Posted onMarch 30, 2023|Comments Off on Southern Labrador coastal landscape dominated by fat polar bears in March
Recent reports out of southern Labrador highlight how common it is to find polar bears onshore at this time of year. The small coastal community of Black Tickle seems to take the prize for the highest number of incidents and sightings but Happy Valley-Goose Bay is the somewhat surprising contender. [see correction below] Photo below is from Black Tickle.
Since early March, polar bear sightings in Newfoundland and Labrador have been common. The bears, of course, have come south on the Labrador Sea pack ice looking for fat newborn harp seals, which are now so abundant in the region that nearly a year’s worth of food could probably be consumed in a week or so. It appears that already well-fed bears may look around for what else could be added to their menu or just need a break to digest between meals. Photos of some of the bears sighted are all in good or excellent condition, and few of the animals seem to be intent on causing real trouble for locals–a far cry from the bear that wandered off the ice into Wales, Alaska earlier this year and killed a young mother and her infant son.
Posted onAugust 25, 2022|Comments Off on Inuit are concerned about public safety as Davis Strait polar bears numbers increase
An assessment of the health of Davis Strait polar bears by 35 Inuit polar bear experts was made public two weeks ago. Overall, these experts agree that virtually all polar bears they see are healthy and that the population has been growing over the past few decades, so much so that “public safety has become an increasing concern”. Mainstream media have ignored this report, as far as I have seen.
As we await the latest scientific population estimate of Davis Strait polar bears, completed in 2021 but still not publicly available (only a preliminary gov’t report and a summary graphic from the final report have been released, see Dyck et al. 2019, 2021) this new document (Tomaselli et al. 2022) provides the essential information we need. Polar bears are doing well with no notable changes in cub numbers or survival in the last few decades, abundance is up and reflects a real increase in numbers. There are so many polar bears that communities and individuals feel the need to take extra precautions in protecting themselves from bears.
Oh, and ringed seal numbers are way down: that could be a critical bit of information we won’t get from the polar bear academics.
Posted onAugust 12, 2022|Comments Off on ‘Alone’ and ‘Alone Frozen’ survivor reality show participants were never at risk of a polar bear attack
Spoiler Alert! Participants of the History Channel’s Season 9 ‘Alone’ and its spinoff, ‘Alone: Frozen’ reality shows were never at risk of a polar bear attack despite the marketing hype claiming they were, because coastal Labrador is only ‘polar bear territory’ when pack ice is present offshore, which it wasn’t when the shows were filmed. Shocking, I know!
I happened upon the trailer for the ‘Alone’ series while watching TV one night and the “set in the hunting territory of the mighty polar bear” claim caught my attention. So I watched a few episodes and did some followup. Before the series even ended, there were ads for the spinoff series, ‘Alone: Frozen’, which had even more polar bear hype. Here’s what I discovered–call it a Frivolous Friday post if you like, but I felt it had to be said.
UPDATE Friday 23 September 2022:
The ‘Alone: Frozen’ series concluded last night without a single sighting of a polar bear or even its footprint near the area. In fact, mention of the possibility of a polar bear attack by the participants ceased after the first few episodes, although the ‘narrator’ continued this fiction as part of the storyline. I rest my case.
Posted onApril 30, 2022|Comments Off on Explaining abundant polar bear sightings on the East Coast as an upshot of sea ice loss is absurd
Last week, a senior producer at CBC News, in order to concoct a timely story for ‘Earth Day’, attempted to explain the high number of sightings of polar bears this April in Newfoundland and Labrador, compared to the last two years, as a consequence of climate change and its handmaiden, loss of Arctic sea ice.
Title: ‘With an extinction threat looming, no wonder polar bears are at our door — and on the roof: there’s a grim reason why polar bears have been frequently showing up in coastal communities’. CBC News, 23 April 2022
In fact, the two years with the most sightings and problems with polar bears since 2008 were 2017 and 2018: in 2017, sea ice was exceptionally thick in April (although average in extent) and by June the sea ice was so thick and enduring that the Newfoundland fishing fleet couldn’t get out for spring openings; 2018 was another year of average sea ice extent and had even an even larger number of sightings than 2017, in Newfoundland especially (Crockford 2019:32). This suggests the sea ice vs. polar bear correlation on the East Coast since 2008 – if there even is one – may be the opposite of that stated in the CBC article: less ice usually means fewer bears onshore in Newfoundland and Labrador and more ice often means more bears.
Posted onApril 14, 2022|Comments Off on Newfoundland polar bear sighting updates and video
Here is a Youtube video of the incident I wrote about on Tuesday, of the bear that climbed up on an elderly woman’s house in St. Anthony last Sunday and then confronted her when she opened the door.
Statements from local officials included with a follow-up news report of the incident confirms that there were indeed no polar bear sightings along the Labrador coast in 2020 and 2021 and few (if any) along the Newfoundland coast: it wasn’t just a case of reports not making the news. In addition, it also appears that sea ice conditions this year brought an abundance of harp seal pups to the waters off southern Labrador and Newfoundland, which may mean that pregnant harp seals were giving birth further north for the past two years and the Davis Strait bears were simply staying with them.
