Tag Archives: Gulf of St. Lawrence

Polar bear habitat update: abundant sea ice across the Arctic, even in the Barents Sea

Abundant ice in Svalbard, East Greenland and the Labrador Sea is excellent news for the spring feeding season ahead because this is when bears truly need the presence of ice for hunting and mating. As far as I can tell, sea ice has not reached Bear Island, Norway at this time of year since 2010 but this year ice moved down to the island on 3 March and has been there ever since. This may mean we’ll be getting reports of polar bear sightings from the meteorological station there, so stay tuned.

Walking bear shutterstock_329214941_web size

Sea ice extent as of 11 March 2019, from NSIDC Masie:

masie_all_zoom_4km 2019 March 11

Much of the ice that was blown out of the Bering Sea early in the month has returned and ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the East Coast of Canada is the highest its been in years, threatening to impede ferry traffic between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, as it did in 2015 and again in 2017. The fishing season off Newfoundland might also be delayed by the heavy ice, as it was in 2017.

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Another fat bear onshore in late winter, along Gulf of St. Lawrence north coast

Another fat bear onshore in late winter, this time along the Quebec shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence (22 March 2017) – and this time, one of the witnesses to the sighting took some great photos. Courtesy CBC News (Polar bear makes rare appearance on Quebec’s Lower North Shore 24 March 2017).

Gulf St Lawrence North shore PB visit 22 March 2017_CBC headline

Quotes, location map, and sea ice charts below.

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Polar bear habitat update for Canada at mid-February

Mid-February is the tail end of the winter fast for polar bears. Sea ice is approaching it’s maximum global extent but local maximum extents may vary. Most of the sea ice in Canada is locked in already but two regions still vary at this time of year: the Labrador Sea off Labrador and Newfoundland – where polar bears come to feed on an abundance of newborn harp seals – and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where polar bears have not been spotted in more than 60 years. sea-ice-extent-canada-2017-feb-14_cis

There is almost certainly enough ice for harp seals to give birth in the Gulf this year, if the ice holds (despite some premature hand-wringing by seal biologists). There is more ice in the Gulf and off Newfoundland this year than there was in 2013 (see map below). Continue reading

Worrywart biologists fuel media fearmongering over winter sea ice levels

Have you heard the old adage, “Don’t buy trouble”? I’m thinking we could use a lot more of that attitude from polar bear and Arctic seal biologists these days.

Gulf St Lawrence ice conc 7 March 2016_CIS

In an interview with CBC News yesterday, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) seal specialist Mike Hammill fed the fear the media wanted to hear while admitting this year’s low ice levels in the Gulf of St. Lawrence will not affect harp seal numbers significantly (7 March 2016, Lack of ice means fewer seal pups off the Magdalen Islands this year: Researcher says impact on overall herd limited, but ice patterns over time could be concern”).

Harp sea newborn_wikipedia

And University of Alberta’s Andrew Derocher has been busy tweeting his heart out that slightly lower than average sea ice levels this winter could mean a “challenging” spring for some polar bears – as if spring isn’t always challenging for some bears (especially young bears that are inexperienced hunters and low in the social hierarchy – meaning bigger, older bears often steal their kills – and old bears that are running out of steam).
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Harp seal: most abundant Arctic seal is an undervalued polar bear prey species

The harp seal is the most abundant seal species in the northern hemisphere (estimated to number more than 9 million animals – that’s more harps than ringed seals) but are found only in the North Atlantic. Partly because they give birth on mobile pack ice, harps have their pups earlier in the season than all other Arctic seals, which means that in some regions, they are a critical food source for polar bears that have eaten little over the winter months.

Harp seal pup_DFO Newfoundland

Although young ringed seals are considered the primary prey of polar bears throughout the Arctic, young harp seals undoubtedly represent an increasingly important resource for populations of Davis Strait, East Greenland and Kara Sea bears.

Most of the harp seals in the NW Atlantic/Atlantic Canada (about 80% of them) have their pups off Newfoundland and Labrador, an area known as the “Front” (the location of my polar bear attack novel, EATEN: special deals all this week). Harps seals at the Front now provide a huge prey base for polar bears of the large (and possibly still growing) Davis Strait subpopulation (photo below courtesy DFO Canada).

There are an estimated 7.4 million harps in Atlantic Canada today (range 6.5-8.3m), an exponential increase over the early 1980s, when perhaps only half a million so remained.  Pagophilus groenlandicus was assigned a conservation status of ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN Red List in June last year (Kovacs 2015), when it was estimated that the global population size of the harp seal was greater than 9 million animals and probably growing1, 2 due to reduced human hunting:

“…harp seals have been harvested for thousands of years but currently the population is large and the number of animals harvested is declining.” [my bold]

Photographers and animial rights activists love cute, fluffy harp seal pups and rarely mention the carnage that goes on in spring as polar bears devour the naive youngsters. See the video below (from 2008), for an example of the cuteness factor.

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Polar bear habitat at 26 January 2016

There is still below average ice extent in the Barents Sea but there is no data whatsoever to indicate that this situation poses a problem for polar bears, given that as far as researchers know, polar bears eat little or nothing during the winter. That’s why the bears are at their leanest at the end of winter and why seal pups born in early spring are such a critical food source.

Note on map below (from WUWT Sea Ice Page, marked; original here) that polar bears are not found in three areas that are included in the total Arctic ice extent figures: below-average or above-average ice in the Sea of Okhotsk, Baltic Sea, and Gulf of St. Lawrence have no impact on polar bear health and survival.

 

Polar bear habitat at 26 Jan 2016_no bears marked_PolarBearScience_sm

Additional ice maps below. Continue reading

Polar bear survival: habitat 2013 vs. 2016 for 22 January

Using sea ice maps issued by the National Sea Ice Data Center (NSIDC), it’s interesting to compare these two years with respect to polar bear health and survival (keeping in mind that no polar bears live in what I like to call the armpits of the Arctic – the Sea of Okhotsk, the Baltic Sea or in the Gulf of St. Lawrence)1:

22 January 2016

Sea ice extent 2016 Jan 22 NSIDC

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