Most Hudson Bay polar bears are still offshore, excellent ice conditions for late July

With only a few days until the end of July, most Western Hudson Bay polar bears are still on a thick band of thick first year ice that remains close to shore. The few bears that have come off the ice appear to be nice and fat, indicating they had good spring feeding conditions.

Untagged bear with cub, near Churchill River, 18 July 2022

We’ll have to wait a few more weeks to see if this year shapes up as it did in 2020, when the last of bears didn’t come ashore until the third week of August, despite there being very little visible ice. Last year, most of the bears were ashore by the end of July.

Interestingly, polar bear specialist Andrew Derocher claims that bears throughout their range stay on the ice as long as possible and only come ashore as a ‘last resort’ (note that the blue in the ice chart he included is ‘more than usual’ for the week of July 25):

That claim doesn’t quite square with the three bears that were spotted on the live cams that operate on the shore of Wapusk National Park south of Churchill on Monday this week (25 July), even though ice was still present offshore (photos below: a mother and cub, and another lone bear). No more have been spotted up to 28 July.

Nor does it explain the other three bears that were spotted near the Churchill River last week (15 July) photo below from Beluga tour web cam:

It also doesn’t square with Derocher’s tagged bears: the first of them left the ice back on the 8th of July (see map below).

It also doesn’t fit the pattern of the bears that came ashore near Arviat in late June, when there was abundant ice cover on the bay:

June 2022, courtesy Gordy Kidlapik at Arviat (via twitter).

Until 22 July, there was still only one of Derocher’s tagged bears onshore. By yesterday (below), six more of these almost two dozen tagged bears had come to shore, leaving 16 (70% of them) still on the ice:

As Derocher himself commented about these conditions, it’s “almost like the 80s!”. But he couldn’t help but add that disaster for the bears is probably coming because of the ‘trend’ in sea ice [which no one has published for W. Hudson Bay in seven years (since 2015), likely because it would spoil that trend]:

W. Hudson Bay polar bears moving ashore but many are still out on the ice. It’s almost like the 1980s! This should be great for the bears. The ice is where they want to be. Caution: the long term trend doesn’t bode well & Arctic warming is the main threat to the bears. Andrew Derocher, 28 July.

Current and past ice conditions

Today there was still considerable thick ice off Churchill (dark green is ice >1.2m thick):

Yesterday, the ice extended down into the mouth of James Bay in the south:

Weekly charts are the only ones that go back to the 1970s on the Canadian Ice Service. The chart for the week of 25 July 2022 looked like this (showing, in addition, considerable ice remaining in Foxe Basin and Davis Strait to the north):

That’s less ice than the same week in 2009 (another cold year), but not by much:

Conditions in 2009 (above) were similar to those in 1973 (below) for the last week of July: again, about twice as much along the west shore of Hudson Bay but overall, pretty similar.

By 1980, however, there was actually less ice than this over western and southern Hudson Bay (although the rest of the 80s were more like the 70s shown above):

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