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Polar Bears Are Coming To Town

October 16, 2015

By Paul Homewood 

  

h/t Joe Public

 

image

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34490185

 

Joe draws my attention to what is actually, and surprisingly, quite an objective piece on polar bears from the BBC.

Joe’s objection is this:

 

ScreenHunter_2859 Oct. 16 11.04

 

Why is the BBC using WWF propaganda, and worse still labelling it as “facts”?

 

 

However, the article itself gives a totally different story. Some highlights:

 

 

For 15 years, Irish anthropologist Martina Tyrrell has studied the relationship between humans and animals in Arviat, an Inuit community on the west coast of Hudson Bay, where the townspeople are increasingly having to cope with a large and dangerous visitor – the polar bear.

It’s a Sunday afternoon in mid-October. I’m standing near the cemetery at the eastern end of Arviat, with a handful of other people. All eyes are fixed on the newly formed sea ice where a polar bear bellyflops into the sea, hauls itself back on to the broken ice, and bellyflops again…..

 

Inuit men and women, accustomed to close encounters with polar bears, seem to be no less in awe of this creature than I am. There are gasps of delight at the bear’s antics, and informed discussion about its age, size and sex – and the reasons why it is behaving like this.

People and polar bears have always lived side-by-side in this part of the world but in the past it was rare for bears to enter the town. Now, every summer and autumn, it’s becoming an uncomfortable part of everyday life…….

 

Polar bears tower over humans, sometimes measuring as much as 12 feet from nose to tail. But Inuit believe that humans and bears have much in common. When bears rear up on their hind legs to sniff the air, to play, to attack or defend themselves, they resemble two-legged humans. And like Inuit, bears are at home on both sea ice and land. At sea they hunt the same marine mammal species for sustenance – humans and bears are rival predators at the top of the food chain.

For Inuit, these similarities suggest a close relationship. Bears are powerful spiritual beings that, in mythology, interact with everyone from the most powerful shamans to the most defenceless orphans. Arviat elder Johnny Karetak once told me that bear attacks on humans are neither arbitrary nor random. "Bears attack down the family line, like a curse," he said. "The bears would look out for one particular person. They knew him well."

 

Over the past decade, however, encounters have been on the increase. Camping south of the community in summer is no longer safe, and autumn berry picking – an important subsistence activity usually undertaken by women and children – is now fraught with danger. Bears increasingly wander the streets of Arviat, particularly in late autumn.

At this time of year, regular announcements of bear sightings are made on local community FM radio, schools are sometimes closed early and the usually lively streets are eerily quiet. Halloween trick-or-treating, once so wild and fun-filled, has been all but wiped out, for fear of unwanted encounters not with ghosts or demons but with wandering bears.

What is driving this change in the polar bears’ behaviour?

Many Arviarmiut blame polar bear tourism in neighbouring Churchill – 250km to the south – for encouraging the animals to look for food in human settlements.

 

A map showing Arviat, Churchill and Greenland

 

But there are other theories. Some Inuit think the bear population in the region is growing. Many scientists, on the other hand, put the blame on habitat loss – according to this theory it’s the desperation of hungry bears facing decreased ice seasons in a rapidly warming Arctic that leads them to approach the town. They have always gathered on the coastline at this time of year, awaiting the formation of the sea ice that is their winter hunting ground, but usually at a greater distance.

Whatever the cause, Arviarmiut have had to get used to sharing their community with growing numbers of large, dangerous and unpredictable carnivores. Many towns in the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut are in the same position – Clyde River, Hall Beach and Resolute Bay have all reported problems in the past couple of years.

In Arviat, things reached a critical point four years ago.

Between 2010 and 2011, 11 polar bears were killed by Arviarmiut defending life or property. So, in 2011, with financial support from WWF (Canada), local hunter Leo Ikakhik was hired as a full-time polar bear monitor. Leo patrols the town, responds to sightings, and discourages polar bears through the use of spotlights and bangers. In addition, many homes have been provided with sealed steel bins for storing frozen meat, which was previously stored on roofs in sub-zero temperatures, and electric fences have been erected around sled dog teams. As a result of these measures, defence kills have all but ceased.

But a number of bears are also killed each year by hunters.

Under the 1973 International Agreement for the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat, hunting quotas were introduced in communities across the Canadian Arctic. Each Inuit community can now hunt a certain number of bears each year.

Prior to this, between six and 12 bears were killed by Arviarmiut each year. Under the quota system, this figure rose to 15 bears per year through the 1980s, 20 in the 1990s, and peaked at 22 bears per year in 2005. For reasons that are as much to do with politics as conservation, since 2005 the quota has rapidly declined – down to three in 2009 and eight in 2014. This has coincided with the increased numbers of bears in the vicinity of the town and many Arviarmiut argue that the protection of bears seems to be taking precedence over the protection of Inuit children.

