It’s week 7 of the Churchill polar bear season that began in early July and it’s been remarkably quiet: compared to 208 and 2016, there were half as many problem bear incidents in 2019. A few bears have come off the ice near the community and they’ve been in good shape, as are the bears to the east at Cape Churchill (see one captured on live cam 23 August shown below) and the north at Seal River.
But it looks like many more bears than usual may have decided to ride out the slow-melting ice that lingered well past the first week of August and came ashore further south, towards the Manitoba/Ontario border.
If so, these bears will have to make their way north over the summer so they can intercept the first ice forming along the northwest coast off Wapusk National Park near Churchill. That’s why Western Hudson Bay bears are said to undergo a migration: no matter where they leave the ice in summer, most bears head to areas around Churchill so that they can resume seal hunting on the early fall ice.
A paucity of bears around Churchill in late summer/early fall is not unprecedented, however. Stirling and colleagues pointed out that in 1972 and 1973, for reasons they could not explain, there had been fewer bears than usual around Churchill well before freeze-up and therefore, fewer problem bears (Stirling et al. 1977:17).
Below is a comparison of the Polar Bear Alert Program report for last week (Week 7, Aug 19-25) to previous years.
2019 Week 7, Aug 19-25
2018 Week 7, Aug 20-26
Same time last year (2018) had almost twice as many incidents (78 vs. 38) and seven bears handled to date compared to one this year:
2017 Week 7, Aug 21-27
2017 at week 7 had fewer incidents than 2018 but not as few as this year:
2016 Week 7, Aug 22-28
2016 was more like 2018, with plenty of incidents by the 7th week of the season:
2015 Week 7
Lastly, 2015: I have a number of the reports from 2015 but not all of them. Unfortunately, August and early September are missing.
Stirling I, Jonkel C, Smith P, Robertson R, Cross D. 1977. The ecology of the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) along the western coast of Hudson Bay. Canadian Wildlife Service Occasional Paper No. 33. pdf here.