Category Archives: Polar bear attacks

Sea ice off Newfoundland thickest ever yet another polar bear comes ashore

Amid reports that ice conditions between Newfoundland and southern Labrador are the worst in living memory, another polar bear was reported ashore in the area — just after biologist Andrew Derocher explained to the CBC that bears only come on land when sea ice conditions “fail.”

Strait-of-belle-isle pack ice_April 19 2017_Nordik Relais

“Ice too thick for coast guard’s heavy icebreaker” said a 20 April 2017 CBC report on the state of ice in the Strait of Belle Isle. The pack is thick first year ice (four feet thick or more in places) and embedded with icebergs of much older, thicker ice. The ice packed along the northern shore of Newfoundland is hampering fishermen from getting out to sea and is not expected to clear until mid-May.

NASA Worldview shows the extent of the pack ice over northwest Newfoundland and southern Labrador on 19 April 2017 (the Strait of Belle Isle is the bit between the two):

Newfoundland Labrador sea ice 19 April 2017 NASA Worldview

The same day that the above satellite image was taken (19 April), at the north end of the Strait on the Newfoundland side, a polar bear was spotted in a small community northwest of St. Anthony (marked below,  “Wildberry Country Lodge” at Parker’s Brook). It’s on the shore of north-facing Pistolet Bay on the Great Northern Peninsula, near the 1000 year old Viking occupation site of L’Anse aux Meadows.

Parkers Brook location on Pistolet Bay

There were no photos of the Parker’s Brook bear but lots of others have been taken this year of almost a dozen seen along Newfoundland shorelines since early March: see my recently updated post, with an updated map of reported sightings. Harp seals are now abundant in the pack ice of southern Davis Strait, providing polar bears with an ample source of food when they need it most and therefore, a strong attractant to the area.

St brendan's bear 01 VOCM report 5 April 2017 Tracy Hynes

Yet, as I reported yesterday, polar bear specialist Andrew Derocher told the CBC this week that polar bears are almost always “forced” ashore by poor ice conditions. The CBC report included his tweet from 10 April, where he suggested “failed” Newfoundland ice conditions were the cause of multiple bears onshore in Newfoundland this year.

Similar thick ice conditions off northern Newfoundland (perhaps even worse) occurred in 2007, see Twillingate in the spring of 2007 below:

Twillingate-heavy ice-20070523_2007 CBC David Boyd photo

Yet, in 2007 there was not a single polar bear reported onshore in Newfoundland (as far as I am aware) but this year there were almost a dozen. And the photos taken this year show fat, healthy bears – not animals struggling to survive.

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Still lots of East Coast sea ice but prof tells CBC it doesn’t bode well for polar bears

Davis Strait polar bears around Newfoundland and Labrador are currently experiencing what one polar bear specialist refers to as “failed” sea ice conditions, causing bears to come ashore in droves. I’m not making this up.

Sea ice extent Canada 2017 April 21 CIS

The ice was so thick in the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland and southern Labrador last week that a ferry was stuck for 24 hours and had to be rescued by an icebreaker.

The boats of fisherman on the north shore of Newfoundland are stuck in thick ice that’s not expected to clear until mid-May at the earliest and they can’t get out to fish.

boats-in-ice-near-twillingate_CBC_19 April 2017

See this video posted on Twitter two days ago.

The same thing (perhaps even worse) happened in 2007, see Twillingate in the spring of 2007 below:

Twillingate-heavy ice-20070523_2007 CBC David Boyd photo

Yet, in 2007 there was not a single polar bear reported onshore in Newfoundland (as far as I am aware) but this year there were almost a dozen. And the photos show fat, healthy bears – not animals struggling to survive.

East Coast March April polar bear sightings 2017 V3_9 April

According to Andrew Derocher, that’s proof “failed” sea ice is the reason that polar bears came ashore this year but not last year (when there was also lots of ice in late March/early April, see additional maps and graphs below). Last year there were sightings in the middle of winter (January/February) in Labrador and Newfoundland (which I reported here) and one bear was shot in Newfoundland in early May when he advanced on local RCMP officers.

I think Derocher believes he’s set the record straight by offering an interview of his own to refute the things I said to the CBC last week (I talked on two Newfoundland radio stations, which generated a print CBC article). But Newfoundlanders have to deal with used car salesmen just like the everyone else, so I expect they are having a good laugh right now at the expert who’s blaming their polar bear troubles on a lack of sea ice.
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Newfoundland conservation officers right to kill polar bear in hunting mode

Apparently, some locals were upset that a polar bear that refused to be scared away from a Newfoundland community over the weekend was shot as it advanced on conservation officers and a crowd of onlookers who refused to disperse (see updated report here on recent Newfoundland polar bear sightings, with annotated map).

