Tag Archives: hunting

Polar bears of SE Greenland get shorefast ice necessary to hunt seals: not so unique after all

The 234 or so polar bears inhabiting the SE tip of Greenland, said to be genetically and ecologically unique because they are “surviving without ice“, have been experiencing sea ice formation along the shoreline this month just like other bears across the Arctic. Recall that shorefast ice formation attracts seals in the fall, which polar bears hunt successfully, and the following spring (April/May) provide a platform for ringed seals to give birth to their pups, which polar bears eat with gay abandon.

The photo above was taken by Kristin Laidre in March 2016: a bear this fat at the end of winter (i.e. before ringed seals are born in the spring) is living in productive habitat.

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New polar bear hunting habitat forming already along the coast of the Laptev Sea: A new trend?

Not even three weeks after the yearly minimum of sea ice extent was reached this year, new shorefast ice is already forming off the coast of Siberia, which is critical fall hunting habitat for polar bears.

Polar bears on a seal kill in new ice, 31 October 2020 in W. Hudson Bay via webcam.

So, not only was this year’s sea ice extent for September at the very lowest extreme of predicted levels for late summer, given ever-increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, new ice seems to be forming earlier in the fall as well, which bodes well for winter ice formation. It’s looking to me like the decade-long increasing trend of September ice extent since 2012 (see below) may indicate a change more biologically relevant to ice-dependent Arctic animals than the zero trend since 2007.

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Sea ice average for March is the metric used to compare to previous winters

The average sea ice cover at the end of March is the metric used to compare ‘winter’ ice to previous years or decades, not the single-day date of ‘most’ ice. This year, March ended with 14.6 mkm2 of sea ice, most of which (but not all) is critical polar bear habitat. Ice charts showing this are below.

But note that ice over Hudson Bay, which is an almost-enclosed sea used by thousands of polar bears at this time of year, tends to continue to thicken from March into May: these two charts for 2020 show medium green becoming dark green, indicating ice >1.2 m thick, even as some areas of open water appear.

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Caught on film: polar bear stalks, kills and eats a Svalbard reindeer but climate change is hardly to blame

The possibility that a polar bear somewhere in the Arctic might occassionally be successful at stalking and killing a reindeer (aka caribou) shouldn’t surprise anyone, let alone a biologist on Svalbard. But having video footage of the event makes it immediately newsworthy, especially when the researchers vaguely suggest that global warming might be to blame.

The title of the scientific paper that has generated the latest polar bear hype is called ‘Yes, they can: polar bears Ursus maritimus successfully hunt Svalbard reindeer Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus’ (Stempnlewicz et al. 2021).

Would any serious scientist really think they couldn’t?

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Spring polynyas in the Arctic then and now as feeding areas for hungry polar bears

Patches of open water in the Arctic that develop in the spring, including polynyas and widening shore leads, are largely due to the actions of wind and currents on mobile pack ice rather than ice melt. Contrary to concerns expressed about possible negative implications of these early patches of open water, these areas have always been critical congregation areas for Arctic seals and are therefore important feeding areas for polar bears in late spring.

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Podcast with WildFed about polar bears and domestication as speciation

A couple weeks ago I had a fabulous chat with Daniel Vitalis from Wildfed about a wide range of topics, including my work on polar bears and domestication as a process of speciation. The podcast went live this morning – have a listen here (also copied below), I think you’ll enjoy it. One hour, 36 minutes.

Shorefast ice formation and the fall feeding season for polar bears

What may seem like a silly question is actually fundamental to polar bear survival: in the fall, why do Western Hudson Bay bears correctly expect to find seals in the new ice that forms offshore? Why are seals attracted to that new ice – called ‘shorefast ice’ or ‘fast ice’ – when they would clearly be safer out in the open water where there is no ice and no bears?

As the picture below attests, polar bears can and do kill ringed seals in the new ice that forms off the coast of Western Hudson Bay even when it is but a narrow strip of thin ice – and so close to shore their successes can be caught on camera.

