ARCTIC SEA ICE –Ice Traps Narwhals–

One thing that has fascinated me, in my study of sea-ice, is how swiftly vast areas can freeze over. This is apparent from many sources.

The captains of whaling ships, tempted north by whale’s habit of hunting in the rich ecosystem that exists at the very edge of the ice, sometimes appear like cowards for turning tail and fleeing the refreeze far before the whales chose to depart. (You might think whales would know best when to depart, for they suffocate when trapped under ice). However this choice does not seem so foolish once you understand larger whales could break up through a foot of ice, (with smaller beluga whales following and using the air-holes big whales created), while, without a strong following wind, a sailing craft could be bogged down and halted by a skim of ice only an inch thick. And despite all precautions, the ice formed so swiftly some years that whaling ships, and sometimes entire fleets of ships, were caught by the ice, resulting in some remarkable stories of survival.

The O-buoy cameras captured the refreeze on several occasions, and it always was remarkable how quickly it occurred. One day the buoy would be bobbing in open water, and then suddenly there would be a lot of slush swiftly transformed to solid ice.

The refreeze happens so swiftly I’ve taken to calling it a “flash freeze”.  The phenomenon is particularly striking in the vast but relatively shallow waters of Hudson Bay.  Several times I’ve made Alarmists look silly by drawing them into a sort of a trap, pointing out the open waters of Hudson Bay in late November and getting them to claim the open water is a sign of Global Warming; then the entire bay freezes over even as the discussion continues, (because some debates go on and on and on, for days, at some websites.)

Last year the jet stream resulted in south winds, and the freeze was late on Hudson Bay, but this year sees north winds (caused by the same looping jet that results in less ice in Bering Strait). Below is a comparison of the ice on the two years, with the lilac hue representing ice roughly a foot thick, which is enough for polar bears to walk on. (2016 to left; 2017 to right).

 

To me a change in the first formation of sea-ice by weeks doesn’t mean much. Back in the early history of the fur trade there are records of years when the sea-ice formed very late, followed by years when the Hudson Bay post could not be resupplied, for the ice was so thick and the summer so cold that the sea-ice never melted.  The change of the past two years is merely indicative of natural variation. However for some Alarmists the fact that the ice formed earlier this year causes deep depression, for they feel the change should be in one direction to be a true “Death Spiral”. Instead they see a dead spiral.

Slinky tangled 8532040475_67e4f48a27_b

A depressed human mind clicks into problem-solving mode, which in some cases turns Alarmists into Skeptics, but in other cases causes Alarmists to look further afield to seek verification of their belief.

One “verification” I have heard involved the suggestion that such variations have increased, due to Global Warming, and this is proven by the fact that narwhals, which are adapted to the Arctic, are “now being trapped” by the “changed” formation of ice. I haven’t yet heard the claim this fall, but fully expect it, because the formation of ice in Hudson Bay was “ahead of normal” while the formation of ice in Foxe Basin to its north was “later than normal”. To have waters in escape-routes freeze before waters further north creates the conditions that cause entrapment.

Narwhal 3 hudson-bay-weekly-departure-from-normal-2017-nov-20

In actual fact, the cause of below normal ice-formation to the north is likely not because the ice didn’t form ahead of schedule, but rather because howling north winds blew the newly formed ice away from shore, forming a polynya of open water. It is unlikely whales could even get to such open water, not only because sea-ice lies in the way, but also because they aren’t stupid. (Also polar bears are not endangered by such polynyas; they simply ride the sea-ice, when it blows away from shore, though mothers with cubs are more prone to keep their cubs on shore. Also some older males, who are usually first to move out to sea, perhaps are savvy to gales, and in no hurry to head out when winds howl from the north.)

Whales do become entrapped, despite their natural wisdom, and it usually involves a field of pack-ice that formed in the north moving south across the mouth of a bay.  As Narwhals live to be fifty, likely the older whales know enough to avoid such entrapment, but even they can be trapped by once-every-hundred-year conditions they’ve never seen before. Old reports tell of a thousand narwhals being entrapped in Disko Bay in 1915 (which is too early for Global Warming to be a cause).

All the same, an entrapment of narwhals does tend to excite the Alarmist media, leading to claims Global Warming is to blame. Here is a Canadian article from two summers ago:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/unicorn-of-the-sea-1.3718732

Rather than becoming upset by such blather, I have found it rewarding to simply do the fact-checking that the editors used to do, but now seemingly are too lazy (or politically invested) to do. Often I find myself going on voyages from my armchair, seeing sights I’ve never seen before, and learning wondrous things. The photographs alone can be strikingly beautiful.

