IBA Blog – Day one

06/13/16 Anchorage

The International Association for Bear Research and Management has begun meeting with concurrent tracks on Polar Bears and bear watching. Johanna and I split it up, with me taking the Polar Bears and her the bear watching, which included a discussion of how intelligent bears are.

One important fact about Polar Bears needs to be kept in mind – at the present time the worldwide population of Polar Bears is at or close to its historic high.

However. Word from Canada is that the Polar Bears of Hudson Bay are shrinking. Male and female, in weight and length, the trend graphed out is entirely linear. “At this rate,” said one grad student, “things will eventually get really easy for us because Polar Bears will be the size of chipmunks.” (That’s a joke.) This may be related to prey availability, because seal numbers have been declining similarly. Hudson Bay is a picture of the future in a sense, because it’s entirely ice free in the summer, and reliably ices up in the winter.

The U.S. Geological Service’s Polar Bear team had a great deal of research to share. One item was a global survey of how old females with cubs are – that turns out to be the definition of a generation, and it has now been established at about 11.5 years – quite a bit shorter than the 14 years Steve Amstrup’s team estimated when the did the science for the Bush administration which resulted in a “threatened” listing. Amstrup said in his public lecture tonight that the shorter estimate has implications for such listings, including the IUCN’s Red List for bears. Other scientists presented evidence that a number of the 19 Polar Bear sub-populations might qualify now for a “vulnerable” designation on the Red List.

Red List keeper Dave Garshelis was my guest on Talk of Alaska this week and will give a public lecture Wednesday night.

During the storytelling Thursday night, Bill Sherwonit talked about his deep conviction that he does not need to fear bears, just be respectful and keep trying to understand them. That story is available on this website. Today Jim Wilder presented a survey of documented attacks by Polar Bears. In recorded history there are 73 of them. However, in recent years, most (80%) of the attacks have been predatory, often subadult bears that are very hungry and on shore. That, he said, “is only going to get worse, as more bears are forced ashore.”

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