Three adult male polar bears share a seal kill on the newly-formed ice off Wapusk National Park, Western Hudson Bay. 5 November 2020. Buggy cam, Explore.org

A different bear was also filmed killing another seal on 31 October. And these are only the kills we know about along a very short stretch of coast – the killing is almost certainly going on up and down the entire coast, into James Bay (see below), where there is just as much ice but no cameras.

As far as I am aware, this seal killing by polar bears goes on in newly-formed shorefast ice everywhere across the Arctic in early fall, not just in Hudson Bay. Although the timing varies, virtually everywhere in the peripheral seas of the Arctic Ocean (Barents, Kara, Laptev, Chukchi, Beaufort, as well as Baffin Bay and Davis Strait), shorefast ice forms before the mobile ice pack expands to meet the ice developing from shore.

This shorefast ice formation in fall provides a predictable but short-lived source of prey for polar bears as they strive to regain some of the weight lost over the summer.

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10 fallacies about Arctic sea ice & polar bear survival refute misleading ‘facts’

This updated blog post of mine from last year is as pertinent now as it was then: it’s a fully-referenced rebuttal to the misleading ‘facts’ so often presented this time of year to support the notion that polar bears are being harmed due to lack of summer sea ice. Polar Bears International developed ‘Arctic Sea Ice Day’ (15 July) to promote their skewed interpretation of polar bear science at the height of the Arctic melt season. This year I’ve add a ‘Polar Bears and the Arctic Food Chain‘ graphic, which readers are free to download and share. For further information, see “The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened“.

Polar bear top of Arctic food chain 7 July 2020

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Polar bears prowling Newfoundland come on top of coronavirus fears

On Tuesday 17 March 2020, several polar bears were reported in and around the community of St. Anthony on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, adding another threat on top of coronavirus concerns in the province. The photo below is from a 2018 Newfoundland sighting from the same region: none are available for the current report.

NP-PolarBearSighting 2018-6_large

There have been no reports of trouble but locals will have to stay vigilant to remain safe, which since 2008 has been a common concern from late winter to early spring. In 2012 in this area, a bear was shot after it destroyed homes and attacked livestock; another bear was shot the next week in the same area. And in 2016 and 2017, a bear had to be shot to protect residents. Bears at this time of year are in hunting mode, which is why my polar bear attack thriller novel, EATEN, is set in March.

Newfoundland Great Northern Peninsula map

Current sea ice conditions below.

UPDATE 22 March 2020: “Just after 1 p.m. on March 21, the RCMP St. Anthony advised they blocked off Goose Cove Road, St. Anthony, as a polar bear has been sighted in the area. Wildlife is en route to assess the situation. In the interest of public safety residents are asked to stay away from this area.” From Saltwire here. Another report on the same sighting here.

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Activist Norwegian makes more false claims that trophy hunting threatens polar bears

An anti-hunting Norwegian activist-photographer has again made unsupported claims about legal polar bear trophy hunting in Canada and its impact on the survival of the species, promoted by two UK tabloid newspapers (The Sun and The Mirror) over the weekend. The reality is that polar bears are no more being driven to extinction by trophy hunting than they are battling to survive the effects of climate change: they are currently thriving.

According to the Mirror, “Awarding-winning wildlife photographer and conservationist Ole Liodden has warned the iconic Arctic species will die out if trophy hunting is allowed to continue” but no reputable biologist or conservation organization says this, including the IUCN Red List, CITES, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, or Polar Bears International. This should tell any rational individual that photographer Ole Liodden is misrepresenting the truth to support his rabid anti-hunting stance.

Liodden photo book cover alone lg

I understand that some people object to hunting (especially trophy hunting) and wish more people felt like they do – but Liodden’s opinion is nothing more than the emotional rant of a conspiracy theorist and should be ignored. Continue reading