Catalina map and bear shot location Nfld

Polar bear shot by wildlife officers near Catalina after being deemed public safety risk” (CBC 10 April 2017)

What these animal lovers may not realize is that Newfoundland in March and April is not a Churchill-like situation: polar bears are in strong hunting mode right now.

Polar bears in late winter and spring have an immense drive to kill and eat as much as possible. Even bears that look well fed will continue to kill and eat. Enticing smells attract them onshore as they investigate any food possibility (see list below).

Seriously, you don’t want that food possibility to be you.

Polar bears can go from watching to charging, in the blink of an eye. You can’t outrun one. Killing quickly is what they do and they are immensely strong. Polar bears generally go for a killing bite to the head. Things to think about when a polar bear is prowling your community…
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Maclean’s blames global warming for polar bear visits to Newfoundland

Without a shred of evidence, Canada’s Maclean’s magazine claims recent polar bear sightings in Newfoundland and Labrador are due to global warming — and concludes that such incidents are bound to get worse.

Macleans 7 April 2017 polar bear headline with photo_sized

But since it’s likely that polar bear populations in Davis Strait are still increasing (as they were in 2007), Maclean’s might be correct in their prophesy that bear visitations are bound to get worse — just not for the reason they think.

Without any justification or even a quote from an expert, the author of this piece (Meagan Campbell)  blames man-made global warming for recent polar bear visits to Labrador and Newfoundland:

“Since bear sightings in the early winter have been linked to climate change, some parents are more concerned for their future grandchildren.” 

That’s just bad logic. Actually, the fact that global warming has not killed off polar bears as predicted means there are lots of bears to come ashore causing problems in late winter (while they wait for Arctic seal pups to be born, so they can eat them).
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East Coast crawling with polar bears since early March thanks to the pack ice

The  hot polar bear news right now is the large number of sightings of bears onshore in Newfoundland and Labrador – even the CBC is impressed.

Melrose nfld Polar Bear 02_2017 April 3_Brandon Collins shared photo The Packet

Photo taken by Brandon Collins in Melrose (on the Trinity Bay side of the peninsula) Monday 3 April 2017

All the bears have been brought to land by the abundant pack ice that’s been present off Labrador and northern Newfoundland (the territory of Davis Strait polar bears), which also killed a humpback whale that got trapped against the north shore (a not unusual event, apparently).

Mapping the reports of polar bear sightings since early March helped me get a handle on the total number of encounters: more than a dozen, it turns out.  There have been a few bear sightings in this region every year recently but such high numbers are remarkable, especially so early in the season. When will it end?

Increased numbers of bears in the population is one explanation for increased numbers of encounters onshore at this time of year, although recent storms may have encouraged more bears than usual to come ashore in Newfoundland.

My picture annotated map and a list of sighting reports, with links, is below but stay tuned: this story may not be over yet.

UPDATE 4 April: more photos and sea ice maps added below.

UPDATE 5 April: another sighting, in St. Brendan’s (west of Bonavista), added to the map below and quotes from one witness. The map is now Version 2. A sea ice map for 5 April has also been added at the end of the post.

UPDATE 9 April: another sighting and a bear casualty, see below. Map revised again.

UPDATE 14 April: CBC Newfoundland article (12 April: Highway of ice: Easy route for polar bears chasing food, prof says) based on my radio interview that aired 11 April.

UPDATE 22 April: Another sighting west of St. Anthony on Wednesday, 19 April has been added to the map (now Version 4) and an alert that I’ve added a new post (21 April) about the claim by one vocal polar bear specialist that all of these sightings are the result of “failed” sea ice conditions off Newfoundland and Labrador this year (seriously, I’m not making this up). I’ve added the most recent ice map at the end of this post.
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Recent incident in Foxe Basin shows the danger of hungry polar bears in winter

A late-night encounter with a thin and hungry polar bear in the northern Quebec community of Ivujivik in early March was a nightmare-inspiring event.

Ivujivik polar bear encounter plus headline_NunatsiaqOnline 28 March 2017

Reported this morning by NunatsiaqOnline (Nunavik community receives some unwelcome guests, 28 March 2017), the thwarted polar bear attack at the edge of Hudson Bay was the fourth defense kill this year (and the second this month) after a large number of bear sightings by residents this winter.

In contrast to reports of other encounters this winter that involved unusually fat bears for this time of year, this bear was thin and obviously dangerous.

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Another fat bear onshore in late winter, along Gulf of St. Lawrence north coast

Another fat bear onshore in late winter, this time along the Quebec shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence (22 March 2017) – and this time, one of the witnesses to the sighting took some great photos. Courtesy CBC News (Polar bear makes rare appearance on Quebec’s Lower North Shore 24 March 2017).

Gulf St Lawrence North shore PB visit 22 March 2017_CBC headline

Quotes, location map, and sea ice charts below.

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