Category Archives: Polar bear attacks

East Coast sea ice so far similar to last year

Davis Strait ice pack is slowly moving south this year just as shorefast ice is developing in-place along the Labrador shoreline, similar to last year. East Coast harp seals that give birth in the region in March depend on this ice and so do many Davis Strait polar bears that feed on those newborn seals. In contrast, in 2017 the ice off Labrador was broader by mid-January (even more so by mid-February) and that seems to have made a huge difference by April, when ice north of Newfoundland was thick and extensive.

Compared to last year at this time, there was somewhat less ice along the Labrador coast but the difference is really negligible. By April, ice extent was well below average, especially in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and there were few sightings of polar bears along the Labrador and Newfoundland coasts.

Back in 2017 at the same time (below), the band of ice along the southern Labrador coast was much broader, indicating more movement of Davis Strait ice from the north. This resulted in so many polar bear sightings in Newfoundland and Labrador by March and April that I could hardly keep up reporting them (Crockford 2019:32):

East coast conditions could change significantly over the next few weeks however, especially if weather conditions bring more north winds.

References

Crockford, S.J. 2019. State of the Polar Bear Report 2018. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 32, London. PDF here.

Remembering the terrorizing Belushya Guba polar bears: lots of Barents Sea ice cover this year

Three years ago, the Russian village of Belushya Guba on southwest coast of Novaya Zemlya on the Barents Sea got international attention for the dozens of polar bears that had invaded the local dump and some aggressive bears were terrorizing local residents. The phenomenon was of course blamed on climate change by virtually all media outlets largely because there was no sea ice on that coast at the time (as had been true many years before without bear trouble).

This year is a different story completely. It’s only early January and already there is abundant ice along the west coast of Novaya Zemlya; ice in the Barents Sea in general is well up over recent averages and the pack is already converging on Bear Island (Bjørnøya) to the south of the Svalbard archipelago. Ice this far south often brings polar bear visitors to the weather station there but that doesn’t usually happen until March or April.

You’ll find references in previous posts linked here.

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How to build an igloo: was the snow house designed in part to protect against polar bears?

When I came across this fascinating National Film Board video from 1949 on how to build an igloo, it reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague about whether the design of the Inuit snow house was originally developed in part as protection against marauding polar bears?

Such a dome of tightly-fitted snow blocks, when properly consolidated with a thin layer of ice inside, must have been virtually impenetrable to even the hungriest bears – and defendable at the narrow entrance tunnel. The image below is from Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island around 1865, which lies within the boundaries of the Davis Strait subpopulation of polar bears.

A link to ‘How to Build an Igloo‘ is included in my free ‘Arctic Sea Ice Ecosystem Teaching Guide‘ for home schooling found here. The igloo film is 10 minutes long and suitable for all ages.

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Polar bear watching in high gear near Churchill as everyone waits for the sea ice to form

All of the bears within view of the coastal web cams on the shore of Wapusk National Park near Churchill on Western Hudson Bay seem to be in very good shape this year, despite having come off the ice a few weeks earlier than they have over the last few years. Despite this, problems with bears in Churchill seem to have been below average this year. Some great action can be seen via several Explore dot org live web cams that are streaming from shore right now.

A sow with yearling cub; 1 November 2021

No ice forming yet along the west coast of Hudson Bay as of today, which is a bit later than it has been for the last few years. That means some of these bears will likely have spent almost 5 months onshore by the time they get back on the newly-formed ice and resume hunting seals.

Hudson Bay shows no ice forming along the west coast, closeup at 2 November 2021
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No signs of a climate emergency for W. Hudson Bay polar bears this year ahead of UN climate meeting

I’ve been told that another complete aerial survey of the Western Hudson Bay polar bear subpopulation (from the Nunavut to Ontario boundaries) was conducted in August this year and that the bears have been hanging out further south than usual. It will be years before the results of the population count are published, of course (especially if it’s good news) but my contacts also say virtually all of the bears are in great condition again this year.

This is significant because W. Hudson Bay bears are one of the most southern subpopulations in the Arctic (only Southern HB bears live further south) and older data from this region is being used to predict the future for the entire global population based on implausible model projections (Molnar et al. 2020). And scary predictions of future polar bear survival are often taken to be proxies for future human disasters (see ‘Polar bears live on the edge of the climate change crisis‘), a point that some activists will no doubt make in the coming weeks, as the long-awaited UN climate change bash #26 (COP26) gets underway in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31.

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Churchill problem polar bear reports finally completed and posted online

Although since 2015 at least the Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill Manitoba usually issued and published its problem bear reports weekly during the ice-free season, this year has been an odd exception. Two reports in early July, then nothing. Yesterday, there was a dump of reports that had been compiled on 1 September and 7 October, according to their metadata.

