Tag Archives: Hudson Bay

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.

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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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Hudson Bay could be ice-free in winter within 5-10 years, says seal researcher

Ringed seal biologist Steven Ferguson, in a statement to a reporter from the Winnipeg Free Press, made one of the boldest predictions I’ve ever heard:

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“Hudson Bay could experience its first free winter within 5-10 years.”

You heard it here, folks. It appears Ferguson thinks Hudson Bay was never ice-free in winter even during the Eemian Interglacial, when the Bering Sea was ice-free in winter – something that has not come close happening in recent years (Polyak et al. 2010:1769).

Sounds like a bit of ill-advised grandstanding to me.

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An El Niño year late start to freeze-up on Hudson Bay: bears gearing up to hunt

There is no serious ice on the west shore of Hudson Bay yet (as the map below shows) but the winds have just shifted – instead of coming from the south, they are now blowing in from the north.

Freeze-up and a resumption of seal hunting for Western and Southern Hudson Bay polar bears looks imminent. The 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).

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I’m going to let Kelsey Eliasson from PolarBearAlley, on shore at Churchill, convey the gist of the freeze-up situation on the Bay.

Recall that freeze-up was late in both 1998 and 1999 – during the height of that strong El Niño warmth as well as the year following. Continue reading

No correlation between freeze-up dates for WHB sea ice & Churchill temperatures

This is a follow-up to my last post and this time, I’ll address the implied correlation between freeze-up dates for Hudson Bay and Churchill temperatures in November that is being made by folks who should know better .

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Monday, 14 November 2016 a.m, over at Polar Bears International [my bold]:

“As a new week starts in Churchill, the weather is the warmest we’ve ever seen at this time of year. The tundra is muddy, with remnant patches of snow, and the bay is ice-free.” PBI Blog (no author designated)

Well, that may be true for the last few years – the high on 14 November 2016 (-1.20C) was the highest since 2012.

Andrew Derocher made a similar statement on the 4th (my bold):

There’s no sea ice anywhere in Hudson Bay yet—not even in the northern part of the Bay where ice should be forming. It’s above freezing today and if the forecast holds, it will be a record high for this date. It was 10 degrees colder last year at this time.”

Derocher is being unscientifically vague here and also misleadingly cites highs and lows as if they were the same. In fact, according to weather records kept by Environment Canada, for 4 November 2016 at Churchill, the daily high was +1.50C (compared to –1.50C in 2015). The daily low in 2015 was -15.30C, a 10 degree difference. The next-highest temp. for that date since 2012 was +0.70C in 2014 – hardly an earth-shattering difference.

However, if you are trying to draw conclusions about climate, you should go back at least 60 years (two climate periods of 30 years each). Temperature records for Churchill go back to 1943, which can be used to assess the claim for the 14th of November made by PBI.

According to weather records kept by Environment Canada, for 14 November at Churchill, the year with the highest temperature was 1975 (+2.20C):

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That was Monday. But as of yesterday, the weather recorded – and the forecast for the following week (17-23 November) was quite different, as the screencap below shows:

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The final recorded max. for yesterday (Thurs. 17 Nov) was -9.70C vs. a min. of -17.70C. So, a bit warmer during the day than predicted but as cold as expected overnight.

And for today, the current temperature in Churchill, as I write this is, is -190C (-310C with the wind chill) and the year with the highest temperature recorded for 18 November was 1944 (0.00C) – which was also the highest temperature for the 19th, recorded in 1943.

Ice maps and historical background below. See last post for recent multi-year comparison.
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No correlation between freeze-up dates for Hudson Bay & total Arctic ice cover

Guess which year between 2006 and 2016 had the latest start to freeze-up on Hudson Bay, given that 2012 had the lowest September average and 2007 and 2016 tied for second-lowest (see graph below, from NSIDC), and that sea ice in the Arctic right now is the lowest it’s been for this date since 1979?

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If you guessed anything other than 2010, you guessed wrong – in addition, 2006 (not 2016) was second latest.

There is no correlation between Arctic sea ice coverage and freeze-up dates for Western Hudson Bay.

Yet, Polar Bears International (“Save Our Sea Ice”) –  who were surely in and around Churchill in 2010 and 2006 watching polar bears – just posted an alarming statement about local conditions, implying that slow freeze-up of Hudson Bay this year is a reflection of the fact that “sea ice is at a record low across the Arctic.”

They also claim that “…the weather is the warmest we’ve ever seen at this time of year.” That may be true, but if so, it is also meaningless with respect to the progress of freeze-up.

Does no one at PBI remember the very late freeze-up of 2010 or 2006? Odd, that.

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Ice formation in W Hudson Bay slower than 2015 but not likely as slow as 1983

After a great start this year for Churchill-area polar bears of Western Hudson Bay – who came off the ice in better than usual condition after what must have been a good spring hunting season – ice maps suggest that freeze-up will be later than last year, an impression confirmed by on-the-ground observers.

Ice coverage this year at 7 November (2016):

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Ice coverage last year at this date (7 November 2015), see this post for details:
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Polar bears seldom catch seals they stalk in summer – it’s why they fast

This short BBC video shows why polar bears are so often unsuccessful in their summer hunts – adult bearded seals are the species most often available on the ice. These seals are not only predator-savvy but there are lots of escape routes in the melting ice, and this has always been so.

“Hungry polar bear surprises a seal – The Hunt: Episode 2 Preview – BBC One”

Melting ice in summer is not a new phenomenon (e.g. NASA photo below from mid-July 2016) – Thomas Grenfell and Gary Maykut described the process of melt pond development back in the 1970s:

“Melt ponds reach the maximum extent shortly after the disappearance of the snow, when they may cover upwards of 50% of the ice.”

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Melting summer ice has always made it challenging for polar bears to catch seals, as this quote from Ian Stirling (1974) show, based on his work in the Central Canadian Arctic in the summer of 1973 (July and August):

There is a great abundance of natural holes in the ice during summer, anyone of which a seal could surface through.

This is still true in areas like the Southern Beaufort Sea today (e.g. Whiteman et al. 2015): the ice melts and in some areas, disappears completely in summer.

It’s why polar bears – unlike other species of bears in summer – depend on their stored fat to see them through until the ice reforms in the fall.

The meme “If there’s no ice, there’s no ice bear” is political-style rhetoric, not science.

[When polar bear scientists say “sea ice” or “ice” – they mean summer sea ice. Sea ice in winter and spring are not predicted to decline by 2100 to any appreciable degree and that has been true since sea ice predictions began]

Polar bears in Hudson Bay and Davis Strait routinely go 4-5 months without sea ice in the summer and have done since studies on them began. Yet, all of the polar bear subpopulations in Hudson Bay and Davis Strait are stable or increasing.

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