East Coast crawling with polar bears since early March thanks to the pack ice

The  hot polar bear news right now is the large number of sightings of bears onshore in Newfoundland and Labrador – even the CBC is impressed.

Melrose nfld Polar Bear 02_2017 April 3_Brandon Collins shared photo The Packet

Photo taken by Brandon Collins in Melrose (on the Trinity Bay side of the peninsula) Monday 3 April 2017

All the bears have been brought to land by the abundant pack ice that’s been present off Labrador and northern Newfoundland (the territory of Davis Strait polar bears), which also killed a humpback whale that got trapped against the north shore (a not unusual event, apparently).

Mapping the reports of polar bear sightings since early March helped me get a handle on the total number of encounters: more than a dozen, it turns out.  There have been a few bear sightings in this region every year recently but such high numbers are remarkable, especially so early in the season. When will it end?

Increased numbers of bears in the population is one explanation for increased numbers of encounters onshore at this time of year, although recent storms may have encouraged more bears than usual to come ashore in Newfoundland.

My picture annotated map and a list of sighting reports, with links, is below but stay tuned: this story may not be over yet.

UPDATE 4 April: more photos and sea ice maps added below.

UPDATE 5 April: another sighting, in St. Brendan’s (west of Bonavista), added to the map below and quotes from one witness. The map is now Version 2. A sea ice map for 5 April has also been added at the end of the post.

UPDATE 9 April: another sighting and a bear casualty, see below. Map revised again.

UPDATE 14 April: CBC Newfoundland article (12 April: Highway of ice: Easy route for polar bears chasing food, prof says) based on my radio interview that aired 11 April.

UPDATE 22 April: Another sighting west of St. Anthony on Wednesday, 19 April has been added to the map (now Version 4) and an alert that I’ve added a new post (21 April) about the claim by one vocal polar bear specialist that all of these sightings are the result of “failed” sea ice conditions off Newfoundland and Labrador this year (seriously, I’m not making this up). I’ve added the most recent ice map at the end of this post.

Here’s a map of the sightings (photos acknowledged below), now Version 4 (updated 22 April ):

East Coast March April polar bear sightings 2017 V4_22 April_PolarBearScience

List of sightings, by date and location

All the encounters of bears that generated photos show well fed bears in good condition.

St. Anthony area, in Great Brehat (early March 2017, reported 1 April) “Driver narrowly misses polar bear on commute to St. Anthony”

Footprint photos was all Amy Randell got of the polar bear that ran in front of her car, with 6 year old son Cruz for scale:

Great Brehat footprints_Early March 2017 cruz-randell_Amy Randell submitted to CBC

Twillingate, Newfoundland (9 March 2017) “Polar bear drifts past Twillingate” (last sighting was in March 2000)  [no photo]

Black Tickle, Labrador (7 March 2017) “7 polar bears visit stormbound Black Tickle”

Sherman Downey shared this photo he took in Black Tickle:

Black Tickle polar-bear 7 March 2017_Sherman Downey shared photo

Mary’s Harbour, Red Bay and Black Tickle (15 March 2017) “Polar bears spotted near three coastal Labrador communities”

Photo from one of those communities submitted to The Telegraph below (I’ve put it in Red Bay on the map):

Labrador polar-bear-2070615_submitted photo 15 March 2017 Telegraph

Wesleyville, Newfoundland (29 March 2017) “Photographer captures ‘praying’ polar bear in front of cross in Newfoundland” (See more of the copyrighted photos here).

Wesleyville nfld praying bear_THE STAR 30 March 2017 headline

The “praying bear” appears to be the same animal as photographed by Dana Blackmore, below (shared with the CBC):

polar-bear-new-wes-valley_Dana Blackmore shared_CBC 3 April 2017

Bonavista, Newfoundland (2-3 April 2017) “There could be more than one polar bear on Bonavista Peninsula”  (older story here).

Photo below by Brandon Collins at Birchy Cove near Bonavista on Sunday 2 April of a female and cub (an older one, not a young of the year), shared with the CBC:

Bonavista nfld Polar Bear 2017 April 2_Brandon Collins shared photo CBC

Photo below by Brandon Collins in Melrose (on the Trinity Bay side of the peninsula) of a large lone male spotted Monday 3 April, shared with The Packet:

Melrose nfld Polar Bear 01_2017 April 3_Brandon Collins shared photo The Packet

ADDED 4 April: More photos of the Melrose bear from this morning of a bear who is really poking around close to houses and sheds and causing trouble.

Submitted to the CBC, “Polar bear plans getaway after warning issued in Bonavista area” taken 4 April and submitted by Shelly Ryan – see the link for more photos – pulling apart a snowmobile seat and investigating a shed:

Melrose nfld Polar Bear 01 snowmobile_2017 April 3_Shelly Ryan shared photo CBC

Melrose nfld Polar Bear 02_2017 April 3_Shelly Ryan shared photo CBC

Same bear, different photographer (there is also a video at the link), taken 4 April by Dion Diamond at Melrose (sounds like the same area as the CBC incident), reported in The Packet “Polar bear steals snowmobile seat in Melrose”:

Melrose nfld Polar Bear 02_2017 April 4_Dion Diamond shared photo THE PACKET

St. Brendan’s, an offshore island between Wesleyville and Bonavista (5 April 2017) “Polar bear spotted near St. Brendan’s” Another report (via VOCM, has more photos shared by resident Tracey Hynes, including the one below):

“After exploring St. Brendan’s, Hynes said the bear headed back to the ice, where he killed and ate a seal, cleaned himself up, and ventured back to explore the community. He was startled, however, and rushed back to the ice and disappeared from sight.” [The Packet, 5 April 2017]

St brendan's bear 01 VOCM report 5 April 2017 Tracy Hynes

However, just after 5 pm local time, the St. Brendan’s bear was tranquilized, captured and airlifted out of the community (5 April 2017), after getting a little too close for comfort.

