I’ve been wondering ever since last year why reports of polar bears onshore in Labrador especially and also the north coast of Newfoundland, have been virtually non-existent. This year there has been little ice off Newfoundland except for the Northern Peninsula but relatively abundant ice off the south coast of Labrador.
Yesterday, Canadian Ranger and polar bear guard Jefferey Keefe of Black Tickle (which is on an island off the Labrador coast) said on a CBC radio interview (13 April 2021) that while in 2019 they had 72 sightings around the community over the season, last year they had 7 and so far this year they have had only 2 sets of tracks – but no actual sightings of bears. He estimated the average number of sightings per year is about 20, and that he had talked to his colleagues in Makkovik (north of Rigolet on the map below) and their experience is similar. It appears that numbers are down throughout southern Labrador, although one bear was seen in Charlottetown last week (south of Black Tickle).
Keefe said that the sea has been very rough around the island this year, effectively breaking up the young sea ice almost as soon as it forms. They have no ice in their harbour right now, which is unusual. He thinks this lack of nearshore ice is keeping the bears further out on the pack ice: the bears are still out there but just taking different routes this year. Given the current ice conditions locally, he’s not really expecting any more visits this season.
Below is a detailed ice chart of the region from this year: Black Tickle is south of Cartwright, which is marked on the chart.
In 2019, I kept track of published polar bear sightings in Labrador, not all of which were in Black Tickle. I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss any (Crockford 2020), but there was nowhere near 72 reports overall, let alone 72 just in Black Tickle. See here (mid-Feb); here (late Feb); here (mid-April); here (late May).
However, I was also pretty sure that every single sighting wasn’t making the news, which this information confirms. A total of 72 sightings in 2019 in Black Tickle alone is impressive! In Newfoundland, there were an impressive number of sightings in 2017.
The ice came early to Labrador in 2019 and continued to be be relatively heavy throughout the spring. There was lighter ice in 2020 but not as late and light as this year. From the comments of Sgt. Keefe, it seems the wind and sea conditions very close to shore have had more of an impact on potential polar bear visits in southern Labrador than the ice conditions well offshore. Although a population collapse would also explain the dramatic decline in sightings, there is no evidence I’ve heard about that Davis Strait numbers are way down, as some have predicted.
Listen to the whole thing at 13:30-18:00 on the tape.
Crockford, S.J. 2020. State of the Polar Bear Report 2019. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 39, London. PDF here.