Category Archives: Life History

Researcher says most S. Hudson Bay polar bears still on the ice, may have to swim home

More than half of Southern Hudson Bay polar bears under study are still out on the thick Hudson Bay sea ice that’s been giving Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers so much trouble.

Figure 6. James Bay polar bear female and her cub during the ice-free period. Notice how fat they both are. Courtesy Ministry of Natural Resources, News Ontario, June 2, 2009.

James Bay polar bear female and her cub on shore. Courtesy Ministry of Natural Resources, News Ontario, June 2, 2009.

As I pointed out a few days ago, most of the ice remaining on Hudson Bay is in the region used by Southern Hudson Bay polar bears. While you wouldn’t know it from the Polar Bears International “Bear Tracker” – which hasn’t been updated since 2 July – on Friday (24 July 2015) Ontario polar bear researcher Martyn Obbard used the PBI website to reveal where his study sample of polar bears are located.

Obbard posted a little essay on PBI’s “Save our sea ice!” website which had, buried near the end, the admission that on 20 July, five out of his nine Southern Hudson Bay females with satellite radio collars were still out on the ice, “far from the Ontario coast.
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Alarm over future summer polar bear habitat disguises how good conditions are right now

Despite the public outcry last week over future polar bear survival, the polar-bears-are-doomed crowd can’t hide the fact that this year, spring sea ice habitat for polar bears worldwide has been excellent.

A polar bear walks on the Arctic Ocean ice Aug. 21, 2009.

This year on 19 July, for example, Hudson Bay had greater than 150,000 square km more sea ice than there was in 2009 on that date (526.2 vs. 368.5 mkm2)(1992 was a particularly cold year and most bears left the ice as late in 2009 as they did in 1992).1 Conditions have also been excellent for pregnant females around Svalbard – Norwegian polar bear researchers recently reported a good crop of cubs this spring.

Hudson Bay breakup July 20 2015_CIS

Worldwide, there was exactly the same amount of Arctic sea ice present on 18 July 2015 as there was back in 2006 (Day 199) – 8.4 mkm2. By 19 July (day 200), 2015 had more ice than 2006 (8.4 mkm2 vs. 8.3).

All this means that recent summer ice melt has not impinged on the spring feeding period that is so critically important for polar bears. So much ice left in early summer means there was lots of sea ice in the spring (April-June), even in the Southern Beaufort Sea.

The only region with sea ice coverage well below the last five years is the Chukchi Sea (see plots below, click to enlarge). So why aren’t we hearing the-sky-is-falling stories about Chukchi bears? Because biologist have already demonstrated that polar bears in the Chukchi do very well even with no summer sea ice.
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New paper finds experts were wrong: polar bears are not “walking hibernators”

A polar bear paper just out in Science concludes the experts were wrong, polar bears are not “walking hibernators” – in summer, they slow down and live off their accumulated fat just like other mammals. Take home message: experts are not infallible and spring fat is critical for polar bear survival over the summer.


This paper presents no compelling evidence that Southern Beaufort polar bears, or those in any other region, lack the ability to survive predicted summer sea ice declines in future decades – although they claim it does. See what you think.
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Tracking polar bears in the Southern Beaufort June 2015 – all 17 bears out on the sea ice

Sixteen females with satellite collars plus one with a glue-on transmitter – down from 17 with collars and 6 with tags last month – all out on the ice during the month of June 2015.

Tranquilized_pb570_S Beaufort March 2014_USGS

Polar bears were captured by USGS biologists in 2014 and 2015 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. The glue-on tags don’t seem to be holding up very well, with only one remaining out of the original eight deployed this spring.
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Polar bear habitat update: many bears on the ice in Hudson Bay, lots of sea ice globally

Polar bear habitat over Hudson Bay was average this week (at 60% coverage), despite the odd pattern of breakup – but the end of spring in the Arctic is only 5 days away and there is still plenty of polar bear habitat in all regions.

Hudson Bay breakup 2015 June 22 and 24_sm

According to the Canadian Ice Service (CIS), there is still more ice in the eastern portion of the bay than usual and much less in the northwest (Fig. 1 below). There is far more ice than average ice in Hudson Strait, the approach to southern Davis Strait.

Figure 1. Hudson Bay sea ice, difference from average at 22 June 2015. Blue is less than average, red is more than average. CIS.

Figure 1. Hudson Bay sea ice, difference from average at 22 June 2015. Blue is less than average, red is more than average. CIS. Click to enlarge.

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Many polar bears cubs seen in Svalbard this year, says Norwegian biologist

Good news from Norway: polar bears around Svalbard are in excellent condition this spring and many females with new cubs have been spotted. This is a marked turn around from conditions just last year.

 Roy Mangersnes / Wildphoto

Roy Mangersnes / Wildphoto

According to a Norwegian news outlet yesterday, Jon Aars (Fig. 1, below), from the Norwegian Polar Institute, confirms that this has been an excellent year for polar bear cubs around Svalbard because there has been abundant sea ice near denning areas on the east coast.

Figure 1. Biologist Jon Aars with a Svalbard cub.

Figure 1. Biologist Jon Aars with a Svalbard cub.

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Same amount of sea ice for Hudson Bay polar bears as 2013, bears still on the ice

Sea ice coverage for Hudson Bay on 14 June converged on levels recorded in 2013, when breakup was slightly later than the average of the last two decades.


There is also more ice over Hudson Bay than there was in 2011, which was an early breakup year (charts for other Arctic regions here, originals here).

Andrew Derocher notes (via twitter) that rather than heading to shore, most of the Hudson Bay bears with satellite tracking collars (7/10) are out on the ice (Fig. 1 below). They appear to be hunting along the ice edge, where they are most likely to find seals.

Update 17 June 2015: Sea ice images for the week 18 June 2015 compared to other years added below, for Hudson Bay and the Beaufort Sea.

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