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.
In the course of a manhunt for two murder suspects wanted in British Columbia, Royal Canadian Mounted Police posted a photo of a fat polar bear they spotted about 200 km north of Gillam, Manitoba.
This fat bear – as would any others that might be spotted in the area – is a pregnant female from the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation intent on finding a secure place to dig a den in the permafrost where she can stay cool over the summer and give birth this winter.
However, true to form, The Guardian (28 July 2019) ludicrously suggests those on the hunt for the murder suspects are now at risk of a polar bear attack:
The threat of a polar bear attack has become a reality for the huge Canadian police and military contingent searching for the teenage duo suspected of shooting dead Australian tourist Lucas Fowler, his US girlfriend and a university botanist.
Posted in Life History, Polar bear attacks
Tagged denning, dens, fat bears, Gillam, Hudson Bay, manhunt, Manitoba, maternity den, polar bear, pregnant, Wapusk National Park
Sea ice development in eastern Svalbard this fall is lagging well behind the rest of the Arctic. Several polar bear researchers (e.g., Andrew Derocher here and here) have recently been raising the alarm that this might be devastating for Barents Sea females looking for suitable denning sites.
The implication is that pregnant polar bear females are inflexible – so fixated on one location to give birth that they are unable or unwilling to choose an alternative if conditions preclude using their preferred location this year. However, the available facts do not support such a pessimistic attitude.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Aars, Barents Sea, dens, Derocher, flexibility, Franz Josef Land, Hopen Island, Kong Karls Land, nearshore, pelagic, philopatry, polar bear, polar bear facts, pregnant females, sea ice, Svalbard
Oddly, it seems some people expect polar bears to sit around and suffer (or die) when local conditions deteriorate, rather than move elsewhere.
While there are perhaps a few places where moving is not really an option over the short term, over the long term (more than one season) polar bears are free to shift to another locale if ice conditions change (either too much ice or too little).
An announcement by the WWF last week (10 April) caught my eye, as it talked about bears moving from one area to another because of changing ice conditions — as if this was surprising, extraordinary and newsworthy. That said, at least they weren’t suggesting the bears are all going to die because of declining ice, which is a huge improvement.
See what you think of this part of the press release (below), in the context of what we know about the movement of bears between regions:
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged adaptation, AMO, Amstrup, Barents Sea, dens, Franz Josef Land, Kara Sea, Mauritzen, polar bear, polar bear resilience, pregnant females, satellite radio collars, spring ice conditions, Svalbard, WWF
From the end of October to mid-December, there has been a rapid expansion of polar bear habitat.
This month, I’ve constructed two all-in-one images that show the progressive growth of the ice relative to some critical polar bear onshore summer refuge areas and denning territory. I’ve also included a map that compares 2013 to 2009 at 18 December with the average for the 1980s, and one that shows ice thickness.
Posted in Sea ice habitat
Tagged Canadian Ice Service, dens, ice development, MASIE, onshore, polar bear, polar bear habitat, sea ice extent, sea ice thickness, sea ice volume, winter ice