Tag Archives: freeze-up

Polar bear specialist calls Hudson Bay freeze-up ‘late’ yet bears were moving offshore 2 weeks ago

Predictably, polar bear specialist Andrew Derocher has finally posted a tracking map of the Western Hudson Bay bears his team has fitted with collars and eartags–two weeks after bears were released from Churchill’s polar bear jail, which is the local signal that there is enough sea ice for bears to leave shore. As I reported two weeks ago, release of jailed bears happened this year on 10 November. And as I predicted in that post, by waiting so long after that event to post his map, Derocher can make it seem to his naive followers on Twitter that the bears are just starting to leave now (the last map he posted was on 11 November, when none of his bears had moved). He reinforces this by calling WH freeze-up “late”, when by all objective measures (including local informants reporting bears on the ice) it was as early as it had been in the 1980s (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017).

Recall that fall is the second-most important feeding season for polar bears, due to the fact that seals are strongly attracted to newly-forming sea ice. It’s their chance to regain some or all of the weight lost over the summer, before the long winter fast begins (while bears indeed hunt when they can, they are not often successful during the depths of the Arctic winter: most bears are at their lowest weight by March).

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Eastern Canadian Arctic has much more sea ice than usual while Svalbard polar bears deal with less

Svalbard is still ice-free this fall, which it has been rather consistently for at least ten years but the amount of sea ice greater than ‘normal’ in the Eastern Canadian Arctic at this date is something to behold. Yet contrary to predictions, polar bears in Svalbard are thriving.

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Hudson Bay sea ice freeze-up in 2022 like the 1980s for the 5th time since 2015

This is the fifth year out of the last seven that enough sea ice has formed along the west coast of Hudson Bay by mid-November for bears to be able to head out to the ice, just as it did in the 1980s.

‘Green dot’ problem bear released from Churchill holding facility on 10 November 2022. Dorota Walkoski photo.

One of the independent polar bear guides on the ground near Churchill had this to say about the bears and freeze-up conditions this year:

“Bears started leaving on November 10; conservation emptied the jail on the 10th as well.”

‘The jail’ is the Churchill Polar Bear Alert Program’s ‘holding facility’. While the Alert program folks have not released a report for this week (gee, I wonder why?), nearby tourist outfit Great White Bear Tours not only confirmed the bears were released from jail but posted a picture of a ‘green dot bear’: the mark put on problem bears released from the holding facility to keep track of them. Bears are not released before there is ample ice along shore for them to move out. Great White Bear Tours have been tracking bears moving offshore.

This information suggests the average date for bears leaving shore will likely turn out to be 12-14 November, again earlier than the average for the 1980s (16 Nov +/- 5 days) (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017). That makes five out of the last seven years (2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022) since 2015 that bears have left about the same time as they did in the 1980s.

While there are still be a few bears on the shore of Wapusk National Park that seem to be in no hurry to leave, a few stragglers doesn’t mean there isn’t ice available for hunting.

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Western Hudson Bay polar bears waiting for the sea ice to freeze as tourists flock to watch

Should only be a few weeks more until the ice forms along the western shore of Hudson Bay, it’s already been snowing. But for the tourist outfitters around Churchill, this is their time to profit from those willing and able to spend big money to see polar bears up close.

from the Explore.org web cam, 18 October 2022

Those tourists are captive audiences for the global warming propaganda provided by activist organization Polar Bears International: it’s virtually impossible for anyone to escape the climate change doom-mongering in Churchill and that’s a real pity.

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Good news update out of W Hudson Bay: fat polar bears are behaving themselves

Despite continued dire predictions of catastrophy, polar bears in Western Hudson Bay are behaving like the well-fed predators on holiday they are: bears are causing few problems in Churchill and poking around Arviat, seemingly out of curiousity rather than actively stalking prey.

Bears are chased out of Western Hudson Bay communities due to an abundance of caution but so far, no frightening encounters have been reported that I’ve heard about. That’s true elsewhere as well: an uneventful summer for polar bear attacks is good news indeed.

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Promoters of polar bear catastrophe in Hudson Bay gloss over recent good ice conditions

Hudson Bay has been oddly slow to freeze this year, which has led to a predictable bit of hand-wringing from certain biologists reiterating prophesies of polar bear population collapse. However, since 2009, the last time that freeze-up was anywhere near this late was 2016. In other words, far from this years’ late freeze-up being a picture of ‘the new normal,’ conditions in 2021 are actually unusual compared to the last twelve years.

Perhaps the last bear leaving Cape Churchill for the sea ice, 4 December 2021.

Moreover, considering that 2021 fall ice formation for the Arctic in general is well ahead of 2016 (and every year since, except 2018), it’s hard to see why human-caused global warming caused by ever-increasing CO2 emissions explains the slow freeze-up of Hudson Bay. Timing of Hudson Bay freeze-up has always been highly variable from one year to the next (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017: Fig. 3, copied below). The average freeze-up date in the 1980s was 16 November ± 5 days, while from 2005-2015 this had shifted about a week to 24 November ± 8 days (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017:230). This year freeze-up was later than usual but last year and the three years before that the ice froze as early as it did in the 1980s. Cue the zombie apocalypse.

