CBC reported this morning that a polar bear was shot last Friday (18 December) at the dump in Moose Factory, Ontario – long past the date when bears in Southern Hudson Bay are usually out on the ice. But a single bear in trouble does not spell catastrophe for the species or the local population: how many times does this need to be said?
Claims of “almost no ice” seem a bit disingenuous, since this seems to be the only bear caught in this situation (if there are others, no one has reported it): other bears appear to have either made use of the ice that was present (see map below) or walked north until they found more ice. This bear (picture below) seems to have decided that the fare on land might do for a while longer, which suggests he’s either a subadult bear (with little experience) or an old one – looks like the former to me in the picture below but the report doesn’t say.
Highlight of this morning’s short report:
“The sight of a polar bear scrounging in the Moose Factory dump last Friday [Dec. 18] was very unusual, a polar bear expert says.
Karen Cummings, the manager of the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat, says hunger was probably driving the bear more south to get food. Warm weather has prevented the formation of ice, so the bears can’t get out to hunt seals, she said.
Cummings said the animal looked very thin in the pictures she saw.
Cummings last heard of a polar bear in Moose Factory about 15 years ago.
“The question is, will this continue to happen? Is this a sign of the times, or is this just a chance encounter? It is really hard to say. I would expect that it may happen again.”” [my bold]
Cummings thinks that maybe one starving bear every 15 years could be a sign of things to come but she clearly does not know that starvation is the leading cause of death for polar bears, especially subadult and old bears. Perhaps this is because, according to her LinkedIn page, Cummings has a background in “event management, tourism, marketing and award winning business/strategy development” rather than biology.
Not following the rest of the ~1000 other Southern Hudson Bay bears out to the ice or further north along the coast, sealed this bear’s fate (sorry, couldn’t help it). “Couldn’t do it” is not the same as “chose not to do it.”
The NSIDC Masie map of Hudson Bay sea ice below (for 18 December 2015) shows ice in James Bay, though not a lot. But then, the ice did not depart this area in the summer until almost the end of July, which means the bulk of Southern Hudson Bay polar bears had almost one month longer to feed than usual last summer. The population status of SHB bears has been stable for decades.
Below is what the sea ice over Hudson Bay looked like yesterday (latest available) according to Masie, click to enlarge:
And here is the CIS map for yesterday:
Until I see a researcher presenting evidence documenting that scores and scores of polar bears in Southern Hudson Bay sitting on shore into late December starving, I’d conclude that some people are crying wolf. This single incident does not mean much of anything to the big picture of polar bear habitat in Southern Hudson Bay.
PS. Compare maps above to the standard NSIDC with anomaly map below, which shows James Bay in the south almost covered with ice except for the eastern half: