Nikita Osyanikov, the top polar bear researcher in Russia, has made a rare media appearance to declare that the ice situation has already led to increased shipping and a decline in polar bears. He states that not only a warming climate but poaching due to the bears’ longer season on-land and economic development primarily ship traffic and icebreakers are severely threatening russia’s bears.
He believes that the Chukchi population may have declined from around 4,000 bears to somewhere in the range of 1,700, a scary figure from a researcher whose opinion holds a lot of weight.
He also observes that females are now being forced to den off-shore on drifting pack ice. Several studies have shown that female polar bears denning on ice have a much lower birthrate (possibly half of bears denning on land) and a more difficult time raising their newborn cubs. Hopefully, the Russian bears can adapt to minimal snow cover in the same way that Churchill’s bears have by denning into peat banks along lakes and creeks but it is hard to say.
In fact, it is hard to say much of anything about Russia’s bears as there has been little research activity relating to them other than Osyanikov’s stay on Wrangel Island. Gut feeling tells me that the combination of Russian attitudes toward wildlife vis a vis industry and military development is that things are not going to turn out well.
For all the zoos looking for bears for their burgeoning exhibits, this may be a good place to turn as opposed to ‘saving’ Churchill bears as these bears may truly be extinct within a quarter century. It is an expensive prospect but, in my mind, worth the effort to save that gene pool.
Then again, in 1938, the arctic ice pack was reported to have reached a record low with ‘most of Svalbard and the Siberian coast’ reported as ‘ice-free’. By 1950s, much of this ice had recovered and by 1975, Siberia once again set a record for heavy ice coverage.
Well, I posted this before I saw another article with statements by Eric Regehr about the Chukchi population being stable… but before I got online to correct it, I was already corrected by my friend Susan at polarbearscience.com… sigh, busted. The comment is below…
The comment does end with… ‘What’s up with these two guys?’
Well, all I can say about Regehr is that I liked his papers when I read them…
Nikita Osyanikov, well, you will have to forgive me this one. The guy walked around Wrangel Island for years with only a stick, and to me, that’s cool. He came up to Churchill once, hung out with my buddy Dennis at the polar bear lodge – he seemed like a bad-ass… that was back when I was a full-on moss-hugger though, maybe I was wrong.
When Osyanikov says something in the media (which I don’t see him do too often…), I kind of believed it, like the way its easier to believe an Inuk hunter when they say there are more polar bears now as opposed to a plus or minus number spit out from a computer based on bears chased by helicopters… I kind of believe things are a bit effed over there, but who knows.
The only thing we do know is that we don’t really have any idea how many bears there were in the Chukchi Sea population… The best long-term data is on western Hudson Bay and Beaufort Sea, after that Southern Hudson Bay, Svalbard and Lancaster Sound have some usable baseline information… the rest of Canada’s polar bear sub-populations? Baseline data based only on radio-collared females… that’s it. So, two of about 20 sub-populations around the world that we actually have long-term data on. Crazy, huh?
Baseline data in Russia? Nikita Osyanikov. Take it for what you will.
Besides, ‘I heard’ is pretty much like 30 years of baseline data in the north… so I’m technically in the clear.