Posted onMay 1, 2022|Comments Off on Fat polar bear killed on the south shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the Gaspé Peninsula
A fat polar bear was killed early this morning (Sunday 1 May 2022) near a small town on the north shore of the Gaspé Peninsula, the portion of Quebec that New Brunswick in the Gulf of St. Lawrence after being tracked by wildlife conservation officers since yesterday. Two other sightings were reported in the Gulf earlier in April on the opposite shore, which could possibly have been the same bear.
These recent polar bear sightings in the Gulf of St. Lawrence likely reflect a population that’s at its peak size or still increasing. The photo above shows the bear was in excellent condition after feeding heavily on harp seal pups. Unfortunately, from where it ended up, it likely wouldn’t have made it back to the receding pack ice off Labrador in time to return to Davis Strait for the summer.
Excerpt below from the CBC story (‘Polar bear spotted on Gaspé peninsula killed by wildlife officers‘; 30 April 2022), but first you’ll need the map of the area. Charts for sea ice conditions at the time follow.
Posted onApril 12, 2021|Comments Off on Harp seal pup production poor in Gulf of St. Lawrence but it won’t impact the population
A seal biologist with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans has confirmed that harp seal pupping was almost non-existent this year in the Gulf of St. Lawrence due to poor sea ice conditions. The ice at the Front has been lighter than usual this year but probably adequate for a decent crop of baby seals.
However, while it is unfortunate for the local businesses, even the loss of all the harp seal pups in the Gulf this year will not seriously impact the total population. Even in a good year, at most a third of Northeastern Atlantic harp seals have their pups in the Gulf – the majority of seals give birth at the Front (DFO 2020; Stenson et al. 2015). So as long as ice there remains in decent condition over the next few weeks, most of the harps and their pups at the Front should be OK (see ice chart below for week of 5 April 2021).
As biologist Gary Stenson said in a radio interview today, the lack of harp seal pups in the Gulf this year may be due to pregnant females moving north to the Front to give birth, as they have been known to do in other low-ice years (Sergeant 1976, 1991), rather than because of massive mortalities. There have been some mortalities but not the tens of thousands some were expecting.
Predictably, the Humane Society International issued a press release calling for the seal hunt to be shut down in the Gulf this year but the government has dismissed these concerns, in part because there is very little sealing done in this region anyway.
Seal biologist Mike Hammill concurred the harp seals will be fine, even if ice in the Gulf becomes rare in the future:
“It’s not looking good for them in the Gulf of St Lawrence, but we anticipate that we’ll see a shift in distribution over time,” he says. “They’ll gradually disappear from the gulf, so instead of a third of harp seal pups being born there, maybe all the pups will be born off the Labrador coast.” [The Guardian, 13 March 2021]
At last count in 2017, there were an estimated 7.6 million (range 6.55-8.82) harp seals off the east coast of Canada (DFO 2020), up from 7.4 million in 2014 (DFO 2014). That’s a huge seal population. Harp seal pups are an important spring food source for Davis Strait polar bears (Peacock et al. 2013; Rode et al. 2012). A new population estimate of Davis Strait bears has apparently been completed but we are still waiting on the report (Crockford 2020).
Oddly, with all the hand-wringing about this year’s poor ice and recent years when sea ice in the Gulf has been poor, none of the reports ever point out that there have also been recent years when the sea ice was so heavy that it interfered with shipping: in 2019, for example, and 2014, and 2015. And 2017. Short memories.
Finally, a reminder my latest novel, UPHEAVAL, is set in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Cape Breton Island) and my first novel, EATEN, is set on the north shore of Newfoundland at this time of year. These are timely reads if you haven’t tried them and they make good gifts as well.
Crockford, S.J. 2020.State of the Polar Bear Report2019. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 39, London. PDFhere.
Sergeant, D.E. 1976. History and present status of populations of harp and hooded seals. Biological Conservation10:95-118.
Sergeant, D.E. 1991.Harp Seals, Man and Ice. Canadian Special Publication of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 114. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa.
Stenson, G.B., Buren, A.D. and Koen-Alonso, M. 2015. The impact of changing climate and abundance on reproduction in an ice-dependent species, the Northwest Atlantic harp seal, Pagophilus groenlandicus. ICES Journal of Marine Science 73(2):250-262. http://icesjms.oxfordjournals.org/content/73/2/250
Comments Off on Harp seal pup production poor in Gulf of St. Lawrence but it won’t impact the population
Posted onMarch 11, 2021|Comments Off on Will low sea ice threaten harp seals & polar bears on Canada’s East Coast this year?
In early February this year, sea ice was much lower than usual along the Labrador coast and virtually non-existent in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which are two important pupping habitats for North Atlantic harp seals. The picture would have been very bleak for harp seal pups and the Davis Strait polar bears that depend on them for food if ice hadn’t expanded and thickened by early March – but it did. Past experience suggests that harp seals that usually whelp in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where ice is still well below average this year, will move to ice off Southern Labrador (‘the Front’) to have their pups.
Posted onDecember 6, 2020|Comments Off on Speculation on ice-trapped whales: science-based fiction vs. dishonest science
Ice entrapment of whales is known to happen across the Arctic, including Davis Strait and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. How common such phenomena were in the past or might be in the future are subjects of conjecture. However, while speculation is the bread-and-butter of science-based fiction, it is the bane of peer-reviewed science.
I’ve written two novels informed by science set a bit in the future (2025-2026) in Eastern Canada:EATEN was set in Newfoundland and my latest book UPHEAVAL –see a review here – is set in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. In UPHEAVAL, one of the issues I explore is ice entrapment of large whales, like North Atlantic right whales. I speculate in the story whether carcasses of ice-killed whales might provide a powerful enough attraction to lure Davis Strait polar bears down from Labrador and the Strait of Belle Isle into the Gulf of St. Lawrence – and if they did, what might be the repercussions of that shift in distribution.
Here I argue that a novel is the appropriate place for this kind of speculation and researchers who offer such conjecture to the public in a way that conflates a science-informed guess with evidence-based fact risks eroding public trust in science.
Posted onNovember 30, 2020|Comments Off on UPHEAVAL – my new ice tsunami novel – is now available!
My new short novel is out! UPHEAVAL is a future disaster thriller about an ice tsunami that devastates Nova Scotia on the Canadian east coast in 2026. And yes, there are polar bears. It’s a follow-up to my 2015 novel EATEN but with a completely different focus!
Posted onNovember 25, 2020|Comments Off on New novel UPHEAVAL will be out in time for Christmas orders
My new short novel is set to be published within the next week, in time for Christmas orders. UPHEAVAL is a future disaster thriller about an ice tsunami that devastates Nova Scotia on the Canadian east coast in 2026. And yes, there are polar bears. It’s a follow-up to my 2016 novel EATEN but with a slightly different focus! It will be available in paperback and ebook formats.
Comments Off on New novel UPHEAVAL will be out in time for Christmas orders
Posted onMarch 12, 2019|Comments Off on 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.
Posted onFebruary 15, 2017|Comments Off on 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.
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-wringingby seal biologists). There is more ice in the Gulf and off Newfoundland this year than there was in 2013 (see map below). Continue reading
Comments Off on Polar bear habitat update for Canada at mid-February
Posted onMarch 8, 2016|Comments Off on 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.
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”).
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). Continue reading
Comments Off on Worrywart biologists fuel media fearmongering over winter sea ice levels