Tag Archives: Labrador

Polar bear habitat update: abundant sea ice across the Arctic, even in the Barents Sea

Abundant ice in Svalbard, East Greenland and the Labrador Sea is excellent news for the spring feeding season ahead because this is when bears truly need the presence of ice for hunting and mating. As far as I can tell, sea ice has not reached Bear Island, Norway at this time of year since 2010 but this year ice moved down to the island on 3 March and has been there ever since. This may mean we’ll be getting reports of polar bear sightings from the meteorological station there, so stay tuned.

Walking bear shutterstock_329214941_web size

Sea ice extent as of 11 March 2019, from NSIDC Masie:

masie_all_zoom_4km 2019 March 11

Much of the ice that was blown out of the Bering Sea early in the month has returned and ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the East Coast of Canada is the highest its been in years, threatening to impede ferry traffic between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, as it did in 2015 and again in 2017. The fishing season off Newfoundland might also be delayed by the heavy ice, as it was in 2017.

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Polar bear prowling small Labrador town cut off by storm had authorities on high alert

From CBC News late yesterday (28 February 2019) comes the news that a polar bear seen skulking around the homes of a small coastal town in Labrador this week has had residents on edge and authorities on high alert. If tragedy struck, the St. Lewis road was blocked by snow and the only way in or out was by helicopter. Message: polar bears are highly dangerous and a bear prowling a community is a very real threat to safety.

polar-bear-black-tickle_Edwin Clark submitted to CBC no date

This bear visited Black Tickle in Labrador a few years ago. Edwin Clark photo.

According to a CTV News follow-up, while the road to St. Lewis was cut off because of a recent snowstorm for most of the week, wildlife officers were able to get in today (Friday 1 March). Sighting about 100km north in Charlottetown earlier in the week are believed to be the same bear.

The last sighting of the animal was Thursday morning (28 Feb), so the bear may now have left of its own accord. No one seems to have captured a photo.

However, the fear felt by residents of St. Lewis (population 200) in this story is palpable, especially after the terrifying visuals from the well-publicized invasion by more than 50 polar bears at Belushaya Guba on Novaya Zemlya last month.

St Lewis and Charlottetown Labrador PB sighting and reaction 28 Feb 2019

St. Lewis is located at the red marker; Charlottetown is the third town to the north. Both are just north of the Strait of Belle Isle that separates Labrador from the island of Newfoundland.

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Two polar bears onshore in coastal Labrador, one relocated for public safety

Just in (VOCM, 1 February 2019) from a community called Makkovik on the coast of Labrador: one of two bears sighted prowling the local dump has been relocated for public safety. The community is still on high alert until the other bear can be located.

Black Tickle polar-bear-7 March 2017 Kim Penney photo shared CBC

Polar bear spotted near Black Tickle Labrador on 7 March 2017.

Polar bears are extraordinarily dangerous at this time of year because they are usually at their leanest weight and can be desperate for food of any kind. See the most recent example here, others here and here (with references).

See below for a map showing the location of Makkovik, population about 360.
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Heads up Newfoundland & Labrador: polar bear season has begun

There is now enough sea ice off southern Labrador and the northern tip of Newfoundland for Davis Strait polar bears to come ashore looking for food. Baby seals won’t be available for months yet. And since winter is the lean season for these bears, some may seek food sources onshore. The bears come down from the area of Hudson Strait and southern Baffin Island: as the sea ice expands south, so do the bears.

Polar bear tracks_25 Feb Labrador 2015 CBC

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More Davis Strait polar bears onshore in the last two days

Four bears were photographed outside of Red Bay, Southern Labrador on Thursday 8 March and a bear was spotted ashore in NE Newfoundland overnight on Wednesday.

Red Bay Labrador polar-bears 8 March 2018_Vicki Hancock photo_CBC 9 March 2018

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Sea ice off Newfoundland thickest ever yet another polar bear comes ashore

Amid reports that ice conditions between Newfoundland and southern Labrador are the worst in living memory, another polar bear was reported ashore in the area — just after biologist Andrew Derocher explained to the CBC that bears only come on land when sea ice conditions “fail.”

