This is the third year in a row that freeze-up of Western Hudson Bay (WH) ice has come earlier than the average of 16 November documented in the 1980s. Reports by folks on the ground near Churchill confirm polar bears are starting to move onto the sea ice that’s developing along the shore after almost 5 months on land. After five good sea ice seasons in a row for WH polar bears, this repeat of an early freeze-up means a sixth good ice season is now possible for 2019-2020.
Sadly for the tourists, however, it means the polar bear viewing season in Churchill will be ending early this year, just like it did last year and the year before.
Polar bear family on the ice off Churchill Manitoba (taken from a helicopter), courtesy Explore.org
When mothers with cubs are out on the ice (see photo above), it’s pretty certain the mass movement from land to sea ice is well underway because these family units are usually the last to leave.
UPDATE 6 Nov 2019: I have substantially modified this post based on receipt of the actual court documents describing the case, which is much more complicated than it appeared from the news reports quoted. Many thanks to Donna LaFramboise for passing it along! Clarifications in red, incorrect statements crossed out.
The Inuit fight in Canada with the federal government over polar bear conservation status continues. The government, led by Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, reduced polar bear hunting quotas in Southern Hudson Bay only from 28 to 23, based on the results of the 2011-2012 survey. In response, Inuit groups have submitted affidavits in federal court stating that polar bears are thriving. The court dismissed the Inuit challenge even though polar bears in Canada are not considered threatened or vulnerable to extinction, and encouraged the two parties to resolve the dispute outside the court.
This arbitrary political decision by the government undermines the scientific assessment done by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and tramples Inuit rights. The dispute was about Inuit treaty rights vs. conservation concerns regarding sustainable harvest levels, not conservation impacts from climate change, and the decision did not resolve the issues of sex-selective harvesting and defense of life kills counting against harvest quotas.
Fat healthy polar bears from Southern Hudson Bay
Concerns I raised earlier this year – see here and here – regarding the Sir David Attenborough’s Netflix walrus tragedy porn episode have been vindicated by a new Attenborough BBC TV special called Seven Worlds, One Planet (Asia). It shows film footage of polar bears – taken by drones – driving walrus off the same Siberian cliff that was shown in the Netflix documentary film released in April.
Few of the reporters who covered this story bothered to investigate further despite the evidence provided by myself and others that polar bears and drones were the likely triggers for these deaths: they simply took Attenborough and the film crew at their word.
Netflix director Sophie Lanfear and cameraman Jamie McPherson insisted there were no polar bears in the vicinity at the time they shot their film footage but this was clearly not the case. They knew that bears were involved because they filmed them menacing the walrus!
It is now evident that McPherson filmed the 20 or so polar bears stalking walrus at the top of the Ryrkaypiy cliff and driving them over the edge for the BBC episode only a few days prior to filming a few walrus falling with no bears present on the cliff top for the Netflix film in September 2017. The bears were close enough when the Netflix sequence was filmed to converge immediately on the rookery to feed on carcasses once the walrus herd left the beach.
Fat, healthy polar bears (not desperately hungry ones) were indeed involved in these walrus deaths and so were drones. Lack of sea ice was not a significant factor.
UPDATE 6 November 2019: See Paul Homewood’s take on this here. Additional video added at the end.
Posted in Advocacy, Sea ice habitat, walrus
Tagged Attenborough, BBC, cliffs, deaths, drones, Lanfear, McPherson, Netflix, One Planet, polar bear, Ryrkaypi, tragedy porn, walrus