Category Archives: Life History

New polar bear hunting habitat forming already along the coast of the Laptev Sea: A new trend?

Not even three weeks after the yearly minimum of sea ice extent was reached this year, new shorefast ice is already forming off the coast of Siberia, which is critical fall hunting habitat for polar bears.

Polar bears on a seal kill in new ice, 31 October 2020 in W. Hudson Bay via webcam.

So, not only was this year’s sea ice extent for September at the very lowest extreme of predicted levels for late summer, given ever-increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, new ice seems to be forming earlier in the fall as well, which bodes well for winter ice formation. It’s looking to me like the decade-long increasing trend of September ice extent since 2012 (see below) may indicate a change more biologically relevant to ice-dependent Arctic animals than the zero trend since 2007.

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Video: Fat polar bears on the shore of Hudson Bay near Churchill, one catches a goose

This little snack won’t make much difference to the bear’s survival but rare film footage of an already-fat bear (estimated at 1,000lbs) catching and eating a Canada goose on Friday last week (26 August 2022) just outside of Churchill on the western shore of Hudson Bay is not a bear motivated by starvation to eat something other than seals.

Newsreel of the goose hunt is below; photo of another fat bear, also near Churchill, taken the day before (25 August 2022) is shown above, see more from that day here.

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Last WH polar bears ashore even later than 2009 as Hudson Bay finally becomes ice-free

According to Andrew Derocher this morning, the last of his teams’ tagged polar bears have come ashore in Western Hudson Bay, in the last week of August. That makes two years out of the last three when the tagged WH bears came ashore as late, or later than, they had done in 2009 (a very cold year when they were onshore by about 20/21 August), something Derocher failed to mention during a CBC Radio interview also published today.

Don’t forget: this is the subpopulation that polar bear specialists use to model the future of all bears, everywhere in the Arctic but only use stale data from the 2000s because including more recent information would give a much more optimistic picture.

Meanwhile, no further reports from Churchill about problem bears: the last one issued was for the first week in August. Time will tell at freeze-up whether this will be yet another very good year for Western Hudson Bay bears.

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Grizzly on the shore of W. Hudson Bay and two tagged polar bears still on sea ice at 17 August

A tundra grizzly was again caught on the live cam set up for polar bears last week (15 August) but was too late for interspecies hankypanky, even as some polar bears lingered on invisible offshore sea ice.

A polar bear rests on the ice Aug. 23, 2009, after following the Coast Guard Cutter Healy for nearly an hour in the Beaufort Sea.

Polar bear specialist Andrew Derocher reported that two of his 23 tagged polar bears were still on the sea ice, a phenomenon that’s been happening since at least 2015 at breakup. Instead of heading to shore when the sea ice concentration dwindles below 50% coverage, some bears are choosing to lounge around on decaying bits of ice, sometimes into late July or well into August, until they must finally swim ashore. There is no evidence that the bears continue to successfully hunt seals under these conditions but no evidence either that their choice to stay on the ice rather than move to land at this time of year has had any negative impact on their health or survival.

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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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