Saturday, December 08, 2007


Tales of a Vanishing Population

Sooo cute! and scientists tell us that they are endangered. Here are some tidbits from a fascinating little article.

[The polar bear is the] only predator that will actively stalk a human.


Dennis Compayre raises bushy grey eyebrows as he listens to the environmentalists predict the polar bear's demise. "They say the numbers are down from 1,200 to around 900, but I think I know as much about polar bears as anyone, and I tell you there are as many bears here now as there were when I was a kid..."


Flying into Churchill, the weather seems cold enough.
If minus 5C means the greenhouse effect is upon us, heaven knows what it was like before.
According to my taxi driver, however, the seasons have changed, and by rights it should be a whole lot colder.
"Last week, it was minus 20C, but now it's suddenly warmed up again, and not long ago that never happened," he informs me.
In Churchill, the effects of this odd upsurge in temperature are clear.
By this time of year, Hudson Bay has usually refrozen and the bears are beginning to slide off to hunt seals on the fringe of the ice-sheet.
After freezing briefly, however, it has now melted again, and so the bears are still very much among us.

Although hard to find, as opposed to the minimum ice NASA photos you couldn't escape last Summer (and attached here as well) here is a three week old photo of the Arctic ocean showing a very rapid, indeed record recovery (but not complete recovery) of the sea ice in Autumn. I'll wait to the end of April to see the end of Winter extent of the sea ice. We'll see if it's abnormally small.

The guy in Churchill, Canada says it's been warmer than he remembers, who am I to argue? The other guy in the story says there are as many polar bears as ever, who are you to argue?

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"The other guy in the story says there are as many polar bears as ever, who are you to argue?"

According to this article published in Canada's The Globe and Mail newspaper on November 7, 2006, the Canadian Wildlife Service did a study that confirms that there are fewer polar bears in the area than there used to be, using figures that close to what the "other guy in the story" approximated. He must have read this article. To quote:

"In the last few months, a major survey by the Canadian Wildlife Service has found that the polar bear population in western Hudson Bay, an area that stretches from Rankin Inlet to the Ontario-Manitoba border, has dropped significantly. According to the study, there were 1,194 bears in the region in 1987, and only 935 in 2004, a 22-per-cent decline."

I don't know about you, but I'm more inclined to side with a scientific study carried out by the Canadian Wildlife Service than with "the other guy in the story," because he only has an opinion that is not grounded in empirical research.

I honestly don't know enough about the global warming debate to form an opinion about what's causing the decline in numbers, but it can't be argued that there are definitely fewer polar bears.

A couple other tidbits from that article:

" Michael Goodyear, executive director of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, says he's shocked, at times, by the attitudes of some local people to climate change. Many people who know the land well, hunters and trappers, say it's just another of earth's cycles, he says.

His response is that things are changing much more rapidly than they did historically.

The ice on Hudson Bay, for example, breaks up almost three weeks earlier today than it did 30 years ago, he said.

"This is a big problem for the polar bears," Mr. Goodyear said. Once on land, the bears can no longer catch seals, and must fast through the summer months.

"If the ice breaks up three weeks earlier, the polar bears are forced ashore here in western Hudson Bay three weeks earlier, and that's bad for their overall health."

Friesen, Joe. "Can balmy Churchill live with new climate?;
Global warming threatens polar bears, but could also be a boon to struggling port." The Globe and Mail. 7 November 2006: A3. LexisNexis Academic: News. 8 December 2007.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Do they allow hunting of the polar bears in northern Manitoba?
According to Province of Manitoba | Manitoba Conservation and Ecosystem Protection Branch

* Polar bears have historically always had some form of protection in Manitoba since they are wildlife within the meaning of The Wildlife Act, ie., wild by nature in Manitoba.
* Hunting and killing of polar bear was first prohibited in 1949 when hunting was limited to bona fide residents of the Hudson Bay coastal area.
* In 1954, natives were prohibited from selling or otherwise disposing of polar bears or parts thereof and any person other than a native was prohibited from being in possession of a polar bear or any part thereof.
* In 1963, the polar bear was listed as Big Game under Division 1 of the Act. This listing occurred primarily to be consistent with other large mammals that have usually been viewed as being a big game species. Manitoba has never had a sport hunting or trapping season for polar bears despite this classification.
* In 1991, the status of the species in Schedule A to the Act was changed from Big Game to Protected Species. This change in status did not confer any additional protection, but was intended to convey that this was not a huntable species in Manitoba. The change was also consistent with the interprovincial, national and international status of the species.
Must have been a different population effected by hunting. I'll follow up. Thanks for the info.
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