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On walruses

My article on walruses appeared behind the paywall at the Spectator Coffee House blog earlier this week. 

Over the weekend, social media and the newspapers were full of stories of Pacific walruses plunging over sea cliffs to their deaths. Heart-wrenching film of the corpses of these magnificent beasts piled up on the shore have been driving many to tears.

This all came about as the result of the latest episode of Our Planet, the new wildlife extravaganza from Netflix. As is normal for such programmes, the story that accompanies the animal eye-candy is told by Sir David Attenborough and, as is positively compulsory, it is spiced with multiple references to the horrors of global warming. In fact, we are told, it is us who should shoulder the blame for the slaughter of the walruses, because shrinking sea ice caused by climate change forces them to haulout – leaving the water to take refuge on the shore instead.

The programme ends with Attenborough directing viewers to a website run by WWF, the co-producers of the series. It is therefore, in essence, an eight-part, multi-million pound fundraiser.

Which is a pity, because there is now considerable evidence emerging that the story is not quite what it seems.

For a start, as the zoologist Susan Crockford has documented for the GWPF, walrus haul out behaviour may not be related to global warming. In her 2014 paper On the Beach, she cites examples as far back as the 1930s, long before global warming. She also explains that there doesn’t appear to be a strong correlation between sea-ice levels and haulout behaviour.

Nor is the phenomenon of walruses falling to their deaths from sea cliffs new. American TV recorded the same phenomenon in 1994 and the New York Times reported 60 deaths in a single incident in 1996. Attempts were made to install a fence at one site, while another employs rangers whose sole job is to keep the walruses away from the cliffs. At the time, scientists explained that the most likely explanation  was overcrowding at the water’s edge.

Crockford thinks that the footage on the Netflix show comes from a well-documented incident that took place in the village of Ryrkaypiy, in eastern Siberia, in October 2017. September and October are the peak period for walrus haulouts, and there are numerous examples, which date back to the 1960s, of the cliff phenomenon taking place on Wrangel Island, a few hundred kilometres to the north.

However in 2017, as the Siberian Times reported, the colony attracted polar bears that frequent – and indeed at the time terrorise – the area. The bears drove several hundred walruses over the cliffs to their deaths, before feasting on the corpses. They continued to frequent the area right through into the winter.

I’ve been able to show that Crockford’s supposition about the geographical origin of the footage is correct: analysis of the rock shapes in the film and in a photo taken by the producer/director both match archive photos of Ryrkaypiy. The photo was taken on 19 September 2017, during the events described by the Siberian Times.

But whereas the Siberian Times and Gizmodo website, which also reported on the 2017 incident, were both quite clear that the walruses were driven over the cliffs by polar bears, Netflix makes no mention of their presence. Similarly, there is no mention of the fact that walrus haulouts are entirely normal. Instead, Attenborough tells his viewers that climate change is forcing the walruses on shore, where their poor eyesight leads them to plunge over the cliffs.

This is all very troubling as it raises the possibility that Netflix and the WWF are, innocently or otherwise, party to a deception of the public. Exactly who was aware of the presence of polar bears remains unclear, but it seems doubtful that no one at the WWF and the production team was unaware. And given that one of the prime objectives of the show seems to have been to raise funds for WWF, that seems… problematic.

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Reader Comments (73)

Could you name the studies that have proved Mann's Hockey Stick?

Again? The word used was 'replicated', and it would take too long to list all of the work done since 1998 that has confirmed the MBH conclusions (you could always read Dr. Mann's book). But here's a starter for ten

 Robustness of the Mann, Bradley, Hughes Reconstruction of Northern Hemisphere Surface Temperatures: Examination of Criticisms Based on the Nature and Processing of Proxy Climate Evidence

Climatic Change, 85: 85:33-69


Altogether new reconstructions over 1400–1980 are developed in both the indirect and direct analyses, which demonstrate that the Mann et al. reconstruction is robust against the proxy-based criticisms addressed. In particular, reconstructed hemispheric temperatures are demonstrated to be largely unaffected by the use or non-use of PCs to summarize proxy evidence from the data-rich North American region. When proxy PCs are employed, neither the time period used to “center” the data before PC calculation nor the way the PC calculations are performed significantly affects the results, as long as the full extent of the climate information actually in the proxy data is represented by the PC time series

The importance of the geophysical context in statistical evaluations of climate reconstruction procedures

 Climatic Change, 85:71-88. 


