Tag Archives: Hudson Bay

Western Hudson Bay polar bears in great shape after five good sea ice seasons

Polar bear researcher Andrew Derocher says it takes four years of good sea ice conditions to recruit a polar bear from birth but implies that 2019 is the first year in decades that conditions for bears have been ‘good’ in Western Hudson Bay. He thinks he can get away with saying this because he hasn’t published any of the data on body weight and body condition he’s collected on these bears over the last 25 years (apparently, whatever funding agency pays for his research does not require him to publish the data he collects).

But independent observations such as dates of ice freeze-up in fall, ice breakup in summer, dates and condition of bears recorded onshore, suggest he’s blowing smoke: at least five out of five of the last sea ice seasons for WH bears have been good. That means we should be seeing more bears in the next official population count.

Churchill Seal River Lodge triplets_30 Sept 2017

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Not predicted: more sea ice than average in southern-most Arctic first week of August

Polar bear habitat update for the first week of August 2019 shows there is still more sea ice than average in Hudson Bay, the southern-most area of continuous habitation for this species. That certainly wasn’t part of the predictions of doom, especially since freeze-up in that region for the last two years has also been earlier-than-average which means a shorter ice-free season than we’ve seen for decades.

Hudson Bay weekly departure from normal 2019 Aug 5

Despite ice coverage for the Arctic ice as a whole being marginally lower than it has been since 1979 for this time of year, sea ice for the first week of August was also above average around Svalbard in the Barents Sea and higher than the last few years in the Central Arctic, which is a critical summer refugium for polar bears that live in the peripheral seas of the Arctic Ocean, including the Chukchi (see photo below, taken in early August 2018).

Chukchi Sea polar bear Arctic_early August 2018_A Khan NSIDC small

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Sea ice adjacent to all major polar bear onshore summer refugia at 31 July 2019

For all the hand-wringing over sea ice extent this year and its supposed similarity to 2012, what is truly remarkable is that at the end of July ice remains adjacent to every single major terrestrial summer refugia known to be important for polar bears. Those refugia sites include (from west to east, starting in the Chukchi Sea): Wrangel Island, western Chukotka, Severnaya Zemlya, Franz Josef Land, East Greenland, virtually all the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (including Southampton Island in Foxe Basin and the southwest and eastern coasts of Baffin Island), and Western Hudson Bay.

masie_all_zoom_4km 2019 July 31

Few bears spend the entire summer onshore along the Alaska coast: most still spend the summer on the sea ice and move with it as it contracts toward the Arctic Basin, as do many bears in the Barents, Kara, East Siberian, and Chukchi Seas. Until a few weeks ago, however, there was enough ice present that Beaufort Sea bears could go ashore if they wanted to do so. Continue reading

RCMP on manhunt spot a fat polar bear far from the coast of Western Hudson Bay

In the course of a manhunt for two murder suspects wanted in British Columbia, Royal Canadian Mounted Police posted a photo of a fat polar bear they spotted about 200 km north of Gillam, Manitoba.

Fat pb spotted by RCMP outside Gillam during manhunt 27 July 2019

This fat bear – as would any others that might be spotted in the area – is a pregnant female from the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation intent on finding a secure place to dig a den in the permafrost where she can stay cool over the summer and give birth this winter.

However, true to form, The Guardian (28 July 2019) ludicrously suggests those on the hunt for the murder suspects are now at risk of a polar bear attack:

The threat of a polar bear attack has become a reality for the huge Canadian police and military contingent searching for the teenage duo suspected of shooting dead Australian tourist Lucas Fowler, his US girlfriend and a university botanist.

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First Churchill problem polar bear report of the season: its only incident caught on film

We are constantly told things are getting worse for polar bears, especially those in Western Hudson Bay, because the ice-free season there was predicted to decline earlier than other regions. It hasn’t turned out that way but that does not stop the public rhetoric of doom or NGOs pleading for funds.

Last week, the Town of Churchill made public its first problem polar bear report of the year but oddly, it has only one entry.  This is the first time I’ve seen such a sparse first report:  since 2015, the first few incidents of the season have been subsumed into a first week report (issued no earlier than the first week of July) that announces the arrival of many bears on land.

Churchill problem bears_week 1_2019 July 8-14

Is this report of an isolated incident an attempt by Polar Bear Alert officials to make sure the first report of the season was not issued weeks later than usual? Or was it posted in isolation because the official response to the incident was caught on video and shared on social media (see below)?

UPDATE 22 July 2019: Published early this afternoon by the Town of Churchill, the problem polar bear report for the 2nd week of the season claims an error in last week’s report that they only just noticed when preparing this week’s report (but a full 24 hours after this blog post was published – but that’s probably a coincidence). Below is the report for week 2 (15-21 July 2019), showing that three incidents occurred last week.

Churchill problem bears_week 2_2019 July 15-21

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Now 20 years with no trend in ice breakup dates for Western Hudson Bay polar bears

Straight from the horse’s mouth: all polar bear females tagged by researchers around Churchill in Western Hudson Bay last year were still on the ice as of 25 June. With plenty of ice still remaining over the bay, spring breakup will be no earlier this year than it has been since 1999. Contrary to predictions of ever-declining ice cover, the lack of a trend in sea ice breakup dates for Western Hudson Bay is now twenty years long (a hiatus, if you will) and yet these bears are repeatedly claimed to have been seriously harmed in recent years by a loss of sea ice.

Derocher 2019 WHB collared females 25 June all bears still on the ice

In fact, WH bears have faced relatively few ‘early’ years of sea ice breakup and breakup has never come before the 15th of June. The earliest recent spring breakup date did not come in 2012 – when sea ice hit a summer record low – but in 1999, when Hudson Bay sea ice suddenly began to melt by late June rather than mid-July (Cherry et al. 2013; Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017; Lunn et al. 2016). And this year, as has been the case since 1999, breakup looks to be about two weeks later (give or take a week or so, at around 1 July), than was the case in the 1980s and early 1990s.

In other words, there has been no escalation of breakup dates since 1999: there has been no declining trend in breakup dates for Western Hudson Bay polar bears for 20 years (and no trend in fall freeze-up dates either).

UPDATE 26 June 2019: Here is the latest sea ice chart for the week of 24 June 2019 from the Canadian Ice Service (all that dark green is thick first year ice >1 m thick):

Hudson Bay weekly stage of development 2019 June 24
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Polar bear habitat update at mid-June: more than enough for survival

Here we are at the middle of June, when most polar bears are pretty much done with hunting seals for the season. And despite hand-wringing from some quarters, sea ice extent is down only marginally from average at this time of year and certainly not enough to impact polar bear survival.

Polar_bear Bering Sea 2007 USFWS lg

Given the large expanse of open water in the Southern Beaufort so early in the season, one resident pessimist insists those polar bears are “challenged” by the lack of ice. If he is right, there should be reports of dozens upon dozens of skinny and dying bears along the coast of Alaska this summer. If not, he will pretend he never suggested any such thing.

So far, despite the early loss of ice in some regions, there have been no reports of polar bears ashore unusually early. Hudson Bay still has lots of thick first year ice, so despite the overall reduced Arctic ice coverage, none of the three Hudson Bay polar bear populations are facing the earlier-than-usual sea ice breakup this year as we keep being promised will show up. In fact, there hasn’t been a significantly early breakup in Western Hudson Bay since 2010 (see previous posts here and here).

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