Tag Archives: East Coast

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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Davis Strait polar bear habitat well above average for the first week of winter

The region inhabited by the Davis Strait subpopulation of polar bears dips as far south as James Bay and has a history of highly variable sea ice coverage.

Canadian Arctic Jan 7 2016_CIS

For the last two years Davis Strait sea ice in March has been well above average, while other years it been well below. You might be surprised to hear that 1969 had the lowest February/March ice coverage over the entire the 1969-2002 record (Johnston et al. 2005: 211), which ice charts show now extend to 2015 (see below). Reports of sealers working north of Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the first few decades of the 20th century show this variability has likely always been a characteristic of the area (Ryan 2014).

Remarkably, this year’s ice coverage for the first week in January is well above what they were in 2014 and 2015 – even though those two years were above average by March. In fact, there hasn’t been this much polar bear habitat in the Southern Labrador Sea in the first week of January since at least 1993.
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