Tag Archives: Hudson Bay

W Hudson Bay freeze-up one of earliest since 1979, not “closer to average”

Tundra Buggy Cam_10 Nov 2017_bear headed offshore pmWestern Hudson Bay polar bears have been leaving shore for the rapidly thickening sea ice since at least 8 November (bear above was heading out 10 Nov.). However, Polar Bears International chose not to mention the unusually early freeze-up until the week-long (5-11 November) doomsday bombardment they call “Polar Bear Week” was almost over.

It’s worse than that: two days earlier, PBI’s activist spokesperson Steven Amstrup apparently told the Sierra Club (“People Show Up for Polar Bear Week, But the Ice Hasn’t Yet”; 8 November 2017) that “the bears are still waiting on shore for that ice to freeze” even though ice development had been well on its way for days at that point. As if freeze-up on 10 November came as a big surprise to him, with no warning whatsoever.

Apparently, they didn’t want their naive and gullible supporters to know at the beginning of Polar Bear Week that the sea ice loss of which PBI spokespeople rant about constantly (Save Our Sea Ice) was a total non-issue this year: breakup was not earlier than usual and new ice began developing off Churchill at about the same time it did in the 1980s (last week of October).

As I discussed last year regarding newly-published studies (Obbard et al. 2015, 2016) on the status of Southern Hudson Bay (SHB) bears:

“…SHB polar bears left the ice (or returned to it) when the average ice cover near the coast was about 5%. This finding is yet more evidence that the meteorological definition of “breakup” (date of 50% ice cover) used by many researchers (see discussion here) is not appropriate for describing the seasonal movements of polar bears on and off shore.”

That post (with its list of references) is worth another look for its discussion of the following points: the definition of freeze-up; the relationship of official freeze-up and breakup dates to the dates that bears depart; the overall health and survival of Western and Southern Hudson Bay polar bears.

Hudson Bay North daily ice stage of development 2017_Nov 10

Below I dissect the misinformation that PBI calls “science communication” in their attempt to minimize the damage caused by this early freeze-up to their message of looming catastrophe for polar bears.

Bottom line: Not only was freeze-up early this year, 2017 will go down as one of the earliest WHB freeze-up years since 1979 and for Southern Hudson Bay bears as well, since as of 13 November there is concentrated ice all the way into James Bay.

Sea ice Canada 2017 Nov 13

UPDATE 14 November 2017: CBC Radio broadcasted an interview yesterday with a recent visitor to Churchill who was remarkably candid about what he saw regarding polar bears, sea ice, and what he heard from locals about freeze-up (“the earliest since 1991”). It corroborates what I’ve reported here. Worth a listen (about 8 minutes):

“Brian Keating: Polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba” (The Homestretch, November 13, 2017, Season 2017, Episode 300312418)

The closest Doug Dirks has come to seeing a live polar bear was at the Calgary Zoo many moons ago. But naturalist Brian Keating has just returned from another trip to Churchill, Manitoba. He joined Doug Dirks with the details of that frosty adventure.

http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1095183939998

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Early freeze-up in progress on Hudson Bay – what a difference a year makes

In contrast to 2016, when freeze-up along Western Hudson Bay was about as late as its ever been (early December), ice is already forming along the shore of northern Hudson Bay. There is much more ice than usual for this date, indicated by the dark blue in the latest weekly ice chart below:

Hudson Bay weekly departure from normal 2017 Oct 30

The ice is still thin, as the chart below indicates, but that’s how freeze-up starts. As long as strong winds don’t blow the ice away (as it sometimes does at this stage), the ice gets thicker day by day — and advances further and further off shore. Polar bears get out on the ice as soon as they are physically able, when the ice is about 3-4 inches thick (about 10 cm) or less.

Hudson Bay North daily ice stage of development 2017_Nov 1

Below is a video of a bear traversing that thin ice yesterday (1 November 2017), near Churchill. Is this a portend of a freeze-up date as early as occurred in the 1980s?
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Problem bear reports confirm Churchill polar bears are in excellent condition

Now that all bears are ashore for the season, the folks at the Polar Bear Alert program in Churchill note in their report for week 7 (21-27 August, 2017) that the bears ashore are in excellent condition (confirming reports on the first bears ashore in July):

Churchill PB reports_week 7_ Aug 21-27_2017_Aug 28

Rather marked contrast to the pessimistic spin on conditions from the field a few months ago:

[yes, a few bears fail to make it through the winter, especially young bears; but that has always been the case — it’s not a sign of human-caused global warming catastrophe]

Last week’s problem bear report also confirmed news from the Churchill Polar Bears website a few weeks ago that showed several images of very fat bears:

Churchill_PolarBears_FAT bear post_21 Aug 2017

See below for last year’s report for week 7 and this year’s report for week 8 (28 August-3 September). Western Hudson Bay polar bears that come ashore near Churchill, Manitoba are starting their third month on land this week, out of the five months or so they have spent ashore in recent years (about 3 weeks more than in the 1980s, no longer than they did in 2004 — conditions have not been getting worse).

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Breakup of sea ice on track in Canada as critical feeding period for polar bears ends

Relative to recent years and potential impacts on polar bear health and survival in Canada, there is nothing alarming in the pattern or speed of sea ice breakup for 2017, either over Hudson Bay, the southern Beaufort, or the eastern high Arctic.

Sea ice Canada 2017 June 8

Last year at this time (see map below), there was more open water in Hudson Bay and in the Southern Beaufort yet the polar bears came ashore in fine shape that summer and there was no hue-and-cry of dying bears anywhere. Breakup this year is on track to be about 3 weeks earlier than it was in the 1980s, as it has been since at least 2001, a conclusion reached by polar bear specialists (Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017; Lunn et al. 2016), who examined sea ice breakup to 2015.

