Apparently, some locals were upset that a polar bear that refused to be scared away from a Newfoundland community over the weekend was shot as it advanced on conservation officers and a crowd of onlookers who refused to disperse (see updated report here on recent Newfoundland polar bear sightings, with annotated map).
“Polar bear shot by wildlife officers near Catalina after being deemed public safety risk” (CBC 10 April 2017)
What these animal lovers may not realize is that Newfoundland in March and April is not a Churchill-like situation: polar bears are in strong hunting mode right now.
Polar bears in late winter and spring have an immense drive to kill and eat as much as possible. Even bears that look well fed will continue to kill and eat. Enticing smells attract them onshore as they investigate any food possibility (see list below).
Seriously, you don’t want that food possibility to be you.
Polar bears can go from watching to charging, in the blink of an eye. You can’t outrun one. Killing quickly is what they do and they are immensely strong. Polar bears generally go for a killing bite to the head. Things to think about when a polar bear is prowling your community…
Posted in Advocacy, Polar bear attacks, Uncategorized
Tagged attacks, attractants, defense kills, hunting, Newfoundland, onshore, polar bear, sightings, spring, winter
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).
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
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Churchill, cubs, freeze-up, Hudson Bay, hunting, polar bear, population size, seals, western hudson bay, winds
Arctic sea ice is spreading out quickly from its central basin summer refuge – according to this NSIDC Masie ice chart, it has already grown more than 2 mkm2 beyond the annual minimum reached in early September. Ice is already pushing south into the eastern Beaufort and the archipelago of Franz Josef Land in the Barents Sea.
Over the next couple of weeks, shorefast ice will start forming along the coasts of North America and Eurasia (see the first bits off Alaska in the 21 October CIS map below), which will eventually meet the expanding Arctic Basin pack to fill the Basin and Canadian Arctic Archipelago with ice – as it has done for eons.
The evidence from the last decade or so suggests that by the end of October, most of the Arctic north of the 79th parallel (see map below) will be filled with ice – although the Chukchi Sea (north of the Bering Strait) may not fill until sometime in November:
Polar bears usually resume hunting as soon as sea ice conditions permit in the fall, since it’s their last chance to top up their fat reserves before the dark and cold of winter when hunting may become next to impossible.
I’ve copied ice charts from the Masie archives for some previous years at 31 October below.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged 79th parallel, Arctic, Barents Sea, Beaufort Sea, Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Chukchi Sea, fall ice growth, hunting, MASIE, NSIDC, platform, polar bears
Arctic sea ice tied 2007 for extent at the September minimum less than 3 weeks ago but with the refreeze proceeding much faster than 2007, seals will soon be returning to the ice edge and polar bears will be back to feeding like they did in 2010.
Sea ice extent less than 5.0 mkm2 lasted less than 6 weeks (23 August – 28 September), according to NSIDC.
Posted in Conservation Status
Tagged Barents Sea, Chukchi Sea, extent, feeding, freeze-up, habitat, Hudson Bay freeze-up, hunting, ice-free, polar bear, sea ice, seals, September ice minimum
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.”
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.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged bearded seals, Davis Strait, facts, Hudson Bay, hunting, no ice, no ice bear, platform, polar bear, sea ice, seals, summer
Polar bears in virtually all regions will now have finished their intensive spring feeding, which means sea ice levels are no longer an issue. A few additional seals won’t make much difference to a bear’s condition at this point.
The only seals available on the ice for polar bears to hunt in early July are predator-savvy adults and subadults but since the condition of the sea ice makes escape so much easier for the seals, most bears that continue to hunt are unsuccessful – and that’s been true since the 1970s. So much for the public hand-wringing over the loss of summer sea ice on behalf of polar bear survival! Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged adaptation, bearded seals, extirpated, harp seals, hunting, hype, PBI, polar bears, prey, ringed seals, save our sea ice, sea ice, spring feeding, stalking, summer, threatened
So, here we are near the end of the first month of the Arctic spring and there is still more ice than usual off Labrador and conditions in the Barents Sea are improving daily. The fear-mongers can blather all they like about the potential risks of bears swimming in summer – but spring is the critical season as far as sea ice is concerned for polar bears and all polar bear biologists know it. Polar bears consume 2/3 of all the food they need for the year during April-June and so far, ice conditions are looking just fine.
There is enough ice where there needs to be ice for polar bears to gorge themselves on new-born ringed and bearded seals – and that’s really all that matters. More ice off Labrador means more hunting ground for the Davis Strait polar bears that depend on the tens of thousands of young harp seals born this year off the Front.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged bearded seal, facts, feeding, harp seal, hunting, Labrador, polar bear, polynya, ringed seal, sea ice, Southern Beaufort, Svalbard