Southern Labrador coastal landscape dominated by fat polar bears in March

Recent reports out of southern Labrador highlight how common it is to find polar bears onshore at this time of year. The small coastal community of Black Tickle seems to take the prize for the highest number of incidents and sightings but Happy Valley-Goose Bay is the somewhat surprising contender. [see correction below] Photo below is from Black Tickle.

Since early March, polar bear sightings in Newfoundland and Labrador have been common. The bears, of course, have come south on the Labrador Sea pack ice looking for fat newborn harp seals, which are now so abundant in the region that nearly a year’s worth of food could probably be consumed in a week or so. It appears that already well-fed bears may look around for what else could be added to their menu or just need a break to digest between meals. Photos of some of the bears sighted are all in good or excellent condition, and few of the animals seem to be intent on causing real trouble for locals–a far cry from the bear that wandered off the ice into Wales, Alaska earlier this year and killed a young mother and her infant son.

According to a report today from VOCM News in Newfoundland and Labrador (30 March 2023), the Canadian Ranger who serves as the community ‘polar bear guard’ in Black Tickle has been kept busy this month, which is not unusual.

Jeffrey Keefe, a technician with NL Hydro, is usually focused on ensuring that the local diesel generating station is kept running, but he’s been occupied in recent weeks keeping an eye open for polar bears.

He tells VOCM News he’s counted at least 31 animals which have either passed through the community, or within 2 km of the town on the sea ice.

Keefe, who has been driving polar bears away from the community for the last 23 years, is not worried about the animals, but many people are not too fussy about them getting close.

One bear spent a night in the basement of one family’s house after ripping a piece of plywood off the window, and later startled another resident by pushing against the window glass so hard it broke.

Note how fat the bear is in the video below of Ranger Jeffrey Keefe doing his job:

Previously, Keefe said about the bears he dealt with in Black Tickle back in 2017:

“They look really healthy … they have been eating good, these ones have.”

Looks like this statement would be true this year as well.

Other incidents this year took place almost 300 km away, if I’ve done my homework right. Specialist teacher’s assistant Audrey Hudson, apparently works in Happy Valley-Goose Bay at the end of Lake Melville, far west of the coastal communities that butt up against the pack ice that is polar bear habitat. Turns out I was wrong on this location, see below.

Audrey shared some photos on twitter of two bears that have recently visited close enough to the school to photo through the windows (28th and 29th March).

Although she doesn’t reveal her exact location, Google tells me the phrase “The Big Land” Audrey uses in her tweet refers to Labrador, not the island of Newfoundland, as a story published by the National Post states. I followed a trail of online information on teaching staff and school locations in the region, which suggests Ms. Hudson works in one of several schools in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. However, Ms. Hudson responded to my twitter inquiry and tells me she works in Black Tickle!

However, Even still, seeing polar bears in Goose Bay would is actually not be so surprising, since ‘Lake Melville’ (see map above) is technically a broad fjord connected by a narrow arm to the Labrador Sea and ringed seals (favourite food of polar bears) use the ice on the fjord at this time of year to whelp their pups and mate. But not this time: all of the sightings Ms. Hudson reported on happened in Black Tickle.

The first looks to be a young bear in good condition:

Her follow-up is a magnificent adult male, also in good condition:

Sea ice conditions in the Labrador Sea

As of yesterday (29 March 2023), according to Canadian Ice Services. Black Tickle Island is southeast of Cartwright, which is a coastal community marked on the chart:

Two weeks ago, the ice was just as extensive. Ringed seals in this region prefer shorefast ice less than 2m thick. However, harp seals generally prefer thin first year mobile pack ice (light green) for whelping their pups and mating, and this year most of that ice was further south, off Newfoundland:

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