Study finds robust polar bear population in sea near Alaska

In this undated photo provided by Eric Regehr, polar bears are seen on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Circle. (AP)
Updated 21 November 2018
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Study finds robust polar bear population in sea near Alaska

  • Polar bears are classified as marine mammals because they spend most of their lives on sea ice

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: The first formal count of polar bears in waters between the United States and Russia indicates they’re doing better than some of their cousins elsewhere.
Polar bears are listed as a threatened species because of diminished sea ice due to climate change. But university and federal researchers estimate a robust and abundant population of nearly 3,000 animals in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast, according to a study published Wednesday in Scientific Reports.
“It the near-term, it’s absolutely good news,” said lead author Eric Regehr, who began the project more than a decade ago as a US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and last year joined the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center.
In the longer term, it doesn’t mean the Chukchi Sea bear population will not be affected.
“Polar bears need ice to hunt seals, and the ice is projected to decline until the underlying problem of climate change is addressed,” Regehr said.
The study shows there is variation around the world in the effects of sea ice loss on polar bears, he said Thursday.
“Some subpopulations are already declining while others are still doing OK,” he said.
Polar bears are classified as marine mammals because they spend most of their lives on sea ice. Less sea ice means less productive time to hunt ice seals, more time on shore and longer, energy-sapping swims.
The world’s polar bears are divided into 19 subpopulations, including two in US waters. Besides Chukchi bears, the United States shares the southern Beaufort Sea population with Canada.
Stress in southern Beaufort bears from a loss of sea ice was partly why the United States in 2008 declared polar bears a threatened species.
Fewer cubs were surviving into their second year and adult males weighed less and had smaller skulls, the US Geological Survey found. Researcher Steven Amstrup at the time said the trends were consistent with changes in nutritional status likely associated with declines in sea ice.
A more recent study by USGS research Karyn Rode found that Chukchi bears spend more time on shore and have almost 30 fewer days to hunt seals on ice than 20 years ago, Regehr said. However, that doesn’t appear to have affected the population, he said.
Polar bears have an amazing ability to build fat reserves, Regehr said, and the Chukchi’s abundant seal population apparently allows bears to compensate for the loss of hunting time. The difference with the southern Beaufort was obvious from an airplane, he said.
“It’s visually striking to me, the difference, having worked in both places,” Regehr said.
When ice melts, many Chukchi bears rest on Russia’s Wrangell Island, where they occasionally can find a whale or walrus carcass.
The Chukchi population study used data collected by sampling about 60 polar bears between 2008 and 2016. Some were fitted with GPS transmitters. The data was used in a model designed to estimate population size for highly mobile large carnivores.
Blaine Griffen, an associate professor of biology at Brigham Young University, said the study was good news.
“It’s nice to see that there’s at least one population that’s doing better than others,” he said.
The difference may be geography, he said. The Chukchi Sea has a more extensive continental shelf area with primary productivity that enables the food chain to support seals.
The research agrees with past studies that suggested Chukchi bears would do better than bears elsewhere, Griffen said.


Forget ‘manmade’: Berkeley bans gender-specific words

Updated 49 min ago
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Forget ‘manmade’: Berkeley bans gender-specific words

  • Nothing will be manmade in the liberal city but ‘human-made’
  • Berkeley’s effort to be more inclusive is drawing both praise and scorn

BERKELEY, California: There will be no manholes in Berkeley, California. City workers will drop into “maintenance holes” instead.
Nothing will be manmade in the liberal city but “human-made.” And students at the University of California, Berkeley, will join “collegiate Greek system residences” rather than fraternities and sororities.
Berkeley leaders voted unanimously this week to replace about 40 gender-specific words in the city code with gender-neutral terms — an effort to be more inclusive that’s drawing both praise and scorn.
That means “manpower” will become “human effort” or “workforce,” while masculine and feminine pronouns like “she,” “her,” “he” and “him” will be replaced by “they” and “them,” according to the measure approved Tuesday by the City Council.
The San Francisco Bay Area city is known for its long history of progressive politics and “first of” ordinances. Berkeley was among the first cities to adopt curbside recycling in the 1970s and more recently, became the first in the US to tax sugary drinks and ban natural gas in new homes.
Berkeley also was the birthplace of the nation’s free-speech movement in the 1960s and where protests from both left- and right-wing extremist groups devolved into violence during a flashpoint in the country’s political divisions soon after President Donald Trump’s election.
Rigel Robinson, who graduated from UC Berkeley last year and at 23 is the youngest member of the City Council, said it was time to change a municipal code that makes it sound like “men are the only ones that exist in entire industries or that men are the only ones on city government.”
“As society and our cultures become more aware about issues of gender identity and gender expression, it’s important that our laws reflect that,” said Robinson, who co-authored the measure. “Women and non-binary people are just as deserving of accurate representation.”
When the changes take effect in the fall, all city forms will be updated and lists with the old words and their replacements will be posted at public libraries and the council chambers. The changes will cost taxpayers $600, Robinson said.
Removing gendered terms has been slowly happening for decades in the United States as colleges, companies and organizations implement gender-neutral alternatives.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, changed a Sacramento political tradition by adopting the unofficial title “first partner” instead of “first lady,” saying it’s more inclusive. The change reflected Siebel Newsom’s experience as an actress and filmmaker focused on gender politics and inequality.
But formalizing the shift in the sweeping way that Berkeley is doing is “remarkable and sends a message,” Rutgers University linguistics professor Kristen Syrett said.
“Anytime you’re talking about something where gender is not the issue but you use a gendered term, that immediately sends a message of exclusion, even if it’s a dialogue that has nothing to do with gender,” said Syrett, who recently spearheaded an update to the guidelines on inclusive language for the Linguistic Society of America.
For Hel Baker, a Berkeley home caregiver, the shift is a small step in the right direction.
“Anything that dismantles inherent bias is a good thing, socially, in the grand scheme of things,” the 27-year-old said.
“I don’t, by any means, think this is the great championing for gender equality, but you gotta start somewhere,” Hel added.
Lauren Singh, 18, who grew up in Berkeley, approved of the move, saying, “Everyone deserves to be represented and feel included in the community.”
Not everyone agreed with the new ordinance. Laramie Crocker, a Berkeley carpenter, said the changes just made him laugh.
“If you try to change the laws every time someone has a new opinion about something, it doesn’t make sense. It’s just a bad habit to get into,” Crocker said.
Crocker, 54, said he would like city officials to focus on more pressing issues, like homelessness.
“Let’s keep it simple, get back to work,” he said. “Let’s figure out how to get homeless people housed and fed. He, she, they, it — they’re wasting my time.”