Ice formation in W Hudson Bay slower than 2015 but not likely as slow as 1983

After a great start this year for Churchill-area polar bears of Western Hudson Bay – who came off the ice in better than usual condition after what must have been a good spring hunting season – ice maps suggest that freeze-up will be later than last year, an impression confirmed by on-the-ground observers.

Ice coverage this year at 7 November (2016):

sea-ice-extent-canada-2016-nov-7_cis

Ice coverage last year at this date (7 November 2015), see this post for details:

canadian-arctic-nov-7-2015_cis

Compare to ice coverage in 2012, several days later in the season (12 November):

sea-ice-extent-canada-cis_nov-12-2012

So, this might be a relatively late freeze-up for bears in Churchill and points south, but keep in mind that the latest freeze-up for Churchill bears since 1971 came in 2004, with 1983 not far behind. However, 1983 was considered by many the “worst year ever” for problem bears and bears in very poor condition around Churchill and it included the last known human fatality due to a bear attack.

In part this was not just due to the late freeze-up alone but because many bears came off the ice in 1983 in less than great condition due to a poorer-than-usual spring hunting season. Officials on the ground confirmed that most bears did not leave shore until 3 December 1983 (see this post for references for this information, with quotes).

We don’t have daily ice maps for 1983, so it’s impossible to compare what conditions were like then.

But this year, most bears came off the ice in excellent condition (except for those old bears and youngsters (2-5 year olds) that often have trouble getting enough to eat in the spring (due to poor hunting skills and/or competition from stronger bears). That means most will be able to withstand a later return to the ice – indeed, some bears are still in very good shape considering they have not eaten (or eaten much) for about 4 months.

Last year, except for pregnant females in their shore-based maternity dens, virtually all Churchill area bears had left by 20-21 November (although many left well before that).

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