One challenge arises from the real, underlying trend in temperatures during the instrumental period. This trend can affect regression-based reconstruction performance in cases where the calibration period does not appropriately cover the range of conditions encountered during the reconstruction. However, because it is tied to a unique spatial pattern driven by change in radiative balance, the trend cannot simply be removed in the method of climate field reconstruction used by MBH on the statistical argument of preserving degrees of freedom. More appropriately, the influence from the trend can be taken into account in some methods of significance testing. We illustrate these considerations as they apply to the MBH reconstruction and show that it remains robust back to AD 1450, and given other empirical information also back to AD 1000.

The US NAS convened a panel to investigate temperature reconstructions and they reported that

The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence that includes the additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions and documentation of the spatial coherence of recent warming described above and also the pronounced changes in a variety of local proxy indicators described in previous chapters.

See also  Juckes et al. 2007,  Lee, Zwiers & Tsao 2008 and Huang, Pollack and Shen 2008. And of course PAGES 2k.

Why is the absence of the MWP in Mann's Hockey Stick a Red Herring?
Was the MWP only regional?

All the evidence points that way.

Is it ok to quote European WEATHER conditions and make comparisons with NASA's Globa ....

No, and that is pretty much the point McIntosh is making.

Apr 15, 2019 at 6:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Messed up HTML ...

A paper on the MWP (or MCA)

Apr 15, 2019 at 6:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Bah, StevieMac has blistered nearly all proxy reconstructions. They are not fit for the task of temperature retrospection.

That said, there has been a lot more natural variation in the recent past than the alarmists will admit.

I say Phil is from Huckley, in Sussex, they've voted the The Piltdown Mann's Crook't Stick's shaft flat, which is a Convenient Untruth. The sillies, for thinking we'd stay fooled.

Apr 15, 2019 at 6:45 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Anybody got the offshore Orca count.

This may well be how the walrus herd is self-selectively culled, particularly if this phenomenon is ancient, as it seems to be. That's highly speculative, and it is not likely deliberate.

Got lotsa walrus?
Let's haul us all off.
Orcas, and Ice Bears, oh my!
Run away now and get high.

Only the most adventurous and foolish perish. Otherwise walruses might rule the world.

Er, why don't they proliferate where it's flat, then, and take over the world? Oh well, there is always something. Maybe drone dragonflies, and mosquito winged camerapersons.

Apr 15, 2019 at 6:56 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

An earlier video about cliff-jumplng walruses. Shame David Attenborough and his producers didn't watch it before broadcasting their nonsense.

Apr 15, 2019 at 9:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

"Messed up HTML ...
A paper on the MWP (or MCA)
Apr 15, 2019 at 6:44 PM | Phil Clarke"
"Apr 15, 2019 at 6:33 PM | Phil Clarke"

Not to worry, just reading your extracts confirmed there irrelevance and why Trump can cancel US Taxpayer funding of Climate Science and the UN's IPCC, without anyone noticing any difference.

Returning to the Thread ..... Apr 15, 2019 at 9:19 PM | DaveS

Thank you! It is a terrible tragedy that Attenborough has been made to look like another of the Hockey Teams gullible idiots. It is a bit tragic for the lumbering whiskered beasts too.

Apr 15, 2019 at 11:15 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Apr 16, 2019 at 1:03 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Dont all of these "papers" use the same data Mann used for his hockey stick? Hardly independent studies are they??

Apr 16, 2019 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Walrus suicides : That 2010 video , doesn't mention Global Warming or ice
"Its bizarre natural behaviour that leads to the deaths of 120 of the 200,000 walruses on the beach."
They considered a number of ideas
Concluded that
' it's just a natural process best left to itself.
Walrus numbers get so high that there isn't enough space on the beach,
.. they've made a path going up, but are not good at coming down.'

I think there is a shock & bait PR trick that primes people.
.. You show people a shocking emotion stirring scene, you bait them with a simple magic answer like "It's climate change", or "he's a sexist" or "the next 20 years are set to get way colder anyway"
.. they believe you and thus primed are ready to donate to your charity/cause.
And won't consider more full colour complex stuff.
.. Maybe it happens accidentally believing that "she's a witch"

Apr 16, 2019 at 1:14 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen


Dont all of these "papers" use the same data Mann used for his hockey stick? Hardly independent studies are they??

No. That's another myth. For example the Juckes et al paper I cited compared the existing (primarily tree ring) reconstructions with borehole data and, after discrediting the McIntyre and McKitrick critiques, concluded

The IPCC 2007 conclusion that “It is very likely that average NH temperatures during the second half of the 20th century were warmer than any other 50-year period in the last 500 years and likely the warmest in at least the past 1300 years” (Solomon et al., 2007) is also supported by our analysis.

