Category Archives: Sea ice habitat

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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Thick sea ice in the Western Arctic is not good habitat for polar bears, seals, or walrus

A few weeks into the Arctic summer (July-September), sea ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas is dominated by thick, multi-year ice.

At this time of year, multi-year ice is an important refuge habitat for many polar bears when seasonal ice melts out. However, it provides few opportunities for hunting seals. In fact, it is nearly as devoid of food as is the shore during the melt season. Consequently, most polar bears eat little over the summer whether they are on land or on sea ice due to the scarcity of seals.

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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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Arctic sea ice is constantly changing which means polar bears must be flexible in their requirements

In honour of upcoming ‘Arctic Sea Ice Day’ (15 July), I revisit my 2015 essay on sea ice stability and polar bears, called The Arctic Fallacy. It challenges the flawed and out-dated ecological concept that under natural conditions, sea ice provides a stable and predictable habitat for polar bears, walrus and seals. The wide-spread adoption of this fallacy has allowed the present-day doom and gloom attitude of most Arctic specialists to develop.

[Polar Bears International have declared July 15 to be ‘Arctic Sea Ice Day’ to further its propaganda efforts to ‘save our sea ice’, which they claim is disappearing at an alarming rate due to global warming.]

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First tagged W Hudson Bay polar bear comes ashore

On the 8th July, the first of almost two dozen tagged or collared polar bears came ashore in Western Hudson Bay (WH) under unusual sea ice conditions. How does this compare to previous years?

Image above is from last year (6 July 2021): we haven’t yet had a sighting from the live cams on the shore of Wapusk National Park near Churchill reported at Explore.org.

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Polar bear evolution and recent genetic papers

Two scientific papers in June on polar bear evolution got a bit of media attention but not what the topic deserves. I’ve not written about them because I am currently working on a larger piece putting this conflicting genetic information into full context. Have patience, it’s coming.

Hudson Bay polar bears still have lots of ice at July 1

Although some have come ashore in the north around Arviat, most polar bears are still on the ice. Disaster averted for another season as predictions of doom fail to meet reality.

24 June 2022, courtesy Gordy Kidlapik at Arviat (via twitter).

Sea ice on Hudson Bay is still abundant in the southwest sector, including around Churchill, and much of that is still thick first year ice (>1.2m thick, dark green on the ‘stage of development’ charts).

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Claim: data exists showing polar bear body condition improves over summer on sea ice

Do polar bears increase their body condition if they stay on the sea ice over the summer? Do they continue to hunt successfully from broken ice in July and early August in areas like Hudson Bay where ice eventually melts out completely? There seems to be an assumption that they do but one polar bear specialists repeatedly claims there is data showing this is the case.

A polar bear breaks through thin Actic Ocean ice Aug. 23, 2009.

Anyone saying sea ice at this time of year doesn’t affect polar bears is ignoring research showing their body condition continues to increase through summer if they’re out on the ice.” [Andrew Derocher 28 June 2022]

I would seriously like to know which paper or papers this data appears in but of course, he doesn’t provide that information. Instead, it’s ‘trust me, I’m the expert’.

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