Posted onMarch 30, 2023|Comments Off on 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.
Posted onMarch 16, 2023|Comments Off on Return of Svalbard sea ice in time for seal births and the polar bear feeding bonanza
It seems that every fall and winter for the last decade at least, there has been hand-wringing about the lack of Svalbard sea ice and what a tragedy this is for polar bears. And like clockwork, before the end of winter (30 March) every year, the pack ice returns in time for spring: for ringed and bearded seals to give birth–and for the polar bears to gorge themselves on the fat newborns.
This year there is even ice as far south as Bear Island (Bjørnøya) and it’s only 15 March. This has happened several times now in the last 10 year. So much for the catastrophe! And soon Norwegian biologists will be out checking on the health of these bears, which they do every year and report their results online for everyone to see.
Posted onMarch 15, 2023|Comments Off on Birthing season for harp seals in Labrador Sea just in time to feed hungry polar bears
The main birthing period for NW Atlantic harp seals has arrived. Local populations of ringed and bearded seal pups will soon follow but in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in eastern Canada, the pupping season for harp seals that is usually in progress by this time has likely been redirected north due to lack of suitable ice conditions. Sea ice off Labrador and Newfoundland is in good condition and this is where the vast majority of the global population go to give birth (ca. 7.6 million vs. 1.5 million in the White Sea and 434,000 in east Greenland).
Posted onMarch 12, 2023|Comments Off on Ice-entrapped dolphins in Newfoundland lucky not to have been eaten by polar bears
A small pod of white-beaked dolphins entrapped on Friday (10 March) by a sudden surge of ice along the northern Newfoundland coast were lucky to have been rescued by humans before polar bears could get to them. We know the bears are around, drawn south by the millions of harp seals giving birth to their pups in the area. In April 2014, something similar happened to white-beaked dolphins in Svalbard and they became a welcome meal for at least six polar bears (Aars et al. 2015).
UPDATE 20 March 2023: Another pod of white-beaked dolphins has perished from the ice over the weekend. More than 30 dolphins were trapped near the town of Carbonear, which is on Conception Bay (the next big bay southeast from Trinity Bay), according to CBC News. Given the ice conditions, this is almost certainly a different pod to the one reported on two weeks ago.
Dolphins getting stuck in sea ice is a fairly regular occurrence, said Ledwell. [Wayne Ledwell of Whale Release and Strandings]
“It’s been happening here forever,” he said, adding it’s not just a problem for dolphins. “It kills blue whale and humpback whales and whatever gets into it.”
Posted onMarch 10, 2023|Comments Off on Polar bear sightings and sea ice conditions in Newfoundland & Labrador 2023 vs. 2017
Conservation officials issued an alert to residents of coastal communities to be aware of polar bears coming ashore over the last week in northern Newfoundland and southern Labrador, after a woman photographed a bear outside her home on Tuesday morning (7 March 2023). Since no bears in this subpopulation are tracked with satellite radio collars, we have no idea if there are a few dozen bears — or a few hundred of them — hunting on the ice and available to come ashore when the opportunity arises.
Posted onMarch 5, 2023|Comments Off on Early-birthing polar bear female with new cubs out on the ice already in Western Hudson Bay
At least a month earlier than in more northerly areas of the Arctic, the first known female with new cubs-of-the-year has been reported on the sea ice hunting for seals in Western Hudson Bay. Remember this when the cries of “early” breakup of sea ice on Hudson Bay come in the summer: these WH bears routinely get a head start on spring feeding that other bears don’t get.
Posted onJanuary 12, 2023|Comments Off on Recent paper on W. Hudson Bay polar bears includes new official sea ice freeze-up data
Even though it’s in graph form only, we finally have an update on sea ice freeze-up dates for Western Hudson Bay for 2016-2020 (but not breakup dates).
This graphed data published by Miller et al. 2022 extends by five years that published in 2017 by Castro de la Guardia and colleagues, which contained graphed data for breakup and freeze-up dates from 1979-2015 (with exact dates for 2005-2008 only).
It confirms a statement I made last month, that between 2016 and 2021 “there has been only one ‘late’ freeze-up year (2016)–but five very early ones.” Of course, 2021 was not included in this new dataset, so that would be “four very early ones” up to 2020.
Posted onDecember 11, 2022|Comments Off on Polar bear habitat update: Winter conditions well on their way across the Arctic except in Svalbard
December is late fall in the Arctic: winter conditions are gearing up but are not in full swing everywhere. Sea ice is developing quickly over Hudson Bay and moving slowly towards the Bering Sea but the Svalbard archipelago is still devoid of pack ice.
Such conditions north of Norway have existed most years since 2005: it’s certainly not a new development for Svalbard to be free of surrounding pack ice in December (although there was lots of ice in 2019 and 2021 by late November). This means traditional denning areas on the eastern islands again cannot be used by pregnant polar bear females, because they must be ensconced in their dens by at least late November or so.
Some seem to think this is a calamity: that such ‘loss of habitat’ is a huge concern for the survival of the subpopulation, if not the entire species. However, the same conditions existed in 2011 and did not result in a dramatic decline in the population as measured in 2015 (Aars et al. 2017) because the bears knew how to respond. They have apparently moved north to make maternity dens on the sea ice or east to the Franz Josef Land archipelago in Russia (Aars 2015). These areas are still within the Barents Sea subpopulation boundaries and researchers have known for two decades that bears have moved around within it (Andersen et al. 2012; Derocher 2005; Maurizen et al. 2002).
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