There are still a few weeks missing, including the two most recent weeks but at least now we have a more complete picture of what’s been going on with problem bears in The Polar Bear Capital of the World that can be compared to previous years. Such reports in various forms go back to the late 1960s, although only those from recent years have been publicly available (Kearney 1989; Towns et al. 2009).

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No updates from Churchill polar bear alert program since July 12

What the heck is happening in Churchill? Either the Polar Bear Alert Program has produced no reports or they have simply not been posted. It’s been more than 6 weeks since the last published report.

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Foxe Basin polar bear attack victim recalls repeated attacks and being bitten on the neck

A few more details have emerged on the polar bear attack in Foxe Basin last week (Tuesday 10 August) in which three Inuit residents were mauled near the community of Sanirajak, Nunavut (formerly Hall Beach) and had to be airlifted to hospital.

One of the victims, Elijah Kaernerk, has finally recovered enough to explain what happened: he surprised the bear feeding on a carcass of something near his cabin and it came after him. The other two, both women, must have come to see what the noise was about and the bear went after them too. The bear was apparently shot by other members of the community after the attack but no mention was made of its condition, which leads me to believe it was probably not starving.

Quotes from the CBC story (17 August 2021) below.

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Foxe Basin polar bear attack leaves three people seriously mauled, airlifted to hospital

The attack happened yesterday afternoon (10 August) about 2:30 PM local time near the community of Sanirajak (listed as Hall Beach on ice charts), which is in Foxe Basin, Nunavut (population about 800). There are few details yet on the human victims of the mauling other than that they were two women and a man. All three were badly injured. They are now in hospital and expected to survive.

It appears the bear died as a consequence of the attack but there has been no mention of its condition, age, etc., or the circumstances of the attack. There is no ethical reason for blaming this broad-daylight attack on lack of sea ice (although some will try), since there is abundant ice in the region at the moment, as the charts below show. Expect an update as the story unfolds.

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Polar bear attack in Greenland gratuitously blamed on recent ‘heat wave’

A polar bear bit the hand of a member of a film crew near the Danish military base of Daneborg in East Greenland on Monday (2 August) and predictably, this has been blamed on recent warm temperatures in the region. There is no specific evidence of cause and effect, of course. The news outlet reporting the incident cites some non-specified ‘experts’ as providing the generic ‘warming makes polar bears starve or behave badly’ excuse that makes no sense in this particular instance.

Here is what the news report had to say (3 Aug), my emphasis:

Early on Monday, while the sun does not set in summer at this latitude, the bear poked his head through a poorly closed window of a research station where the documentary team was staying about 400 metres from the small base of Daneborg.

A Danish Arctic military unit based in Greenland said the bear bit the hand of one of the three male team members before they used warning pistols to force the animal to flee.

Transported first to Daneborg, the injured documentary maker had to be evacuated to Akureyri, a town in Iceland.

Already blamed for five incidents until now, the bear returned again later in the morning and then again overnight Monday to Tuesday when it broke a window of the research station before fleeing.

“The local authorities have from now on categorised the bear as ‘problematic,’ which allows for it to be shot dead, if it returns,” the Danish military unit said.

Daneborg is marked on the map below:

Any bear causing problems in this region would have just come off the ice, since three weeks ago there was plenty of ice available offshore a bit to the north (see chart below for 7 July). Virtually all bears are at their best condition at this time of year, except for young, inexperienced bears or those that are sick or injured. Warm temperatures would not be causing any bear to be desperately looking for food unless it was desperate for some other reason (sick, injured, or an under-nourished young bear). However, nothing is stated in this report about the physical condition of the bear, its approximate age or its sex, even though it has been seen multiple times. Young male bears, for example, are far more likely to become problems near communities than any other age class (Wilder et al. 2017), because these bears have to compete with older, larger bears to keep whatever seals they manage to kill.

Note the reliance on un-named ‘experts’ at the end of the same news report:

Experts say the retreat of the ice pack, the hunting ground of the polar bear, forces them to stay on land more often and they find it harder to find food and sustain a species already considered vulnerable.

Although still rare, the close encounters with humans are increasing as bears more frequently approach inhabited areas in their search for food, environmental protection officers say.

What generic pap! The community has a problem bear on its hands, a situation which northern communities across the Arctic must contend with on a continual basis. Even if there was ice offshore, there would be the possibility of bears coming ashore and causing problems.

There is also the issue no one wants to talk about because it has nothing to do with declining sea ice: with more bears comes more problem bears.

References

Wilder, J.M., Vongraven, D., Atwood, T., Hansen, B., Jessen, A., Kochnev, A., York, G., Vallender, R., Hedman, D. and Gibbons, M. 2017. Polar bear attacks on humans: implications of a changing climate. Wildlife Society Bulletin, in press. DOI: 10.1002/wsb.783 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wsb.783/full