The Sun ran a photo-essay yesterday (22 March 2020, below) taken by a UK photographer who went to Wapusk National Park just south of Churchill, Manitoba in order to get much-coveted images of polar bear mothers and cubs newly emerged from winter maternity dens. The photos were said to have been taken “early last week” (16-17 March?).
The trees in the photos are a give-away to the location: no other subpopulation regions except Western and Southern Hudson Bay are below the treeline. Scrubby little spruces but ‘trees’ nonetheless. Mothers in more northern regions won’t come out with their cubs until April.
The question is: what was this photographer thinking to travel to a remote Arctic location in the middle of a global pandemic?
UPDATE 24 March 2020 820am PT. I have just heard from photographer Brian Mathews and he had this to say about his trip to Wapusk National Park:
“Context and facts are key as ever. I left the U.K. before any of the measures where in place. I’ve just got back after being in Canada for nearly a month. When I returned to Churchill I self isolated then returned to the U.K. the coverage I got is good for the bears and the positive uplifting feedback I’ve had about the joy they brought into people lives had be brilliant.”
I noted in my response to him that I realize the tour company in Canada bears some responsibility for continuing to operate under the circumstances.
Worth watching if you haven’t seen it – and a second look if you have – a rare balanced documentary produced by the CBC in 2014 on polar bear conservation, with interviews with biologists Mitch Taylor and Andrew Derocher.
“In The Politics of Polar Bears, Reg Sherren will pick his way through the message track to help you decide what is really happening with the largest land carnivore on the planet.”
Short version here (about 18 minutes):
Entire version (45:30):
Online summary by the producer of the film, Reg Sherren (see excerpt below).
The most up-to-date discussion of polar bear numbers and the politics of polar bears are in my popular new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Andrew Derocher, CBC, Churchill, condition, documentary, jail, Mitch Taylor, polar bear, Polar Bears International, politics, sea ice, weights
This is the third year in a row that freeze-up of Western Hudson Bay (WH) ice has come earlier than the average of 16 November documented in the 1980s. Reports by folks on the ground near Churchill confirm polar bears are starting to move onto the sea ice that’s developing along the shore after almost 5 months on land. After five good sea ice seasons in a row for WH polar bears, this repeat of an early freeze-up means a sixth good ice season is now possible for 2019-2020.
Sadly for the tourists, however, it means the polar bear viewing season in Churchill will be ending early this year, just like it did last year and the year before.
Polar bear family on the ice off Churchill Manitoba (taken from a helicopter), courtesy Explore.org
When mothers with cubs are out on the ice (see photo above), it’s pretty certain the mass movement from land to sea ice is well underway because these family units are usually the last to leave.
UPDATE 19 November 2019: Polar Bear Alert report for 11-17 Nov (week 20) confirms that freeze-up is underway, bears are heading out on the ice and problem bears held in the ‘jail’ were released 13 November. See below.
This is week 15 for most polar bears onshore near Churchill in Western Hudson Bay, which means they have been onshore for almost 4 months. Still, photos being circulated are still showing bears in excellent condition and we are just waiting to see if freeze-up this year is as early as it has been for the last two years.
It’s week 7 of the Churchill polar bear season that began in early July and it’s been remarkably quiet: compared to 208 and 2016, there were half as many problem bear incidents in 2019. A few bears have come off the ice near the community and they’ve been in good shape, as are the bears to the east at Cape Churchill (see one captured on live cam 23 August shown below) and the north at Seal River.
But it looks like many more bears than usual may have decided to ride out the slow-melting ice that lingered well past the first week of August and came ashore further south, towards the Manitoba/Ontario border.
If so, these bears will have to make their way north over the summer so they can intercept the first ice forming along the northwest coast off Wapusk National Park near Churchill. That’s why Western Hudson Bay bears are said to undergo a migration: no matter where they leave the ice in summer, most bears head to areas around Churchill so that they can resume seal hunting on the early fall ice.
A paucity of bears around Churchill in late summer/early fall is not unprecedented, however. Stirling and colleagues pointed out that in 1972 and 1973, for reasons they could not explain, there had been fewer bears than usual around Churchill well before freeze-up and therefore, fewer problem bears (Stirling et al. 1977:17).
Below is a comparison of the Polar Bear Alert Program report for last week (Week 7, Aug 19-25) to previous years.
Polar bear habitat update for the first week of August 2019 shows there is still more sea ice than average in Hudson Bay, the southern-most area of continuous habitation for this species. That certainly wasn’t part of the predictions of doom, especially since freeze-up in that region for the last two years has also been earlier-than-average which means a shorter ice-free season than we’ve seen for decades.
Despite ice coverage for the Arctic ice as a whole being marginally lower than it has been since 1979 for this time of year, sea ice for the first week of August was also above average around Svalbard in the Barents Sea and higher than the last few years in the Central Arctic, which is a critical summer refugium for polar bears that live in the peripheral seas of the Arctic Ocean, including the Chukchi (see photo below, taken in early August 2018).
Posted in Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Central Arctic, Churchill, facts, Hudson Bay, polar bear, prediction, problem bear, range, sea ice, southern, Svalbard, tagged bears