Late February is still the dead of winter in the Arctic, a time when most polar bears are at their leanest and out on the sea ice trying to find seals – and that means yesterday’s report of a “very fat” polar bear onshore outside Inukjuak is unusual at face value – but my followup inquiry revealed details that make it even more startling.
At my request, CBC North reporter Priscilla Hwang reached out to the hunter involved, who is the mayor of the community. She was told the incident took place on Saturday 25 February 2017 and the very fat bear in the story was actually a young, subadult female.
Subadults are more likely to be in poorer condition than adults at any time of year, due to their lack of hunting experience and competition with adult males. So to see a young bear that’s very fat before the feeding begins is quite astonishing: it suggests that feeding opportunities out on Hudson Bay have been very good over the winter and/or this bear was a savvy hunter despite her youth.
According to the mayor’s report, this community hasn’t had a bear onshore in nearly 30 years. Polar bears in Hudson Bay travel with the retreating ice to the western and southern shores, so with some exceptions, bears usually only have access to the east coast during winter through spring.
Last winter saw an extraordinary number of reports of bears on shore in winter, most of them causing trouble (see summary here). This Inukjuak sighting is the second I’ve come across this year – the other was in Svalbard (a female with cubs). Whether this new pattern is due to more bears or lack of hunting leading to bears having less fear of people – or a bit of both – it’s not yet possible to say.
So under the circumstances, the mayor of Inukjuak’s decision to kill this bear for the protection of the community seems quite reasonable (given the extensive resources required in Svalbard to drive their problem bears away rather than kill them).
Excerpts from the CBC story, and some maps and charts, are below.
Where’s his Coca-Cola? The story behind a polar bear who crashed in a Nunavik cabin (CBC North, Priscilla Hwang, Mar 01, 2017 2:23 PM) [my bold]:
[Note that although the hunter, Mayor Pauloosie Kasudluak, refers to the bear as “he” in this interview, followup revealed the bear was actually a young female]
The mayor of Inukjuak, Que., Pauloosie Kasudluak, was on a hunting trip when he spotted the polar bear just outside his community.
“We were heading home and as we were five minutes away, I saw a polar bear running away,” recalled Kasudluak.
He began chasing it on his snowmobile while filming.
“That was the first time I saw one close to the community. It was kind of rare,” he said.
The last time Kasudluak said he heard of a polar bear around the community was nearly thirty years ago,
A few minutes into the chase, the polar bear took refuge in an unfinished cabin.
“I think it wasn’t the first time the bear went to the cabin. I think he knew where to go,” said Kasudluak. He said when community members later peeked into the cabin, they found a spot where the bear had been sleeping.
Kasudluak said he went home, and then visited the cabin again with his whole family to see if the bear was still there.
The “very fat” polar bear was still poking his head out of the cabin, he said.
Unfortunately, it was “a bad ending” for the polar bear who was just a fifteen minute walk away from the community, said Kasudluak, who shot the bear.
“At first I didn’t want to kill the bear, I was just taking a video of it,” he said. “After a while, when it was in the cabin, I thought that this bear may be dangerous for the people who don’t know where he is.”
Kasudluak says many people in and out of the community travel around that area, on foot and on skis. He was concerned they would be in for a surprise to find a polar bear living there.
“I thought this may be a risk for them,” he said.
See map below for the location of Inukjuak, courtesy Google maps.
Given the location of this community, the sighted bear is most likely to be part of the Southern Hudson Bay subpopulation (see map at end of this post) but could also be from Foxe Basin to the north. It is unlikely to be a Western Hudson Bay bear but not impossible.
A typical breakup pattern on Hudson Bay occurred in 2014 (see chart below). Note the retreat of ice close to shore in the northwest AND the east coast by late June, which forces bears ashore on the southwest coast (see post on recent breakup dates here):