That said, there were only so many proxies of good resolution and length available back in 1999 so a replication using no overlapping data would have been challenging. In 2008 Mann and his team published a study with a vastly increased proxy dataset and avoiding the statistical techniques that drew such criticism. The conclusion:

Our results extend previous conclusions that recent Northern Hemisphere surface temperature increases are likely anomalous in a long-term context. Recent warmth appears anomalous for at least the past 1,300 years whether or not tree-ring data are used. If tree-ring data are used, the conclusion can be extended to at least the past 1,700 years, but with additional strong caveats. The reconstructed amplitude of change over past centuries is greater than hitherto reported, with somewhat greater Medieval warmth in the Northern Hemisphere, albeit still not reaching recent levels.

More recently, the PAGES 2K project is an attempt to curate as many good quality proxies as possible over the last 2,000 years. The resulting synthesis is a remarkably good fit to the MBH work from 20 years ago.

Yes, really, it's been 20 years. Time to find something more relevant to discuss.

Apr 16, 2019 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Not to worry, just reading your extracts confirmed their inconvenience

There, FTFY.

Apr 16, 2019 at 5:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Yet more howling from that gift that keeps on giving. You are aware that your beloved Mann has been identified as one of the reviewers who recommended rejection of publication of the original Pages 2K (2013) submission to Science, which ought to tell you something of its 'quality'. And that S Mc (whose critiques of Mann have not been discredited, despite your repeating ad nauseam that they have been) has identified major flaws in Pages 2K (2017)?

Perhaps you were hit by a free-falling walrus as a child.

Apr 16, 2019 at 7:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

We have also reviewed and, in some cases, tested with new analysis, papers (in particular Soon and Baliunas, 2003, MM2003 and MM2005b) which claim to refute that IPCC2001 conclusion and found that those claims were not well supported

From the Juckes paper. Read the full thing for the whole sorry story. In print, scientists tend to the conservative and civil; when someone writes 'not well supported' in a paper it generally means 'trash'.

And that S Mc has identified major flaws in Pages 2K (2017)?

On his own blog, no doubt. I'm sure he finds himself very convincing. Trouble is, over and over again, his blog science has been found wanting, and what he presents as a 'major flaw' turns out to be an insignificant nitpick or an error on his part (for example, when he wrote a long critique implying malpractice by Gergis et al. Turns out the 'auditor' had used a different dataset to the authors he was slating. Ooops. First he ignored it and then he claimed it 'didn't matter'. The kind of thing you can get away with on your own blog).

Steve, I’m horrified by your slipshod work. You did not define what you compare, what dataset used in each case, how data were processed, and what was the reason for that, what limitation there are, what kind of additional information you need to know. Why didn’t you ask me for all the details? You even aren’t ashamed of using information from stolen letters. Do carelessness, grubbiness, dishonourableness are the necessary concomitants of your job? With disrespect…

- Rashid Hantemerov, professional dendrochronologist, commenting at CA on another McI reconstruction. In his defence, McIntyre pointed out that it was 'only a blog article', but then that would apply to pretty much all his stuff, no? Give me a shout when he submits these 'major flaws' to the proper scrutiny.

Apr 16, 2019 at 8:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Give me a shout when he submits these 'major flaws' to the proper scrutiny.
Apr 16, 2019 at 8:59 PM | Phil Clarke

97% of Climate Science has not been submitted to proper scrutiny before being published. Is Rashid Hantemerov a Peer Reviewer of that 97%?

Why did you avoid the context of your quote, it was even discussed here:

Apr 17, 2019 at 1:17 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Apr 12, 2019 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke - I wonder why they continue to use the base line for sea ice extent as that of 1979/80, when the satellite record goes back to 1973?

Could it be that the sea ice extent in 1973 was about what it is, now, and the full information reveals the extent in the time period given might have been unusually high? Surely not, eh?

Records from the 1920s / 30s show that they, too, feared the loss of sea ice, with the accounts suggesting the "loss", then, was even greater than today's "loss". Makes you think, doesn't it....?

Apr 17, 2019 at 7:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

rPhil Clarke - I wonder why they continue to use the base line for sea ice extent as that of 1979/80, when the satellite record goes back to 1973?

Satellite data from Microwave sounder units (MSU) is only available from 1979, it is not perfect but better than other satellite techniques (e.g. infrared) which are subject to interference from clouds etc.

I was not aware of earlier satellite data that reliably showed that the current melt is not highly unusual. Care to elaborate?


Apr 17, 2019 at 9:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Why did you avoid the context of your quote, it was even discussed here:

Context? 'It wasn't really him and if it was he's been got at'? LOL.

