Category Archives: Life History

Fat polar bear of late summer in Arctic Canada

Retired Mountie and bird photographer Clare Kines captured on film one of those ‘canaries of in the coal mine’ of the Canadian Arctic we hear so much about. Kines is from Arctic Bay and took the photo a few weeks ago, on 9 September, on the north end of Baffin Island (just east of where the famous National Geographic ‘starving’ bear was filmed in 2017). His photo was published 14 September by Nunatsiaq News.

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Polar Bear Facts & Myths for young readers in Portugal and Brazil

Due to the efforts of Thiago Maia and his team of assistants (Igor Vaz Maquieira and Márcio Calixto), I can now offer a Portuguese translation of my popular Polar Bear Facts & Myths science book for young readers in Brazil and Portugal.

Urso Polar Fatos E Mitos agora disponível em Português!

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Western Hudson Bay fat polar bear video from the shore of Wakusp National Park

Here is a short video from last week on the shore of Wapusk National Park of a fat sow and her fat cub. At this time of year, the Cape Churchill caribou herd (population ca. 3,000) is wandering by with their new calves. Unlike deer, both male and female caribou have antlers. The bears and the caribou simply ignore each other most of the time. Very rarely, a bear will chase one and even more rarely, catch one. However, the bears will scavenge caribou kills made by wolves, which are their primary predator.

Polar Bears and Caribou Explore org 18 August 2021

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Polar bear habitat update for end July 2021 compared to previous years

Here’s a trip down memory lane for Arctic sea ice at the end of July, which as far as I can see provides no evidence that a very low sea ice disaster is in the cards for polar bears this year.

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Western Hudson Bay polar bears: still some out on the sea ice, some causing trouble

As of Monday (19 July), more polar bears had come ashore near Churchill and on the shores of Wakusp National Park but some are still out on the bay. The pattern of ice breakup this year means most bears will come ashore well south of Churchill and make their way north over the summer and fall. There have been two Churchill ‘problem’ bear reports so far but not one for this week, so I’ll go ahead and post without it.

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Polar bears have begun to come ashore on Western Hudson Bay

So far, the first evidence I’ve seen of a bear ashore in Western Hudson Bay was one photographed near Churchill Manitoba on 28 June (below).

28 June 2021 near Churchill

However, by 5 July, the first of six collared females from Andrew Derocher’s WH study (below) had also come ashore, as did others along the shore of Wapusk National Park. This is not ‘early’ – just earlier than the last few years. Like last year, however, there is still a fair amount of sea ice left on the bay and some bears seem to be choosing to stay out longer on what ‘experts’ describe as unsuitable habitat. As you can see on his bear tracker map, Derocher uses a filter that shows only ice >50% concentration because he and his buddies have decided that bears so dislike anything less that they immediately head to shore as soon as ice levels fall below this threshold.

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Polar bears of western Hudson Bay still on the ice at third week June

According to the tracker map provided by Andrew Derocher (University of Alberta), all of the western Hudson Bay polar bear females that still have operational satellite collars (deployed in 2019) are still out on the ice of Hudson Bay. The Explore.org live video cam that sits on the shore of Wapusk National Park just south of Churchill has been capturing images of caribou and birds but so far, no polar bears. Last year, the first bear seen onshore by the cameras (shown in the video) was on 13 July.

It wasn’t until a month later that more bears were seen: the fat mother and cub in the screencap below were spotted on 18 July 2020 and the last of the collared bears didn’t come ashore until late August:

This year at 21 June, only 6 collars still operating but only one of them is anywhere close to shore yet (courtesy Andrew Derocher via twitter, below):

That ice in the middle of the bay is still primarily very thick first year ice, as the chart for this third week of June shows (below):

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Polar bear habitat in Canada at the first week of June sees widening of critical polynyas

Winds primarily cause the apparent sea ice ‘breakup’ in late spring through the widening of persistent polynyas and shore leads. This year the development of critical open water areas in Canada (which are important feeding areas for polar bears) is on track with previous years in most areas, although there is a lot of year-to-year variability.

Several prominent polynas also opened up along the Russian coast and Northeast Greenland: see the entire Arctic condition at 7 June 2021 below, courtesy NSIDC:

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Surprising sea ice thickness across the Arctic is good news for polar bears

This year near the end of May the distribution of thickest sea ice (3.5-5m/11.5-16.4 ft – or more) is a bit surprising, given that the WMO has suggested we may be only five years away from a “dangerous tipping point” in global temperatures. There is the usual and expected band of thick ice in the Arctic Ocean across northern Greenland and Canada’s most northern islands but there are also some patches in the peripheral seas (especially north of Svalbard, southeast Greenland, Foxe Basin, Hudson Strait, Chukchi Sea, Laptev Sea). This is plenty of sea ice for polar bear hunting at this time of year (mating season is pretty much over) and that thick ice will provide summer habitat for bears that choose to stay on the ice during the low-ice season: not even close to an emergency for polar bears.

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Spring polynyas in the Arctic then and now as feeding areas for hungry polar bears

Patches of open water in the Arctic that develop in the spring, including polynyas and widening shore leads, are largely due to the actions of wind and currents on mobile pack ice rather than ice melt. Contrary to concerns expressed about possible negative implications of these early patches of open water, these areas have always been critical congregation areas for Arctic seals and are therefore important feeding areas for polar bears in late spring.

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