Tag Archives: Labrador

Polar bear sea ice habitat at the start of the Arctic winter is abundant except off Labrador

After a bit of ineffectual hand-wringing from polar bear specialists about low summer and fall sea ice conditions and unsubstantiated worries about impacts on bear survival – including Southern Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea and Hudson Bay  – I’ve heard no concerns expressed so far about the unusually low extent of ice off the East Coast of North America at the start of this winter. The Labrador Coast is just about the only region bereft of ice this winter but could catch up quickly at any time: ice coverage in the Barents Sea, East Greenland, and Bering Sea is similar to or above recent levels (last five years) so far, as is the overall extent.

masie_all_zoom_4km 2020 Jan 2

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Rare winter polar bear visit to northern Newfoundland New Years Eve 2019

Although ice coverage along the Labrador coast this fall has been well below average, there was a report today of a polar bear on shore on the north west coast of northern Newfoundland. The media seem to be treating this as an every-day sort of thing rather than the true rarity it is. As far as I know, there are no records of polar bears onshore in Newfoundland in late December and for it to happen this year is especially surprising given that ice coverage so far has been below average on the East Coast. It’s a more rare event than the early January attack last year by a polar bear in Alaska that had traveled more than a hundred miles inland. Will 2020 be another active polar bear season for Newfoundland? Time will tell – stay tuned over the new year.

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

Few details have been provided about this year’s late December sighting at Green Island Cove, just north of the ferry port of Saint Barbe (where the ferry to Labrador docks, see below). No photos or descriptions of the bear were made public and so far the bear does not seem to have caused any trouble: the photo above is from another sighting in Labrador a few years ago.

Green Island Cove Newfoundland map Google

Sea ice this year has been scarce on the East Coast, but obviously enough for at least one determined bear to have made its way down from Davis Strait, swimming part of the way. See the two charts below:

Sea ice Canada 2019 Dec 31 HB caught up

Newfoundland East daily stage of development 2019 Dec 31

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Fat polar bears causing trouble onshore in Labrador plus sightings in Newfoundland

What sounds like a mother and half-grown cub paid a visit to a cabin outside Black Tickle, Labrador and frightened the residents trapped inside. The aggressive female was part of at least 10 bears seen around the community on 14 April 2019 and photos of one of them show a bear in excellent condition. A bear in good condition was also spotted on the north coast of Newfoundland over the weekend, delivered to land by sea ice that’s moving back into the area after winds blew it offshore last month.

Batteau-labrador Carrie Dyson photo 17 April 2019

Near Black Tickle Labrador, mid-April 2019. Carrie Dyson photo.

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OK in the 80s but not now: ‘seeing more polar bears means there are more bears’

Wait for it, it will come: backlash from polar bear scientists for a statement by an Inuk bear safety guide in Labrador, reported by the CBC yesterday. The guide said there are more polar bears now than there were 25 years ago based on the fact that he is seeing more bears and that more bears mean more trouble with bears, including attacks on people. As I point out in my new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, only in the 1980s did biologists admit that seeing more bears meant there were actually more bears.

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

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

It has not been OK anywhere else in the world over the last few years to suggest that seeing more bears meant more bears, whether you were Inuk or not – whether describing a subpopulation that’s officially ‘increasing’ or not.

According to biologist Andrew Derocher (University of Alberta), who famously said last year that ‘you can’t equate seeing more bears with there being more bears,’ all of the increased sightings and problems with bears in Labrador and Newfoundland are due to poor ice conditions. His colleague Ian Stirling (also University of Alberta) similarly puts the blame for increased polar bear/human conflicts and fatal attacks in Nunavut on a ‘shortage of ice‘. For polar bear specialists, it’s always ‘less ice‘, never ‘more bears.’

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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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