As for 'New data from Hantemirov', this is related to the Yamal series, about which McIntyre expressed extreme exasperation, whining that his requests for the data were being refused.

A few days ago, I became aware that the long-sought Yamal measurement data url had materialized at Briffa’s website – after many years of effort on my part and nearly 10 years after its original use in Briffa (2000).

To which Hantemirov responded

Steve has an amnesia. I had sent him these data at February 2, 2004 on his demand.

That's right, next time the Auditor whines about requests for data being 'stonewalled', remember there's a good chance he already has it in his back pocket.

Who will audit the auditor?

Apr 17, 2019 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Care to elaborate?
I have, in many times past. That you seem unaware of that does indicate that the links provided were either not followed by you, or the information contained therein utterly ignored. On that basis, why should I bother digging them out again, now? If I can find the information on the interweb thingy, then I am sure that you can, too (by the way, pretty sure that it was NASA or NOAA, so…). That you most likely won’t speaks volumes.

Apr 17, 2019 at 2:10 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Not only do your so called papers proving Manns godlike awesomeness rely on using the same data that Mann used BUT those who sit in judgement and control what gets peer reviewed and what doesn't all belong to the same Mann Made Global Warming (tm) cult.

Why it's almost as if there is a group of self interested "scientists" acting as gate guardians to ensure nothing inconvenient gets published or only those of the right religion get to review Mann Made Global Warming (tm) papers...which are then offered up as evidence to support Mann Made Global Warming (tm) as you have done here Phileeep.

Apr 17, 2019 at 10:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

This whole story is yet another event showing how good "environmentalists" are at re-cycling.
Scientists in the Arctic are reporting a rare mass migration of thousands of walrus from the ice floes to dry land along Alaska's coast. "It's something that we have never seen before in this area," said Geoff York, of the WWF's global Arctic programme. "As the ice decreases, the walrus are abandoning it earlier and earlier. They are having to swim ashore, or to linger on less suitable drift ice for long periods of time."
As walruses are forced to abandon receding sea ice, they congregate in unprecedented numbers along the shore of the Chukchi Sea. Young walruses who make it to the coast face dangerous and sometimes deadly conditions. Rare WWF footage captures a vast walrus "haul out" along the Russian coast; and the tragic consequences of a walrus stampede on Alaska's Icy Cape.

A video recorded on 21 September shows some of the more than 100 walrus carcasses that were spotted on September 14 by US Geological Survey (USGS) researchers flying near Icy Cape, southwest of Barrow, Alaska. That was just two days after the third lowest Arctic sea ice minimum on record. According to the preliminary government report, a total of 131 carcasses, mostly calves and yearlings, were found. The report’s conclusion was that “the cause of death was consistent with trampling by other walruses.” Days prior to that sighting, a massive heard of walruses was seen congregated on the shore.

Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary
The WISGS was established in 1960 to protect one of the largest terrestrial haulout sites in North America for Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens).
Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary, a group of seven craggy islands and their adjacent waters located in northern Bristol Bay, is world famous for its unique summer concentrations of walruses.

Best known among the Walrus Islands is Round Island, where each summer large numbers of male walruses haul out on exposed, rocky beaches. Round Island is one of four major terrestrial haulouts in Alaska; the others are Capes Peirce (Togiak NWR), Newenham (Togiak NWR), and Seniavin (near Port Moller). Walrus return to these haulouts every spring as the ice pack recedes northward, remaining hauled out on the beach for several days between each feeding foray. Up to 14,000 walrus have been counted on Round Island in a single day

Check the web cam: This clip would provide some great stills of apparently dead walrus.

"This cam overlooks Main Beach on the northern tip of Alaska's Round Island, and it's the perfect spot to watch Pacific walruses come ashore to "haul out".

What is a haul-out?
A haul-out is a place on land where walruses gather between feeds. This long, concave beach on Round Island is particularly well-suited as a haul-out--as many as 14,000 walruses come here in a single day!

The walruses on this live cam are all male. After mating in the water in the winter months, these males return to Round Island and remain here for the summer months, while females and their young migrate north, often alongside (or resting on top of!) the receding sea ice"

Apr 18, 2019 at 12:00 PM | Unregistered Commenterdennisa

Arctic ice is up
Antarctic ice is up
Polar bears are up

May 4, 2019 at 1:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterEternalOptimist

Goo goo g'joob.

[Translation: Its warmer on the beach]

May 15, 2019 at 10:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterI am the walruss

You're back, your Grace! That's made my day...

May 21, 2019 at 4:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterGixxerBoy

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