Media and USGS biologist sensationalize current report of a polar bear encounter in Alaska

From Polar Bear Science

Posted on August 12, 2019 |

It’s been a sluggish summer time for polar bear information to hype, so we shouldn’t be stunned native report that polar bears this summer time have descended in town of Kaktovik, Alaska one week sooner than 2017 has morphed into a world story that makes a 2016 analysis report sound like this 12 months’s information, with headlines trumpeting: “polar bear encounters are rising” resulting from an extended open water interval. However, it was reported simply two weeks in the past that Alaska has not had a polar bear assault since 1993.

This can be a notably blatant instance of how the media skew polar bear ‘information’ for public consumption, aided by scientists with a selected message to promote. Not surprisingly, various important information have been omitted of this sensationized account, partly as a result of the polar bear specialist the media consulted left these information out of his assertion.  That is the form of bias displayed by polar bear specialists that I focus on in my new ebook, The Polar Bear Disaster That By no means Occurred.

The impetus for the unique ‘polar bears onshore’ story out of Anchorage (ADN, Saturday, 10 August 2019) was the report resident of Kaktovik had a detailed name with a bear on Monday 5 August: “Polar bear encounters in Kaktovik aren’t new. However they’re taking place a bit sooner than final 12 months.”

“She [Annie Tikluk] was about 6 toes away from the bear, she stated, and it had two paws on her deck. Then a neighbor ran throughout the road and chased the animal off.”

A USGS polar bear knowledgeable who lives in Anchorage was requested to weigh in (my daring):

However this 12 months, experiences of polar bears in Kaktovik are beginning “just a little bit forward of schedule,” stated Todd Atwood, a analysis wildlife biologist who leads the U.S. Geological Survey’s polar bear analysis program.

“We are inclined to see aggregations beginning across the center or third week of August,” stated Atwood, who relies in Anchorage.

The bears make their solution to land from the Beaufort Sea round this time of 12 months and await the return of sea ice. There’s a variety of variation from one 12 months to the subsequent when it comes to when the bears come ashore, Atwood stated. In comparison with 2017, as an illustration, this 12 months is simply a couple of week forward of schedule.”

The ADN story went on to clarify (my daring, hyperlinks in unique):

“Extra important is the change over an extended time frame. The size of the southern Beaufort Sea’s ice soften season — the time between sea ice breakup in summer time and freeze-up within the fall — “has elevated considerably for the reason that late 1990s,” based on a 2016 analysis paper that Atwood co-authored and that the Anchorage Day by day Information reported about when it got here out.

Because the Arctic warms, adjustments in sea ice habitat have coincided with proof that polar bears’ use of land habitat is rising, the analysis discovered.”

So regardless of the unique story clearly stating that Atwood’s work was three years outdated, the subsequent day (11 August 2019) the Related Press out of Anchorage re-jigged the story – “Alaska scientists say polar bear encounters to extend” – to make it sound like Atwood’s research had simply come out and that these had been new outcomes that had simply been made public.

Though there was a hyperlink within the AP story to yesterday’s story concerning the Kaktovik polar bear encounter, there was no hyperlink to the three 12 months outdated research or to any of the three 12 months outdated tales about it. The sensationalized piece additionally added the ‘info’ that Kaktovik “residents have reported [polar bear] sightings as early as Could“.

Atwood’s research from three years in the past (extra on that beneath) discovered that the few Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears that selected to come back to land in summer time between 2010 and 2013 had spent, on common, 36 days longer onshore than they’d within the 1990s. The authors reported no adverse results from this longer time ashore (the truth is, Atwood admitted it might be advantageous) however you wouldn’t know that from yesterday’s AP story, which has been picked up by mainstream information shops throughout North America and around the globe.

Info omitted of those tales

Here’s what I wrote on the Atwood research again in 2016:

Two current research confirmed that whereas extra polar bears got here to land through the ice-free interval within the Southern Beaufort between 2010 and 2013 (and stayed longer than they did within the late 1990s), there have been no adverse results on polar bear well being or survival from spending ~ 2.5 months onshore vs. 1.5 months despite the fact that the bears misplaced weight (Atwood et al. 2016; Whiteman et al. 2015). An analogous outcome got here from work within the Chukchi Sea – much less summer time ice meant extra time on shore for a bigger variety of bears however with out adverse results on well being or survival (Rode and Regehr 2010; Rode et al. 2013, 2014).

An earlier paper on polar bears interested in whale bone piles in Barrow (Heereman and Peacock 2013) discovered that bears visited all by the autumn (beginning in November 2010) and continued into the lifeless of winter (February 2011).

