Category Archives: Life History

Churchill problem polar bear reports for early 2022 have no mention of fat bears or excess sea ice

The first few reports on problem polar bear activity in Churchill are in, posted early this week (two together), starting the last week of July (25-31).

Shore of Wapusk National Park just south of Churchill, 5 August 2022, the back end of a fat bear.

Funny how these reports in recent years (these included) don’t mention the condition of bears the way they used to as recently as 2017 (or the state of the sea ice). I guess it’s so they can’t be used as evidence against the prevailing mantra that western Hudson Bay polar bears that spend the summer onshore are starving because of the lack of ice due to human-caused global warming!

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Hudson Bay sea ice update: many polar bears are still on low concentration ice offshore

Almost half of all tagged Western Hudson polar bears are still out on the ice of Hudson Bay, even though much of it is broken up in pieces: as of yesterday, 10 out of 22 bears were still offshore.

Mother and cub near Churchill last year, 30 October 2021.

This is shaping up to be a great year for Hudson Bay bears!

It also appears none of the bears onshore are causing problems in Churchill, as the Polar Bear Alert Program weekly reports for Churchill have not yet begun. Last year the first report was issued for the first week of July, while in 2020 the first report didn’t come out until the end of August.

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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.

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Expert admits polar bears in Svalbard are thriving despite the greatest loss of sea ice in the Arctic

In an article published last week, polar bear specialist Jon Aars is quoted as saying that Svalbard bears are “unexpectedly” thriving. However, he fails short of admitting that the bears don’t really need summer ice as long as they are well-fed in spring, which they have been for the last two decadesthis year included.

Aars said the sea ice in this area is declining more than twice as fast as anywhere else in the Arctic. But the polar bears here — unexpectedly — are thriving. [E. Haavik, Svalbard’s polar bears persist as sea ice melts — but not forever, 21 July 2022; my bold]

Spring 2018, Barents Sea

The suggestion by Aars that the Svalbard archipelago could one day be ice-free for the entire year is speculative hyperbole but even if that were to happen, it would only mean the permanent movement of 300 or so Svalbard bears to Franz Josef Land (still within the Barents Sea) where ice conditions are less volatile.

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Some of the first polar bears onshore in Western Hudson Bay are in excellent condition

From the live cams installed on beluga tour boats running near the Churchill River, we have some good photos of a few fat polar bears onshore in Western Hudson Bay.

These bears were attracted to the remnants of a beluga carcass with nothing much left on it (lower right in the photo) and stayed around for at least a few days. The female with her cub-of-the-year was remarkably tolerant of an adult male nearby.

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Arctic sea ice still quite abundant for early summer

Despite rhetoric to the contrary, there is still plenty of sea ice over Arctic regions this summer, supplying feeding platforms for polar bears, ice-dependent seals, and walrus cows nursing their young calves. Forget about whether the numbers are below or above some short-term average, there is no catastrophe in the making for marine mammals in the Arctic at this time.

Remember, by early summer, young seals have left the surface of the ice and are in the water feeding; predator-savvy adults and subadults are hauled out on broken chunks of ice moulting their hair-coat. They may look like sitting ducks but polar bears have a hard time catching them because the seals are vigilant and have many escape routes available (due to all the open water). Most polar bears in Hudson Bay are still on the ice (you’ll see why below): the live cams near Churchill set up to watch polar bears are presently showing images of ravens with sea ice in the background, not bears.

This post is predominantly sea ice charts for mid-July, what we in the science field call observational evidence, aka ‘facts’. Keep in mind that satellites used to produce these images have an especially hard time distinguishing ice topped with melt water from open water, which means much more ice useful to these marine mammals is almost certainly present than is shown in the charts (as much as 20% more in some regions).

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First tagged W Hudson Bay polar bear comes ashore

On the 8th July, the first of almost two dozen tagged or collared polar bears came ashore in Western Hudson Bay (WH) under unusual sea ice conditions. How does this compare to previous years?

Image above is from last year (6 July 2021): we haven’t yet had a sighting from the live cams on the shore of Wapusk National Park near Churchill reported at Explore.org.

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Hudson Bay polar bears still have lots of ice at July 1

Although some have come ashore in the north around Arviat, most polar bears are still on the ice. Disaster averted for another season as predictions of doom fail to meet reality.

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

Sea ice on Hudson Bay is still abundant in the southwest sector, including around Churchill, and much of that is still thick first year ice (>1.2m thick, dark green on the ‘stage of development’ charts).

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Claim: data exists showing polar bear body condition improves over summer on sea ice

Do polar bears increase their body condition if they stay on the sea ice over the summer? Do they continue to hunt successfully from broken ice in July and early August in areas like Hudson Bay where ice eventually melts out completely? There seems to be an assumption that they do but one polar bear specialists repeatedly claims there is data showing this is the case.

A polar bear breaks through thin Actic Ocean ice Aug. 23, 2009.

Anyone saying sea ice at this time of year doesn’t affect polar bears is ignoring research showing their body condition continues to increase through summer if they’re out on the ice.” [Andrew Derocher 28 June 2022]

I would seriously like to know which paper or papers this data appears in but of course, he doesn’t provide that information. Instead, it’s ‘trust me, I’m the expert’.

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New polar bear subpopulation update: more background facts and details from the paper

Here are the facts you need to put into context the claim that the estimated 234 polar bears recently discovered in SE Greenland have been living ‘without sea ice‘.

The unique genetic isolation of this new subpopulation makes it one of the most interesting discoveries about polar bears we’ve seen in decades, yet the media were primed by a press release loaded with dooms-day climate rhetoric to focus exclusively on the model-predicted precarious future of the species, like this gem from the lead author:

“In a sense, these bears provide a glimpse into how Greenland’s bears may fare under future climate scenarios,” Laidre said. “The sea ice conditions in Southeast Greenland today resemble what’s predicted for Northeast Greenland by late this century.”

As a consequence, the media have been trying to out-do each other with the most over-the-top climate catastrophe headlines, see here and here. The authors of paper itself and a companion piece do the same: instead of focusing on the exciting scientific implications of the genetically isolated population they discovered, they promote the preferred narrative that polar bears have a bleak future and lecture the public (yet again) about the need for limiting CO2 emissions (Laidre et al. 2022; Peacock 2022).

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