Strait-of-belle-isle pack ice_April 19 2017_Nordik Relais

“Ice too thick for coast guard’s heavy icebreaker” said a 20 April 2017 CBC report on the state of ice in the Strait of Belle Isle. The pack is thick first year ice (four feet thick or more in places) and embedded with icebergs of much older, thicker ice. The ice packed along the northern shore of Newfoundland is hampering fishermen from getting out to sea and is not expected to clear until mid-May.

NASA Worldview shows the extent of the pack ice over northwest Newfoundland and southern Labrador on 19 April 2017 (the Strait of Belle Isle is the bit between the two):

Newfoundland Labrador sea ice 19 April 2017 NASA Worldview

The same day that the above satellite image was taken (19 April), at the north end of the Strait on the Newfoundland side, a polar bear was spotted in a small community northwest of St. Anthony (marked below,  “Wildberry Country Lodge” at Parker’s Brook). It’s on the shore of north-facing Pistolet Bay on the Great Northern Peninsula, near the 1000 year old Viking occupation site of L’Anse aux Meadows.

Parkers Brook location on Pistolet Bay

There were no photos of the Parker’s Brook bear but lots of others have been taken this year of almost a dozen seen along Newfoundland shorelines since early March: see my recently updated post, with an updated map of reported sightings. Harp seals are now abundant in the pack ice of southern Davis Strait, providing polar bears with an ample source of food when they need it most and therefore, a strong attractant to the area.

St brendan's bear 01 VOCM report 5 April 2017 Tracy Hynes

Yet, as I reported yesterday, polar bear specialist Andrew Derocher told the CBC this week that polar bears are almost always “forced” ashore by poor ice conditions. The CBC report included his tweet from 10 April, where he suggested “failed” Newfoundland ice conditions were the cause of multiple bears onshore in Newfoundland this year.

Similar thick ice conditions off northern Newfoundland (perhaps even worse) occurred in 2007, see Twillingate in the spring of 2007 below:

Twillingate-heavy ice-20070523_2007 CBC David Boyd photo

Yet, in 2007 there was not a single polar bear reported onshore in Newfoundland (as far as I am aware) but this year there were almost a dozen. And the photos taken this year show fat, healthy bears – not animals struggling to survive.

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East Coast crawling with polar bears since early March thanks to the pack ice

The  hot polar bear news right now is the large number of sightings of bears onshore in Newfoundland and Labrador – even the CBC is impressed.

Melrose nfld Polar Bear 02_2017 April 3_Brandon Collins shared photo The Packet

Photo taken by Brandon Collins in Melrose (on the Trinity Bay side of the peninsula) Monday 3 April 2017

All the bears have been brought to land by the abundant pack ice that’s been present off Labrador and northern Newfoundland (the territory of Davis Strait polar bears), which also killed a humpback whale that got trapped against the north shore (a not unusual event, apparently).

Mapping the reports of polar bear sightings since early March helped me get a handle on the total number of encounters: more than a dozen, it turns out.  There have been a few bear sightings in this region every year recently but such high numbers are remarkable, especially so early in the season. When will it end?

Increased numbers of bears in the population is one explanation for increased numbers of encounters onshore at this time of year, although recent storms may have encouraged more bears than usual to come ashore in Newfoundland.

My picture annotated map and a list of sighting reports, with links, is below but stay tuned: this story may not be over yet.

UPDATE 4 April: more photos and sea ice maps added below.

UPDATE 5 April: another sighting, in St. Brendan’s (west of Bonavista), added to the map below and quotes from one witness. The map is now Version 2. A sea ice map for 5 April has also been added at the end of the post.

UPDATE 9 April: another sighting and a bear casualty, see below. Map revised again.

UPDATE 14 April: CBC Newfoundland article (12 April: Highway of ice: Easy route for polar bears chasing food, prof says) based on my radio interview that aired 11 April.

UPDATE 22 April: Another sighting west of St. Anthony on Wednesday, 19 April has been added to the map (now Version 4) and an alert that I’ve added a new post (21 April) about the claim by one vocal polar bear specialist that all of these sightings are the result of “failed” sea ice conditions off Newfoundland and Labrador this year (seriously, I’m not making this up). I’ve added the most recent ice map at the end of this post.
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