Kaktovik, Alaska (on Barter Island) has been attracting important numbers of polar bears ashore in summer time for the reason that early 2000s (Miller et al. 2006, 2015), as have a couple of different areas. Most whaling at Kaktovik is now executed within the late summer time (September) slightly than the spring or fall (October), partly resulting from sea ice adjustments but in addition as a result of bowhead whale numbers are increased than they’ve been in a century.

Kaktovik residents are adapting to these adjustments by shifting the first season of the hunt earlier in the summertime – and sadly, that has had penalties for polar bears in addition to the individuals. Bears have realized by expertise lately that it might be value their whereas to remain ashore over the summer time slightly than keep on the ice because it retreats.

Here’s what Miller and colleagues (2006: 1) needed to say about these adjustments (my daring):

In 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) started flying aerial surveys alongside the Beaufort Sea shoreline between Cape Halkett and Jago Spit close to Barter Island (Determine 1) through the fall open water interval (September-October) to find out the distribution and abundance of polar bears within the central Beaufort Sea coastal space. Outcomes point out that the bulk (73%) of polar bears noticed in 2000-2004 had been positioned inside 12 km of Barter Island, the place unused parts of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) had been deposited by Kaktovik residents throughout fall whaling.

The inhabitants of Kaktovik was 293 residents in 2000, most of whom are Native (U.S. Census Bureau 2000). Bowhead whale searching has been and continues to be an essential a part of the native tradition and life-style (Jacobson and Wentworth 1982). Latest fall bowhead whale harvests had been first recorded at Kaktovik in 1964; since 1989, two to 4 whales have been harvested yearly (Koski et al. 2005). The bulk (64%) of whales are taken between September 1 and 20 (Koski et al. 2005). Lately, a big pattern in the direction of earlier harvest has occurred, most likely due to improved searching strategies and tools, and maybe additionally as a result of the dimensions of the bowhead inhabitants is rising, and whales could also be extra quite a few close to Kaktovik early within the searching season (Koski et al. 2005).“

Extra on Kaktovik bears right here (and right here), with quotes from previous tales and hyperlinks to extra photos, and on the standing of SB bears right here.

I’ll add that polar bears are identified to go to Kaktovik and different small communities throughout the coast of Alaska always of 12 months, not simply in summer time, and just about the entire bears photographed on shore in Alaska lately have been fats and wholesome. The photograph beneath exhibits a fats grownup feminine and her two fats cubs testing the whale bone pile at Kaktovik in April 2016, a time of 12 months when bears are normally on the ocean ice searching seals:


Atwood, T.C., Peacock, E., McKinney, M.A., Lillie, Ok., Wilson, R., Douglas, D.C., and others. 2016. Speedy Environmental Change Drives Elevated Land Use by an Arctic Marine Predator. PLoS ONE 11(6): e0155932. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155932 pdf right here.

Herreman, J. and Peacock, E. 2013. Polar bear use of a persistent meals subsidy: Insights from non-invasive genetic sampling in Alaska. Ursus 24(2):148–163. Pdf right here.

Miller, S., Schliebe, S. and Proffitt, Ok. 2006. Demographics and Conduct of Polar Bears Feeding on Bowhead Whale Carcasses at Barter and Cross Islands, Alaska, 2002-2004. Alaska Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Research MMS 2006-14, US Dept. of the Inside, Minerals Administration Service, Anchorage. Pdf right here.

Miller, S., Wilder, J. and Wilson, R.R. 2015. Polar bear–grizzly bear interactions through the autumn open-water interval in Alaska. Journal of Mammalogy material/early/2015/09/10/jmammal.gyv140
DOI 10.1093/jmammal/gyv140

Rode, Ok.D., Douglas, D., Durner, G., Derocher, A.E., Thiemann, G.W., and Budge, S. 2013. Variation within the response of an Arctic high predator experiencing habitat loss: feeding and reproductive ecology of two polar bear populations. Oral presentation by Karyn Rode, 28th Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium, March 26-29. Anchorage, AK. Summary beneath, pdf right here.

Rode, Ok.D., Regehr, E.V., Douglas, D., Durner, G., Derocher, A.E., Thiemann, G.W., and Budge, S. 2014. Variation within the response of an Arctic high predator experiencing habitat loss: feeding and reproductive ecology of two polar bear populations. International Change Biology 20(1):76-88.

Rode, Ok. and Regehr, E.V. 2010. Polar bear analysis within the Chukchi and Bering Seas: A synopsis of 2010 discipline work. Unpublished report to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of the Inside, Anchorage. pdf right here.

Whiteman, J.P., Harlow, H.J., Durner, G.M., Anderson-Sprecher, Albeke, S.E., Regehr, E.V., Amstrup, S.C., and Ben-David, M. 2015. Summer time declines in exercise and physique temperature provide polar bears restricted power financial savings. Science 349 (6245):295-298. Supplemental Materials right here. Summary right here.

Like this:

Like Loading…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *