The worldwide coronavirus lockdown has meant that the MOSAiC research project, which deliberately froze the icebreaker Polarstern into the Arctic Sea ice last fall, will miss taking scientific measurements during several critical weeks of the melt season (one of the main reasons for the project).
According to a report in the High North News (28 April 2020), at 27 April the Polarstern was between Svalbard and the North Pole (map above). In mid-May, the ship will break out of the ice and proceed south to waters off Svalbard (expected to take about a week) to meet up with two German icebreakers for a high-seas exchange of crew and restock provisions, the only option available after the coronovirus lockdown in Svalbard meant the original plans had to be scuttled. And while waiting for the upcoming research upheaval and breaking free of the ice, the crew of the Polarstern recently reported a visit from a polar bear wandering the ice hunting for seals.
Posted in Polar bear attacks, science, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic, coronavirus, disruption, icebreaker, lockdown, polar bear, Polarstern, quarantine, researcher, sea ice
This bit of mammalian science is worth a read, from biologist Matt Ridley’s blog, first published in the Wall Street Journal. And yes, a very few bat species do live above the Arctic Circle in North America and Eurasia but their distributions only overlap with polar bears in the most southern areas of the bear’s range (and none of the bats are the horseshoe variety that carry coronaviruses): along the coasts of southern Labrador and Hudson Bay, the north coast of Newfoundland, and in NW Alaska along the Bering Sea.
The Bats Behind the Pandemic (published 9 April 2020): From Ebola to Covid-19, many of the deadliest viruses to emerge in recent years have the same animal source.
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.
On Tuesday 17 March 2020, several polar bears were reported in and around the community of St. Anthony on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, adding another threat on top of coronavirus concerns in the province. The photo below is from a 2018 Newfoundland sighting from the same region: none are available for the current report.
There have been no reports of trouble but locals will have to stay vigilant to remain safe, which since 2008 has been a common concern from late winter to early spring. In 2012 in this area, a bear was shot after it destroyed homes and attacked livestock; another bear was shot the next week in the same area. And in 2016 and 2017, a bear had to be shot to protect residents. Bears at this time of year are in hunting mode, which is why my polar bear attack thriller novel, EATEN, is set in March.
Current sea ice conditions below.
UPDATE 22 March 2020: “Just after 1 p.m. on March 21, the RCMP St. Anthony advised they blocked off Goose Cove Road, St. Anthony, as a polar bear has been sighted in the area. Wildlife is en route to assess the situation. In the interest of public safety residents are asked to stay away from this area.” From Saltwire here. Another report on the same sighting here.
Posted in Life History, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged attacks, coronavirus, feeding, harp seal, hunting, Newfoundland, polar bear, sea ice, sightings
From Donna LaFramboise this morning, who has collated some of the best going, this is my favourite:
See the rest here.
Posted in Population, Uncategorized
Tagged coronavirus, covid-19, false facts, humour, influenza, memes, more polar bears than people, polar bear, Spanish flu, Svalbard