Polar bears roaming Labrador in winter due to climate change, says minister

This is a follow-up to a post on my book blog that I wrote this morning because it’s relevant to the scenario I describe in my novel, set in the year 2025 in northern Newfoundland. I’m cross posting it for the benefit of regular readers here.

It appears that most of the blame for this phenomenon of multiple sightings of hungry bears onshore in the dead of winter (creating havoc and roaming among houses in the coastal Labrador communities of Black Tickle and Charlottetown) has been placed squarely on…climate change. By a government minister. You have to hear this man’s words to believe it.

Labrador south and Fogo Nfld marked

In an interview earlier today (listen here), one of the oddest explanations I’ve heard yet [see another here] for the recent polar bear sightings in Labrador and Newfoundland was offered by the provincial Minister responsible for wildlife, Perry Trimper (courtesy VOCM). He stated:

“…climate change does play a roll here [in the increased number of sightings].

I’ve listened to the interview six times and still have no idea what Trimper is talking about.

This is not a range expansion caused by climate change (whatever he means by that in this context) – polar bears have always come as far south as Newfoundland. In fact, they used to be far more common than they have been over the last centuries (known from at least the 1500s in Newfoundland and the 1700s in Labrador, although there is no evidence they ever stayed over the summer). But polar bears did not formerly, as far as I am aware, come ashore in frightening numbers in January/early February.

When the size of a population declines markedly (as it did during the great slaughter of polar bears by whalers in the late 19th century and early 20th), its range contracts: the simplest explanation for seeing many bears onshore this early in the season this year is that there are many more bears than there were even a few years ago waiting for harp and hooded seal pups to be born; the few late 20th century records of polar bear sightings in this region reflected an over-hunted population that has only recently recovered. See my book blog here for more details on the sightings (based on a CBC update with witness interviews) and my previous post on range contraction here.

map-DavisStrait

Davis Strait polar bear subpopulation boundaries, courtesy IUCN PBSG.

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See the ice maps and graphs below for late January/early February, starting with a graph that compares the ice extent off southern Labrador for the week of 29 January between 1969 and 2016, with the long-term mean and average marked:

Davis Strait S Labrador same week 29 Jan 1971-2016

2016 sea ice at 1 February below – average ice extent, multiple sightings of polar bears onshore in southern Labrador in January/early February:

Canadian Arctic Feb 1 2016_CIS

2014 sea ice at 31 January below – lots of ice (but not as concentrated in the south), no January/February polar bear sightings reported in Labrador:

Sea ice extent Canada_2014 Jan 31_CIS

2010 sea ice at 31 January below – low sea ice off Labrador, no January/February polar bear sightings reported in Labrador or northern Newfound:

Sea ice 2010 Labrador 31 January_MASIE

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