Although ice coverage along the Labrador coast this fall has been well below average, there was a report today of a polar bear on shore on the north west coast of northern Newfoundland. The media seem to be treating this as an every-day sort of thing rather than the true rarity it is. As far as I know, there are no records of polar bears onshore in Newfoundland in late December and for it to happen this year is especially surprising given that ice coverage so far has been below average on the East Coast. It’s a more rare event than the early January attack last year by a polar bear in Alaska that had traveled more than a hundred miles inland. Will 2020 be another active polar bear season for Newfoundland? Time will tell – stay tuned over the new year.
Few details have been provided about this year’s late December sighting at Green Island Cove, just north of the ferry port of Saint Barbe (where the ferry to Labrador docks, see below). No photos or descriptions of the bear were made public and so far the bear does not seem to have caused any trouble: the photo above is from another sighting in Labrador a few years ago.
Sea ice this year has been scarce on the East Coast, but obviously enough for at least one determined bear to have made its way down from Davis Strait, swimming part of the way. See the two charts below:
Only two reports seem to exist of polar bears on shore in Newfoundland in early winter and both happened near Fogo Island in late January. One happened 26 January 2016 and the other is an historic account of a polar bear attack in the same area in January 1935, see previous post here.
Polar bears are not usually seen onshore in Newfoundland until late March or April, after the ice has been close to shore for weeks and bears have feed extensively on newborn harp and hooded seal pups: 2017 was a record year for spring polar bear sightings in Newfoundland.
Even though early winter sightings are still quite rare for Newfoundland, in recent years, polar bears have come ashore along the Labrador coast as early as January. Last year about this time (2 January 2019) there were reports of bears ashore in southern Labrador. However, sea ice coverage was much more extensive than this year (see below).