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.


French couple tie knot in yellow-vest themed wedding

Updated 11 December 2018
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French couple tie knot in yellow-vest themed wedding

  • The couple met a few weeks ago at a roadblock protest
  • They held the wedding at another roadblock at a nearby tolling station

DUBAI: Out of the madness of the Yellow Vests protests raging across Paris has sprung hope in the form of newlywed bliss.

After having met less than a month ago during a yellow vest roadblock in the Occitanie commune of Tarbes, two strangers, known only as “Chouchoune” and “Coco bel œil”, decided to tie the knot in a bizarre yellow-vest themed wedding ceremony, local media reported.

On Saturday, as violent protests broke out across the country, the couple held an outdoor wedding ceremony during a roadblock at a tolling station in nearby Séméac. The bride wore a tailor-made neon-yellow dress made from the reflective vests, and donned a crown of yellow flowers, while the groom wore a full suit of the reflective neon material.

Pictures of the wedding were posted to Twitter.

200 yellow-vest-clad guests attended the ceremony as the head of Tarbes’s gilets jaunes group presided over the ceremony. She pronounced the couple married whilst wearing a tricolor wig in the colors of the French flag, French daily La Depeche du Midi reported.

Given the roadblocks they’re currently taking part in, the couple’s honeymoon consisted of a “romantic” motorcycle tour around a nearby roundabout.