Tag Archives: hunting

Experts talk of their bleak future, W Hudson Bay polar bears get earliest freezeup in decades

It seems that Churchill residents and visitors woke up this morning to find most local polar bears had left to go hunting — on the sea ice that supposedly doesn’t exist. Right in the middle of the Polar Bear Week campaign devised by Polar Bears International to drum up donation dollars and public sympathy for polar bear conservation!

Polar bear on the sea ice_Churchill_8 Nov 2017_Explore dot org cam my photo 2Frigid temperatures and north winds last night helped the process along, but this early freeze-up has been in the works for almost a week. From what I can ascertain, it appeared the only bears around onshore today were a mother with her young cub moving out towards the ice (females with cubs are usually the last to move offshore, probably to reduce the risk of encounters with adult males who might kill the cubs).

Tundra Buggy cams at Explore.org have been showing markedly fewer bears today and those that have been seen were on the ice (see above and below) or heading out to it.

The chart below is for yesterday (7 November), before the cold and north winds hit the region. It shows the concentration of ice that’s >15 cm thick.

Hudson Bay North 2017 concentration Nov 7

The chart for 8 November is below, after the storm.

Hudson Bay North daily ice concentration 2017_Nov 8

This is ice thick and extensive enough for polar bears to go hunting. Some bears almost certainly left shore yesterday, with the rest following quickly on their heals today. There are sure to be some stragglers left ashore that will leave over the next few days but the fact remains: there is sea ice to be had for those polar bear willing to start hunting.

Watch polar bear on the WHB sea ice below (screen caps below – and one above – were taken the afternoon of 8 November, from the Tundra Buggy Cam live feed near Churchill).

Polar bear on the sea ice_Churchill_8 Nov 2017_Explore dot org cam my photo 3

Keep in mind that in the 1980s, bears left for the ice on 8 November, on average. That means we’re back to a 1980s freeze-up scenario, at least for this year.

Funny how no one bothered to mention the potential for an early freeze-up to the media last week, when scientist were so eager to talk about the imminent demise of WHB bears. And funny that Polar Bears International hasn’t tweeted a word today about the famous Churchill bears having enough sea ice to go hunting, smack in the middle of Polar Bear Week.

Yes, the “Save Our Sea Ice” PBI rallying cry sounds a bit hollow with sea ice as far as the eye can see off Churchill today. But will anyone in the mainstream media point out the irony?

See charts below for years back to 2004, on this date (2005 missing for some reason), to compare to the above 8 November image (2004 is as far back as the archive goes).

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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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Polar bears of W Hudson Bay utilizing a substantial patch of thick first year ice

There’s been no word as yet, either from tour operators or polar bear researchers, that Western Hudson Bay polar bears have come ashore for the summer/fall season. Andrew Derocher reported at the end of June that the bears tagged by his team were still on the ice and as I write this, has not yet reported them ashore.

That pattern is consistent with the presence of thick ice along the west coast of the Bay — from well north of Churchill to the south of Wapusk National Park — for the last few weeks. The weekly chart for 3 July 2017 below from the Canadian Ice Service shows that virtually all of the ice remaining is thick first year ice (>1.2m, dark green on this map):

Hudson Bay weekly ice stage of development 2017 July 3

By the 9 July, the extent of this patch of ice was somewhat reduced but still a very prominent feature over the Bay, suggesting that if adult seals are using this ice as a refuge while molting, some bears may still be attempting to hunt even though their success rate may not be very high:

Sea ice Canada 2017 July 9

Bottom line: As has been the pattern for more than a decade, 2017 will not go down in history as an especially early year for WHB polar bears coming off the ice for the summer/fall season but instead may be as late as last year, when lots of bears were reported off the ice by mid-July at Seal River (just north of Churchill), all in excellent condition.

It remains to be seen if the condition of bears will be as good this year as they were in 2016, given the late start to the season. But it does mean that the lack of trend in breakup dates since 2001 continues: breakup of the sea ice in WHB since 2001 has been about one week later than it was before 1998 (Castro de la Guardia 2017; Cherry et al. 2013; Lunn et al. 2016).

If some polar bear struggle to survive this year it will be due to the late freeze-up date last fall combined with challenging winter conditions over Hudson Bay, not because of an early breakup of the sea ice.

And while it is certainly true that the overall trend in time spent onshore by WHB polar bears since 1979 has increased by about three weeks, the lack of a continued trend since 2001 is not what was expected or predicted, especially given the marked decline in global sea ice levels that have made headlines since 2007 (Crockford 2017), and the predictions of how devastating such low levels of ice would be to polar bears in areas like Hudson Bay that have to deal with a total disappearance of sea ice in summer and early fall.

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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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Newfoundland conservation officers right to kill polar bear in hunting mode

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).

Catalina map and bear shot location Nfld

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…
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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).

sea-ice-extent-canada-2016-dec-5_cis

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

Fall Arctic ice growth often differs regionally: 2016 compared to other years

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.

masie-sea-ice-2016-oct-20-cropped-and-marked_polarbearscience

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.

sea-ice-extent-canada-2016-oct-21_cis

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:

79-th-parallel-north_wikipedia

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.

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