The quota is distributed by lottery, and the recipients have a 48-hour window in which to conduct a bear hunt. If anyone fails in his or her attempt, then the next person on the list gets a chance, and another 48-hour hunting window. The system carries on until the quota is filled. But while bear hunting carries great honour, and the families of successful hunters throw feasts in order to share the meat widely with the community, there are those who find the quota system disrespectful to bears.

Respect for animals lies at the heart of Inuit hunting culture. Animals such as caribou, beluga whales, and ringed and bearded seals "give themselves" to hunters who prove their generosity by widely sharing meat and skins, and who prove their humility by not bragging or gloating about their hunting prowess. But the quota system, the 48-hour window of opportunity and the scramble to hunt a bear all run counter to the respect that many Inuit believe polar bears deserve and that all other animals (none of which are subjected to a similar quota system) are accorded in the hunt.

Taking a cue from some other communities, in the mid-1990s a small portion of the Arviat quota was diverted to trophy hunting. For 12 years, wealthy Americans (and a few from other countries) came to the town each November to hunt. They paid eye-watering amounts of money for the opportunity to add a polar bear to their trophy rooms back in Texas, Michigan, California, and elsewhere. Local hunters worked as guides, tracking bears for these wealthy visitors and taking care of them during their time in the Arctic.

The relatively large sums of money earned during 10 days of guiding proved a godsend to many families. Invariably, it was reinvested into snowmobiles, rifles, boats and outboard motors and the other expensive equipment necessary to hunt the caribou, seals and beluga whales on which Inuit rely for food. This limited trophy hunt benefited vast extended families.

But in 2008, polar bear trophy hunting came to an abrupt end when the US listed polar bears as "threatened" under its Endangered Species Act. This meant that US hunters could no longer take their trophies home from Canada. Having relied on that November income for more than a decade, many Arviarmiut were at a loss.

It was then that some branched out into ecotourism, organising sight-seeing tours, and often hiring the same experienced hunters who had previously guided trophy hunters. These men now help visitors shoot polar bears with cameras rather than rifles. Eco-tourists do not bring in as much revenue as the deep-pocketed trophy hunters, but there are more of them, and they provide employment for a greater part of the year.

 

So what do we learn from all of this?

 

1) There is nothing unusual at all about polar bears around this area in summer. What seems to have changed is that there are more of them, and they appear less afraid of approaching the settlement.

2) Polar bear and eco tourism is on the increase, thus encouraging the bears to look for food in settlements. As we have seen elsewhere, such encouragement tends to reduce the animals’ fear of humans.

3) Many less bears are shot than used to be, and in particular trophy hunting has stopped.

 

Given this background, it seems hardly surprising that more bears are coming closer to the village.

 

But what about the melting Arctic, I hear you say!

Well, according to the Canadian Ice Service, sea ice in the Hudson Bay area has actually been above normal for most of this year.

 

20151012180000_CVCSWCTHB_0008521069

http://iceweb1.cis.ec.gc.ca/Prod/page3.xhtml

 

And although it was unusually mild in 2010, temperatures in the last couple of years are back to where they have been for the last 80 years.

 

station

http://data.giss.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/gistemp/show_station.cgi?id=403719130000&dt=1&ds=12

 

 

Perhaps the BBC would like to source its facts from me in future!

6 Comments
  1. johnmarshall permalink
    October 16, 2015 10:52 am

    BBC telling the envoronmental truth? That would be a change.

  2. October 16, 2015 3:29 pm

    From what I recall reading, polar bears have been around for hundreds of thousands of years and thus have survived at least several of the previous warm interglacial periods. I’ve also read there is good evidence that each of the previous four interglacials had temperatures of 2C to 4C higher than the current interglacial and also had long periods where the summer arctic was nearly ice free. So no worries from supposed or possible global warming here.

  3. October 16, 2015 4:55 pm

    You and Susan Crockford should join forces.

  4. October 17, 2015 4:23 am

    That BBC Swansea Bay Report ends “Source: Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd”
    So it has to be breaking the BBC rules as it is basically a Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd PR sheet with a BBC stamp on it. ….is the comment I made yesterday

    here’s a graphic https://stewgreen.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/bbcswansea.jpg
    stored on my WP blog https://stewgreen.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/test/

  5. October 24, 2015 8:28 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections and commented:
    “Some Inuit think the bear population in the region is growing….

    Prior to [the 1973 International Agreement for the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat, under which hunting quotas were introduced in communities across the Canadian Arctic], between six and 12 bears were killed by Arviarmiut each year. Under the quota system, this figure rose to 15 bears per year through the 1980s, 20 in the 1990s, and peaked at 22 bears per year in 2005. For reasons that are as much to do with politics as conservation, since 2005 the quota has rapidly declined – down to three in 2009 and eight in 2014. This has coincided with the increased numbers of bears in the vicinity of the town and many Arviarmiut argue that the protection of bears seems to be taking precedence over the protection of Inuit children.”

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