Sea ice extent Canada 2016 June 8 CIS

Here are critical words to remember (more details here) from biologist Martin Obbard and colleagues (2016:29) on the relationship between body condition and sea ice for Southern Hudson Bay (SH) polar bears, which apply equally well to bears in other regions:

Date of freeze-up had a stronger influence on subsequent body condition than date of break-up in our study. Though models with date of freeze-up were supported over models with other ice covariates, we acknowledge that lower variability in freeze-up dates than in ice duration or break-up dates could have influenced the model selection process. Nevertheless, we suggest that a stronger effect of date of freeze-up may be because even though break-up has advanced by up to 3-4 weeks in portions of Hudson Bay it still occurs no earlier than late June or early July so does not yet interfere with opportunities to feed on neonate ringed seal pups that are born in March-April in eastern Hudson Bay (Chambellant 2010). Therefore, losing days or weeks of hunting opportunities during June and July deprives polar bears of the opportunity to feed on adult seals, but does not deprive them of the critical spring period (Watts and Hansen 1987) when they are truly hyperphagic. No doubt, the loss of hunting opportunities to kill adult seals has a negative effect on body condition, but it appears that for bears in SH a forced extension of the fast in late fall has a greater negative effect on subsequent body condition.” [my bold]

In other words, by mid-June at least (maybe earlier), polar bears have largely finished their intensive feeding that’s so critical to their survival over the rest of the year.

That’s why the latest count of SH polar bears (Obbard et al. 2015) showed a stable population (and see this recent post on WHB polar population estimates). But freeze-up was late last year and that’s what will make the difference to polar bears over the coming year.

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Much more sea ice in NW Hudson Bay this year than 2016 or 2015 at 27 May

In recent years, sea ice loss over Hudson Bay has begun with open water in the NW corner (which is just as likely due to prevailing offshore winds as ice melt) rather than along the east coast but this year that patch of ice is smaller than its been for the last two years. In addition, despite two patches of open water at either end of the Beaufort Sea, most of the coast of Alaska is still covered in thick ice — much more than existed last year, yet masses of polar bears did not die as far as I know (actually, WHB bears came ashore in excellent condition last year).

Sea ice Canada 2017 May 27

Compare to previous years:

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Polar bear mating season winds down with lots of sea ice habitat available

Habitat for polar bears is abundant worldwide as the prime feeding season passes its peak and mating season for sexually mature bears winds down.

JR1_1266.tif

Battle among polar bear males for the right to mate, from this 2011 DailyMail story here.

There is much more ice than usual around Svalbard in the Barents Sea and off Newfoundland and southern Labrador, home to ‘Davis Strait’ bears. There have been no media reports of polar bears onshore anywhere (since the third week of April in Newfoundland and late January in Svalbard).

Sea ice map below for 12 May 2017:

Svalbard ice extent 2017 May 12_NIS

Compare the extent and concentration of ice around Svalbard above (at 12 May 2017) to conditions that prevailed on the same date in 2015 (below), considered a “good ice” year for local polar bears (and the year of the last population size count which registered an increase over the 2004 count):

Svalbard ice extent 2015 May 12_NIS

There hasn’t been this much ice in the area at this point in the season for many years, especially to the north of Svalbard, and levels since late April have been above even the long-term average (disregard the huge downward blip, which is clearly a sensor malfunction of some kind):

Svalbard ice extent 2017 May 12 graph_NIS

In fact, ice is pretty solid throughout the Barents Sea and East Greenland at this time:

Barents Sea ice extent 2017 May 12_NIS

Across the Atlantic, the situation is similar, with unseasonably heavy sea ice off eastern North America and the Southern Beaufort Sea.

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Report of Hudson Bay polar bear onshore in winter is rare indeed – here’s why

Late February is still the dead of winter in the Arctic, a time when most polar bears are at their leanest and out on the sea ice trying to find seals – and that means yesterday’s report of a “very fat” polar bear onshore outside Inukjuak is unusual at face value – but my followup inquiry revealed details that make it even more startling.

bear-onshore-end-feb-2017_cbc-photo-facebook

CBC North facebook entry 27 Feb 2017

At my request, CBC North reporter Priscilla Hwang reached out to the hunter involved, who is the mayor of the community. She was told the incident took place on Saturday 25 February 2017 and the very fat bear in the story was actually a young, subadult female.

Subadults are more likely to be in poorer condition than adults at any time of year, due to their lack of hunting experience and competition with adult males. So to see a young bear that’s very fat before the feeding begins is quite astonishing: it suggests that feeding opportunities out on Hudson Bay have been very good over the winter and/or this bear was a savvy hunter despite her youth.

According to the mayor’s report, this community hasn’t had a bear onshore in nearly 30 years. Polar bears in Hudson Bay travel with the retreating ice to the western and southern shores, so with some exceptions, bears usually only have access to the east coast during winter through spring.

Last winter saw an extraordinary number of reports of bears on shore in winter, most of them causing trouble (see summary here). This Inukjuak sighting is the second I’ve come across this year – the other was in Svalbard (a female with cubs). Whether this new pattern is due to more bears or lack of hunting leading to bears having less fear of people – or a bit of both – it’s not yet possible to say.

So under the circumstances, the mayor of Inukjuak’s decision to kill this bear for the protection of the community seems quite reasonable (given the extensive resources required in Svalbard to drive their problem bears away rather than kill them).

Excerpts from the CBC story, and some maps and charts, are below.
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