Narwhal 4 narwhal

While there is an unspoken insinuation, in the above article, that the narwhals  in the above picture are entrapped, I can find no statement that they actually were. Apparently is was a picture “from files”. Narwhal are superbly adapted to life among ice floes, and there is no indication their populations are endangered. However the researcher in the above study wanted to learn more about the narwhal’s horn. (And who will pay for such study? Not most businessmen. However there are heaps of money spent on Global Warming, as long as you promote its reality.)

The narwhal’s “horn” is actually a single tooth, usually seen only in males, but also in 15 % of females (in a few cases they have two). Like most teeth they have a nerve in the middle. In the narwhal’s case the nerve is highly developed. What is it sensing? Some have suggested it may amount to a sixth sense, able to detect salinity (which increases and decreases as sea-ice freezes and thaws). What is even more interesting is the idea (which could be balderdash) that when male narwhal tap their horns together it has nothing to do with male rivalry, but rather is a way of exchanging information gathered by this sixth sense.

Do you see what I mean about the wondrous ideas you can chance upon from an armchair? I also learned that Vikings could make a fortune by harpooning a narwhal, because, a thousand years ago, the horns were worth more than their weight in gold. (This alone justifies the existence of the Greenland colony, even when the farms became unprofitable. )

To return to the subject of entrapment, they do occur, and are a boon to those who stand to profit. That tends to be polar bears, who can grow so fat from clawing and hauling the whales up onto the ice and gorging on them that their bellies drag on the ground. Also men stand to profit. During the entrapment of 2008 off Pond Inlet, the bureaucrats involved were smart enough to see the whales were doomed and going to die whether they were “harvested” or not, and waived ordinary quotas of around 130 narwals, allowing over 200 extra whales to be harvested from the entrapment. (As the local population of narwhal was 20,000, this did not constitute serious over-hunting.) This boon was shared with others in the Inuit community, (though I imagine some tree-huggers to the south were horrified, and felt an ice-breaker should have been deployed to free the whales), (unless they themselves had to pay for such a rescue).

http://www.nunatsiaqonline.ca/stories/article/Hundreds_trapped_by_ice/

Though such entrapment is awful, if you are a narwhal, they are apparently a fact of life, like car crashes on super-highways are for humans.

Narwhal 6 A_polar_bear_(Ursus_maritimus)_scavenging_a_narwhal_whale_(Monodon_monoceros)_carcass_-_journal.pone.0060797.g001-A

The pity is that Alarmist media cannot seem to educate the public, and doesn’t do a little reading-up on the subject, but rather seems determined to horrify. Horror is not helpful, unless your intent is to herd people with a sort of bullying. To paraphrase FDR, in truth we have nothing to be horrified about but horror itself.

In some cases I don’t blame some scientists for promoting their own area of interest by making it seem more important than it actually is. However when scientists hurt other scientists for bringing up points which suggest their area of interest is not as important as they suggested (as may very well be the case with Global Warming) I think they are stepping over the line, and have left the bounds of civilized behavior.

This was recently the case when a group of scientists attacked Susan J. Crockford, suggesting she had no business talking about polar bears. In actual fact she is a highly qualified zoologist who has long studied and written about arctic wildlife, including polar bears. One scientist who attacked her was Michael Mann, who hasn’t studied polar bears very much at all, beyond their status as a political icon, yet who has himself written papers containing data that caused them to be soundly debunked. He needs to clean up his own work before criticizing others.

A fine example of Susan J. Crockford’s work actually involves the entrapment of narwhals, and can be found here:

Narwhal and beluga ice entrapment is natural – not caused by global warming

One thing I notice about Susan’s posts is how careful she is to give references for every point she makes, and all data she uses. She is a good example of fact-checking which puts me to shame, and should put the media to even greater shame.

Another thing I notice is that in her posts “comments are closed”. I think she doesn’t want to spend time moderating the comments likely to appear, or to deal with internet “trolls”, whom I know, from personal experience, can be nasty, and can draw you into debate that is fairly useless because they have no real interest in what you are saying. (I myself sometimes get a sort of pleasure in battling such trolls, but I can understand anyone who doesn’t have time for it.) Susan gets enough grief from climate scientists, and has no need to seek extra grief from trolls.

A last thing I note is that her posts do have a tab for “tips and notes”, and I know that if I write a polite letter I will get a polite response. (In my case she kindly has pointed out my factual blunders, which I am grateful for.  The pity is that her fellow scientists are not equally grateful for her sterling work.)

In the end it is likely we will not often receive the kindness we crave, from our fellow man. Such kindness is a beautiful rarity on this planet, and if I don’t receive any on a gloomy day I try to give some. Also I find that if I simply go out and study what our Creator has created I see beauty, and that gift is a beautiful kindness I don’t feel I’ve earned, and I accept it with gratitude. There are Christmas gifts all around us.

Narwhal 5 Pod_Monodon_monoceros

 

 

 

 

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