St brendan's bear airlifted out 5 April 2017 VOCM 5 PM

Another view of the airlift operation in St. Brendan’s:

Stbrendansbear2 airlift

Resident Vernon Buckle reported on 4 April via Twitter that he’d seen polar bear footprints a few days earlier on the Labrador coast south of Red Bay:

“Followed fresh tracks inland on Saturday, north of Pinware. An adult/2 young were seen earlier in day swimming near Capstan Island.”

Footprints from Pinware sighting:

Pinware footprint_Vernon Buckle

Pinware and Capstan Island locations on the south shore of Labrador:

Pinware and Capstan Island location Labrador

Little Catalina, just southeast of Bonavista (8 April 2017), with an unhappy ending: “Conservation officers tracking polar bear in Little Catalina”  and “Department of Fisheries and Land Resources explains situation that led to killing of polar bear” follow-up.

A polar bear spent the day on the ice flows just off the community but decided to come ashore for a look around town. That made local conservation officers nervous, especially with all the people crowding around for a look and a snapshot. Unfortunately, the bear ended up dead by the end of the day, shot by conservation officers, which caused some hard feelings.

Photos below by Brandon Collins:

Little Catalina pb 8 on the rocks April 2017 Brandon Collins_The Pilot

Little Catalina pb 8 April 2017 Brandon Collins_The Pilot

Brookside, on the Burin Peninsula, southern Newfoundland (9 April 2017): “Brookside Gets Surprise Visit from Polar Bear

It’s unusual for a polar bear to get this far south but pans of ice and mini-icebergs that don’t show up on ice maps can swirl around quite a bit, especially with the storms that Newfoundland has had over the last couple of weeks. Brookside is on the south shore of Newfoundland, west of St. John’s.

Brookside southern Nfld location

“The Department of Fisheries and Land Resources is advising the public there are reports a polar bear was seen Sunday on the Burin Peninsula near the communities of Brookside, Parker’s Cove and Boat Harbour.

Roslyn Denty managed to snap several photos of the animal in Brookside and posted them to her Facebook page.

“A lot of pack ice outside and he came in on the ice,” she commented.”

This photo by Roslyn Denty is the clearest and shows the bear’s fat little rump; there are other shots at the link. While it seemed unlikely that this bear’s adventure would end well, conservation officers apparently managed to safely capture the bear and plan to relocate it to the north on Monday (10 April).

Brookside southern Nfld pb_Rosyln Denty_9 April 2017

Parker’s Brook, on Pistolet Bay west of St. Anthony at the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula, northern Newfoundland (21 April 2017): “Public Advisory: Polar Bear Warning Issued for St. Anthony”

No picture is available of the bear but the approximate location is shown below (see marker for “Wildberry Country Lodge” in Parker’s Brook). You can see by the latest ice maps added below and the end of this post that the region is still choked with ice:

Parkers Brook location on Pistolet Bay

According to the latest report,  ice conditions in the Strait of Belle Isle (other side of the Northern Peninsula, facing the Labrador coast) are anything but usual  (19 April 2017, in The Western Star)(my bold):

“According to the Canadian Coast Guard, the ice pack is currently four feet thick or more in places. Combined with chunks of older, harder ice and unseasonably cold temperatures, the ice has cemented together to form a formidable navigational obstacle.

The pressure on the shoreline is so great that the Terry Fox, Canada’s second biggest icebreaker, cannot get through it.

The ferry MV Apollo, which is the link between southern Labrador and the Northern Peninsula on the Newfoundland side of the Strait of Belle Isle, is docked in Blanc Sablon and not going anywhere for the foreseeable future until the ice eases up.

“There was a bit of a southwesterly blow today, but it was not enough wind to move the ice and the pressure there is going to remain,” Rebecca Acton-Bond, the Canadian Coast Guard’s acting superintendent of ice operations in Atlantic Canada, said Wednesday.

“It’s like a wall of solid ice. The captains I have spoken with say they have never seen anything like these conditions in this area ever.”

Ice concentration chart for 19 April 2017 (Canadian Ice Service), St. Anthony is marked:

Newfoundland East daily ice conc 19 April 2017_CIS

Sea ice maps for 2 April through 9 April below (don’t forget that polar bears are strong swimmers), with April 19 (the day of the latest sighting) and April 22 (the date of the latest update) added:

Sea ice extent Canada 2017 April 2 CIS

Sea ice Canada 2017 April 3 CIS

Sea ice Canada 2017 April 4 CIS

Sea ice Canada 2017 April 5 CIS

Sea ice Canada 2017 April 7 CIS

Sea ice Canada 2017 April 8 CIS

Sea ice Canada 2017 April 9 CIS

Sea ice extent Canada 2017 April 19 CIS

Sea ice extent Canada 2017 April 22 CIS

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