The Sun ran a photo-essay yesterday (22 March 2020, below) taken by a UK photographer who went to Wapusk National Park just south of Churchill, Manitoba in order to get much-coveted images of polar bear mothers and cubs newly emerged from winter maternity dens. The photos were said to have been taken “early last week” (16-17 March?).
The trees in the photos are a give-away to the location: no other subpopulation regions except Western and Southern Hudson Bay are below the treeline. Scrubby little spruces but ‘trees’ nonetheless. Mothers in more northern regions won’t come out with their cubs until April.
The question is: what was this photographer thinking to travel to a remote Arctic location in the middle of a global pandemic?
UPDATE 24 March 2020 820am PT. I have just heard from photographer Brian Mathews and he had this to say about his trip to Wapusk National Park:
“Context and facts are key as ever. I left the U.K. before any of the measures where in place. I’ve just got back after being in Canada for nearly a month. When I returned to Churchill I self isolated then returned to the U.K. the coverage I got is good for the bears and the positive uplifting feedback I’ve had about the joy they brought into people lives had be brilliant.”
I noted in my response to him that I realize the tour company in Canada bears some responsibility for continuing to operate under the circumstances.
Let’s just hope “Brian Matthews, 41, from Hartlepool, Co Durham” didn’t take the Chinese coronovirus with him when he went to Canada. By the end of February, it was quite apparent that something very serious was going on and travel was ill-advised.
I therefore found it surprising that with a deadly pandemic in play across the world, Mr Matthews was not only willing to risk exposing the aboriginal people who run these spring polar bear cub emergence tours to this novel virus but all other people he came in contact with along the way. Perhaps Sun reporter John Sturgis, responsible for putting the feature together, should have thought to ask. As it is, we don’t know the details: perhaps Matthew had been in Canada for weeks, well before the seriousness of the global situation was apparent.
Ultimately, however, his timing was lucky on this trip: at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday 19 March, Wapusk National Park was closed because of the Wuhan Covid-19 virus and on Wednesday 18 March, Canada banned entry of virtually all non-Canadian travelers into the country.
Amstrup, S.C. and Gardner, C. 1994. Polar bear maternity denning in the Beaufort Sea. The Journal of Wildlife Management 58:1-10. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3809542?uid=3739400&uid=2&uid=3737720&uid=4&sid=21101008172123
Ramsay, M.A. and Stirling, I. 1988. Reproductive biology and ecology of female polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Journal of Zoology London 214:601-624. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-7998.1988.tb03762.x/abstract
Obbard, M. E. and Walton, L.R. 2004. The importance of polar bear provincial park to the southern Hudson Bay polar bear population in the context of future climate change. Proceedings of the Parks Research Forum of Ontario (PRFO):105-116. [added July 26, 2013] pdf here.
Van de Velde (OMI), F., Stirling, I. and Richardson, E. 2003. Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) denning in the area of the Simpson Peninsula, Nunavut. Arctic 56:191-197. http://arctic.synergiesprairies.ca/arctic/index.php/arctic/article/view/615