Fat polar bear killed on the south shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the Gaspé Peninsula

A fat polar bear was killed early this morning (Sunday 1 May 2022) near a small town on the north shore of the Gaspé Peninsula, the portion of Quebec that New Brunswick in the Gulf of St. Lawrence after being tracked by wildlife conservation officers since yesterday. Two other sightings were reported in the Gulf earlier in April on the opposite shore, which could possibly have been the same bear.

This is why there are polar bears in my recent sea ice tsunami novel set in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in March 2026. Davis Strait polar bears are thriving, having increased in number dramatically since the 1970s, due to hunting bans and abundant harp seals. Until the last few years, Davis Strait polar bears haven’t been spotted this far south in the spring since 1849 (with a few other historical reports even further south in the 1500s). The last time a polar bear was spotted onshore in the Gulf area (and got this much attention) was in late March 2017.

These recent polar bear sightings in the Gulf of St. Lawrence likely reflect a population that’s at its peak size or still increasing. The photo above shows the bear was in excellent condition after feeding heavily on harp seal pups. Unfortunately, from where it ended up, it likely wouldn’t have made it back to the receding pack ice off Labrador in time to return to Davis Strait for the summer.

Excerpt below from the CBC story (‘Polar bear spotted on Gaspé peninsula killed by wildlife officers‘; 30 April 2022), but first you’ll need the map of the area. Charts for sea ice conditions at the time follow.

After asking residents of a community in the northern coast of the Gaspé peninsula to hunker indoors for nearly 24 hours after the sighting of a polar bear, provincial police say it’s now safe to go outside.

The Sûreté du Québec (SQ) issued the warning at 1 p.m. on Saturday after the bear was spotted in the area of Madeleine-Centre, Que. by the site of the former airport.

The bear was located and killed at around 8:30 a.m. Sunday following an aerial search, wildlife officials said. According to them, it was not safe enough to relocate the bear to its original habitat. 

The mayor of Sainte-Madeleine-de-la-Rivière-Madeleine said he was alerted about the situation on Saturday morning, after a friend of his sent him photos of the bear and one of its footprints.

“It’s been a funny day. I’ve been wondering how a polar bear could get there, it’s a bit early [sic] for an April Fools’ joke,” Joël Côté said Saturday while speaking to Radio-Canada. Sophie Bonneville told Radio-Canada that she spotted the bear near her home after her dog Boris alerted her. Quebec wildlife officials were contacted just after.

“My partner was shovelling and Boris went on the run because, well, he doesn’t stand for anything on our land, not even a crow,” Bonneville said. “It looked at the dog, it wasn’t afraid.”

“After looking at my partner he turned to go back into the woods.”

Apparently, there have been other sightings in the Gulf area this spring that we haven’t heard about because they were reported on CBC French Language Radio and posted on social media in French:

Earlier this month [ie., April 2022], polar bears were spotted more than 200 km to the north, across the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, in the area of Baie-Johan-Beetz. A polar bear was also recently spotted near the Innu community of Unamen Shipu on the Lower North Shore, which is already south of the animal’s normal habitat.

From the original reports of the other sightings, the first one near Unamen Shipu (see map above) reported 6 April 2022 [Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)], photo by Beatrice Mark:

Residents of Unamen Shipu or La Romaine, on the Lower North Shore, have seen a polar bear in the last few days, probably lost. According to biologists, the presence of the animal so far from its natural habitat is a rare phenomenon, but not exceptional.

Last week, the polar bear was first reported near the village of Baie-des-Moutons.

The animal has since moved west where Beatrice Mark spotted it while snowmobiling on the White Road a few kilometres from the village of Unamen Shipu.

She photographed the bear on Tuesday [5 April 2022, copied below] and posted photos on social networks.

From the other sighting, a few days later (April 10) at Baie-Johan-Beetz, reported 13 April 2022, also by CBC French Radio:

The Protection de la faune confirms having received a report of the presence of a polar bear in the Baie-Johan-Beetz sector, in Minganie, on April 10.

[The caption on the photo below says] The hand of Olivier Côté, a resident of Baie-Johan-Beetz, bears witness to the polar bear’s passage through the village.

The photo below, also by Oliver Cote, shows the footprints leading away into an area of burned forest:

Sea ice conditions in the Gulf in April

Remember, polar bears in the spring travel on ice but will wander onshore and/or swim around looking for more food.

Early April (week of 5 April 2022):

Late April (week of 25 April 2022):

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