population, it is clear that the population is in trouble and that changing and recently more variable ice conditions are a factor … ”

The problem may be in where you learned reading, griff. Bad teachers? School absentee? Dropout?

Reply to  Joao Martins
December 11, 2021 5:05 am

Homeschooling by mother.

Joao Martins
Reply to  Krishna Gans
December 11, 2021 7:26 am

Oh, I see!… Like Greta!…

LdB
Reply to  griff
December 11, 2021 5:09 am

How long can you keep dribbling junk?

What does in trouble even mean .. you have been a bad polar bear sit in corner?

Last edited 1 month ago by LdB
Rick W Kargaard
Reply to  griff
December 11, 2021 7:16 am

That is right, believe what you choose to read and pay no attention to your lying eyes. Oh, okay. Polar bears are not easily observed. Perfect candidates for fairy tale reports, Right along with Antarctic glaciers and great barrier reefs

Rick W Kargaard
December 11, 2021 7:06 am

I am picturing a little old grandma polar bear with her pencil and calendar looking desperately out over the bay while tiny palm trees sprout about her.

I don’t think they would even notice a couple weeks difference in freeze up times and probably only comprehend ice or no ice.

Yes, there is no doubt bears get hungry on occasion but they are known to eat anything presented to them. If it is such a concern, picnic baskets sent by caring individuals would probably carry them through. An adopt a bear program could be organized if one doesn’t already exist. Send a tearful greenie along to hand feed the poor weak bears.

2hotel9
December 11, 2021 7:47 am

An expanding, fat and happy Polar Bear population is the opposite of what leftists such as Derocher want, catastrophe, calamity and death are what they want. That is how they steal more tax dollars that should be going to build gas fired, coal fired and hydro electric generation plants.

Bill Rocks
December 11, 2021 8:49 am

Dr. Crockford,

Thank you for the report and analysis of the western HB fast ice and mammals. Very happy to know that the bears continue to do what the bears will do. I appreciate the professional documentation you provide with your reports.

Bloke down the pub
December 11, 2021 9:58 am

Susan.
OK’ years would have bears leaving the ice by the last week of November, ‘
Shouldn’t that be leaving the shore?

December 11, 2021 2:04 pm

I was amused to discover, after I published this post, that Derocher finally (10 Dec) tweeted the position of WH bears he tagged earlier this year (which he last did on 1 Dec). To explain why some bears are still on shore despite an abundance of ice, he claims that ‘migration depends on nearby ice conditions’, as if there is an apparent lack of ice shown near these bears.

However, he does not even mention that several tagged bears seem to be in open water – they are likely on ice of <50% concentration that his ice chart doesn’t show (because despite his own evidence to the contrary, he insists that bears ‘prefer’ ice >50% concentration).

https://twitter.com/AEDerocher/status/1469505039571947520

[I will update my post with Derocher’s chart]

Richard Page
Reply to  Susan Crockford
December 11, 2021 4:18 pm

I find it rather amusing that Derocher is the best that money can buy, which is the only thing he appears capable of proving.

DeNihilist
December 12, 2021 8:27 am

And like all species, if the ice conditions falter, the bears will, as shown recently here, adjust their diet.

Dan M
December 13, 2021 11:40 am

The WH polar bears are gore-ging themselves on seals as we speak …

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