Posted onMarch 1, 2022|Comments Off on Polar bear encounter with dog in Black Tickle Labrador has a happy ending for both
In the first such report I’ve seen this season, last Sunday a family husky living on the south coast of Labrador met a curious young polar bear in very good condition; the bear left without incident but the family captured video of the encounter. Abundant ice offshore has almost certainly brought a number of Davis Strait bears south ready to feed on newborn harp seal pups, which won’t be available for a few more weeks.
Posted onJanuary 31, 2022|Comments Off on Davis Strait polar bears in Eastern Canada are thriving according to new survey
Pack ice is barreling down the Labrador coast, almost certainly bringing Davis Strait polar bears with it. And according to new survey results, those bears are doing just fine: numbers are stable, bears are fatter than they were in 2007, and cubs are surviving well – thanks largely to abundant harp seals.
Posted onJanuary 13, 2022|Comments Off on East Coast sea ice so far similar to last year
Davis Strait ice pack is slowly moving south this year just as shorefast ice is developing in-place along the Labrador shoreline, similar to last year. East Coast harp seals that give birth in the region in March depend on this ice and so do many Davis Strait polar bears that feed on those newborn seals. In contrast, in 2017 the ice off Labrador was broader by mid-January (even more so by mid-February) and that seems to have made a huge difference by April, when ice north of Newfoundland was thick and extensive.
Compared to last year at this time, there was somewhat less ice along the Labrador coast but the difference is really negligible. By April, ice extent was well below average, especially in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and there were few sightings of polar bears along the Labrador and Newfoundland coasts.
Back in 2017 at the same time (below), the band of ice along the southern Labrador coast was much broader, indicating more movement of Davis Strait ice from the north. This resulted in so many polar bear sightings in Newfoundland and Labrador by March and April that I could hardly keep up reporting them (Crockford 2019:32):
East coast conditions could change significantly over the next few weeks however, especially if weather conditions bring more north winds.
Posted onApril 12, 2021|Comments Off on Harp seal pup production poor in Gulf of St. Lawrence but it won’t impact the population
A seal biologist with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans has confirmed that harp seal pupping was almost non-existent this year in the Gulf of St. Lawrence due to poor sea ice conditions. The ice at the Front has been lighter than usual this year but probably adequate for a decent crop of baby seals.
However, while it is unfortunate for the local businesses, even the loss of all the harp seal pups in the Gulf this year will not seriously impact the total population. Even in a good year, at most a third of Northeastern Atlantic harp seals have their pups in the Gulf – the majority of seals give birth at the Front (DFO 2020; Stenson et al. 2015). So as long as ice there remains in decent condition over the next few weeks, most of the harps and their pups at the Front should be OK (see ice chart below for week of 5 April 2021).
As biologist Gary Stenson said in a radio interview today, the lack of harp seal pups in the Gulf this year may be due to pregnant females moving north to the Front to give birth, as they have been known to do in other low-ice years (Sergeant 1976, 1991), rather than because of massive mortalities. There have been some mortalities but not the tens of thousands some were expecting.
Predictably, the Humane Society International issued a press release calling for the seal hunt to be shut down in the Gulf this year but the government has dismissed these concerns, in part because there is very little sealing done in this region anyway.
Seal biologist Mike Hammill concurred the harp seals will be fine, even if ice in the Gulf becomes rare in the future:
“It’s not looking good for them in the Gulf of St Lawrence, but we anticipate that we’ll see a shift in distribution over time,” he says. “They’ll gradually disappear from the gulf, so instead of a third of harp seal pups being born there, maybe all the pups will be born off the Labrador coast.” [The Guardian, 13 March 2021]
At last count in 2017, there were an estimated 7.6 million (range 6.55-8.82) harp seals off the east coast of Canada (DFO 2020), up from 7.4 million in 2014 (DFO 2014). That’s a huge seal population. Harp seal pups are an important spring food source for Davis Strait polar bears (Peacock et al. 2013; Rode et al. 2012). A new population estimate of Davis Strait bears has apparently been completed but we are still waiting on the report (Crockford 2020).
Oddly, with all the hand-wringing about this year’s poor ice and recent years when sea ice in the Gulf has been poor, none of the reports ever point out that there have also been recent years when the sea ice was so heavy that it interfered with shipping: in 2019, for example, and 2014, and 2015. And 2017. Short memories.
Finally, a reminder my latest novel, UPHEAVAL, is set in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Cape Breton Island) and my first novel, EATEN, is set on the north shore of Newfoundland at this time of year. These are timely reads if you haven’t tried them and they make good gifts as well.
Crockford, S.J. 2020.State of the Polar Bear Report2019. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 39, London. PDFhere.
Sergeant, D.E. 1976. History and present status of populations of harp and hooded seals. Biological Conservation10:95-118.
Sergeant, D.E. 1991.Harp Seals, Man and Ice. Canadian Special Publication of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 114. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa.
Stenson, G.B., Buren, A.D. and Koen-Alonso, M. 2015. The impact of changing climate and abundance on reproduction in an ice-dependent species, the Northwest Atlantic harp seal, Pagophilus groenlandicus. ICES Journal of Marine Science 73(2):250-262. http://icesjms.oxfordjournals.org/content/73/2/250
Comments Off on Harp seal pup production poor in Gulf of St. Lawrence but it won’t impact the population
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