UPDATE 11 December 2021: see chart below from Andrew Derocher on the position of tagged WH bears at 10 December.

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Sea ice cometh to Hudson Bay: freeze-up has begun

Although it may take until the end of the month for all Western and Southern Hudson Bay bears (except for pregnant females) to have returned to the ice, freeze-up has finally begun in earnest and today some bears are already heading out to resume feeding before winter sets in. This is 3.5 weeks later than last year when WH bears were first spotted have killed a seal on 31 October.

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No signs of a climate emergency for W. Hudson Bay polar bears this year ahead of UN climate meeting

I’ve been told that another complete aerial survey of the Western Hudson Bay polar bear subpopulation (from the Nunavut to Ontario boundaries) was conducted in August this year and that the bears have been hanging out further south than usual. It will be years before the results of the population count are published, of course (especially if it’s good news) but my contacts also say virtually all of the bears are in great condition again this year.

This is significant because W. Hudson Bay bears are one of the most southern subpopulations in the Arctic (only Southern HB bears live further south) and older data from this region is being used to predict the future for the entire global population based on implausible model projections (Molnar et al. 2020). And scary predictions of future polar bear survival are often taken to be proxies for future human disasters (see ‘Polar bears live on the edge of the climate change crisis‘), a point that some activists will no doubt make in the coming weeks, as the long-awaited UN climate change bash #26 (COP26) gets underway in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31.

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The conundrum of Hudson Bay bears that left shore late in 1983 with video from CBC archives

In 1983, it was claimed that freeze-up of Hudson Bay was so late that polar bears didn’t leave the shore until the 4th of December – several weeks later than had been usual at that time. However, the fact that sea ice charts show significant ice offshore weeks before that time suggests something else was probably going on.

About three weeks ago, CBC News republished an article (with video) from their 1983 archives for 1 December, about the plight of the people of Churchill who had already suffered one death and one serious mauling by polar bears. That was thirty-seven years ago, long before lack of sea ice was blamed for everything bad that happened to Western Hudson Bay polar bears. In fact, rather than a really late freeze-up, it appears the problem had more to do with the fact the bears had had an especially tough spring that year and arrived onshore in only ‘OK’ condition – and as a consequence, the town dump became such a strong attractant for many bears that they were reluctant to leave when the sea ice formed offshore.

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Strange sea ice pattern over Hudson Bay as winds blow polar bears offshore

Winds blew a huge mass of new shorefast sea ice way out into Western Hudson Bay a few days ago (13 November) and very likely took some polar bears with it. This offshore wind phenomenon is common at this time of year – it happened in 2017 – and is often part of the yearly ‘freeze-up’ process for sea ice. But the extent of ice and the distance blown offshore in Hudson Bay this year is impressive.

In previous years, this has happened very early in the freeze-up sequence, well before the ice was thick enough to support polar bears. This year is different: freeze-up was early (starting in late October) and the ice was thick enough off Western Hudson Bay to support bears hunting successfully for seals by the last day of October. By 7 November, most bears had left for the ice, with only a few stragglers left behind – since they were all in good condition due to a late breakup of the ice this summer, there were remarkably few problem with bears in Churchill and some seemed in no hurry to leave once the shorefast ice started to form.

It’s doubtful that any bears out on that wind-blown ice are in any kind of peril. As long as the ice is thick enough to support their weight, they should be fine – and keeping themselves busy catching seals.

The chart above is from NSIDC Masie for 15 November 2020 (Day 320) – it showed the same large offshore patch of ice the day before. However, only today did the Canadian Ice Service (CIS) chart show even part of the offshore patch (below):

In this case, I’m trusting the Masie chart because it seems the CIS sensors aren’t yet set to pick up ice that’s far offshore, as the detailed stage of development chart for 16 November (below) shows (grey-white ice is 15-30 cm thick, grey ice is 10-15 cm, but see discussion below):

However, after I’d almost given up that we’d hear from Andrew Derocher about his polar bears with still-functioning collars, he posted a tracking map late today (below). Even his chart shows that big patch of offshore ice but he didn’t comment on it at all. It appears that of the 9 collars he deployed on females last year only one is on the ice, well offshore (north of Churchill).

Derocher is still claiming that this is not an early freeze-up year even though it’s clear many bears have already left for the ice and only a few stragglers remain, including most of his collared bears. However, some of his bears are probably pregnant (especially the two furthest inland) and won’t be going anywhere this fall. And we already know that many of Derocher’s collared bears were very late to come onshore in August and having only spent 3 months onshore rather than 4 or 5 months they are used to, may now be in no hurry to leave – especially since they know that seals are to be had out on that ‘very thin’ ice just offshore.

Unfortunately, the Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill decided not to issue a report for the first week in November (2-8 Nov), so there is no information on the progress of freeze-up and polar bear movements from that authority. There might be one issued tomorrow for the second week (9-15 Nov), if so I’ll post it here.

It’s important to know that even big male bears only need ice that’s about 30 cm thick to hold their weight. And while the newly formed grey ice is technically only 10-15 cm (see the stage of development chart above), the ice offshore this year is very compressed and buckled (see below from 7 November), making it thicker than it might appear on the official ice charts.