RCMP on manhunt spot a fat polar bear far from the coast of Western Hudson Bay

In the course of a manhunt for two murder suspects wanted in British Columbia, Royal Canadian Mounted Police posted a photo of a fat polar bear they spotted about 200 km north of Gillam, Manitoba.

Fat pb spotted by RCMP outside Gillam during manhunt 27 July 2019

This fat bear – as would any others that might be spotted in the area – is a pregnant female from the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation intent on finding a secure place to dig a den in the permafrost where she can stay cool over the summer and give birth this winter.

However, true to form, The Guardian (28 July 2019) ludicrously suggests those on the hunt for the murder suspects are now at risk of a polar bear attack:

The threat of a polar bear attack has become a reality for the huge Canadian police and military contingent searching for the teenage duo suspected of shooting dead Australian tourist Lucas Fowler, his US girlfriend and a university botanist.

Location of Gillam, Manitoba below. The bear was sighted as being “about 200 km north of Gillam” which I figure should be about as far north as the label for Wapusk National Park on this Google map (Google tells me it’s 118 km from Gillam to Herchmer):

Gillam location Google maps

As far as I know, there is not a single record of a well-fed pregnant female attacking a human before she enters her maternity den in the summer (Wilder et al. 2017). Even the fatal attack in Foxe Basin last August, which was perhaps the first known attack made by a well-fed adult female, involved a bear with a cub to feed. I discuss this incident in depth in my new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.

What is surprising about this sighting is the possible evidence of Western Hudson Bay polar bear denning west of known denning areas in Wapusk National Park and along the Manitoba/Ontario coast (Clark and Stirling 1997; Clark et al. 1997; Scott and Stirling 2002; Yee et al. 2017). Depending on the exact location the bear was seen (whether inside or outside the park, not specified by the original RCMP tweet), this sighting has possible implications for population estimates based on aerial surveys that stop their searches at the park boundary (Crockford 2019a, b; Dyck et al. 2017; Lunn et al. 2016; Stapleton et al. 2014).

References

Clark, D.A and Stirling, I. 1997. Habitat preferences of polar bears in the Hudson Bay Lowlands during late summer and fall. Ursus 10:243-250. https://www.bearbiology.org/publications/ursus-archive/habitat-preferences-of-polar-bears-in-the-hudson-bay-lowlands-during-late-summer-and-fall/

Clark, D.A., Stirling, I. and Calvert, W. 1997. Distribution, characteristics, and use of earth dens and related excavations by polar bears on the western Hudson Bay Lowlands. Arctic 50:158-166. https://journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/index.php/arctic/article/view/64154

Crockford, S.J. 2019a. State of the Polar Bear Report 2018. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 32, London. pdf here.

Crockford, S.J. 2019b. The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Dyck, M., Campbell, M., Lee, D., Boulanger, J. and Hedman, D. 2017. 2016 Aerial survey of the Western Hudson Bay polar bear subpopulation. Final report, Nunavut Department of Environment, Wildlife Research Section, Iglolik, NU. http://www.gov.nu.ca/environnement/information/wildlife-research-reports#polarbear

Lunn, N.J., Servanty, S., Regehr, E.V., Converse, S.J., Richardson, E. and Stirling, I. 2016. Demography of an apex predator at the edge of its range – impacts of changing sea ice on polar bears in Hudson Bay. Ecological Applications 26 (5):1302-1320. DOI: 10.1890/15-1256

Stapleton S., Atkinson, S., Hedman, D., and Garshelis, D. 2014. Revisiting Western Hudson Bay: using aerial surveys to update polar bear abundance in a sentinel population. Biological Conservation 170:38-47. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320713004618#

Scott, P.A. and Stirling, I. 2002. Chronology of terrestrial den use by polar bears in western Hudson Bay as indicated by tree growth anomalies. Arctic 55:151-166. http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/Arctic55-2-151.pdf

Wilder, J.M., Vongraven, D., Atwood, T., Hansen, B., Jessen, A., Kochnev, A., York, G., Vallender, R., Hedman, D. and Gibbons, M. 2017. Polar bear attacks on humans: implications of a changing climate. Wildlife Society Bulletin 41(3):537-547. DOI: 10.1002/wsb.783 https://wildlife.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/wsb.783

Yee, M., Reimer, J., Lunn, N.J., Togunov, R.R., Pilfold, N.W., McCall, A.G. and Derocher, A.E. 2017. Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) migration from maternal dens in western Hudson Bay. Arctic 70: 319-327.

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