Seven polar bears came ashore this week, either passing through or exploring, in Black Tickle, Labrador. It’s not that unusual an occurrence but the take home quote sure is:
“They look really healthy … they have been eating good, these ones have.”
Lucky for them – residents in my novel – EATEN – were not so lucky.
A bear onshore along eastern Hudson Bay late last month was also described as fat.
Quotes from the CBC News report (8 March 2017: “7 polar bears visit stormbound Black Tickle“) below.
Late February is still the dead of winter in the Arctic, a time when most polar bears are at their leanest and out on the sea ice trying to find seals – and that means yesterday’s report of a “very fat” polar bear onshore outside Inukjuak is unusual at face value – but my followup inquiry revealed details that make it even more startling.
At my request, CBC North reporter Priscilla Hwang reached out to the hunter involved, who is the mayor of the community. She was told the incident took place on Saturday 25 February 2017 and the very fat bear in the story was actually a young, subadult female.
Subadults are more likely to be in poorer condition than adults at any time of year, due to their lack of hunting experience and competition with adult males. So to see a young bear that’s very fat before the feeding begins is quite astonishing: it suggests that feeding opportunities out on Hudson Bay have been very good over the winter and/or this bear was a savvy hunter despite her youth.
According to the mayor’s report, this community hasn’t had a bear onshore in nearly 30 years. Polar bears in Hudson Bay travel with the retreating ice to the western and southern shores, so with some exceptions, bears usually only have access to the east coast during winter through spring.
Last winter saw an extraordinary number of reports of bears on shore in winter, most of them causing trouble (see summary here). This Inukjuak sighting is the second I’ve come across this year – the other was in Svalbard (a female with cubs). Whether this new pattern is due to more bears or lack of hunting leading to bears having less fear of people – or a bit of both – it’s not yet possible to say.
So under the circumstances, the mayor of Inukjuak’s decision to kill this bear for the protection of the community seems quite reasonable (given the extensive resources required in Svalbard to drive their problem bears away rather than kill them).
Excerpts from the CBC story, and some maps and charts, are below.
Posted in Life History, Polar bear attacks
Tagged attacks, facts, fat, Hudson Bay, onshore, polar bear, problem bears, spring feeding, subadults, winter
Update to 18 Jan 2017 post: For at least 10 days, officials in Longyearbyen, Svalbard have been trying to keep a particularly persistent female polar bear and her two cubs away from the community. After being chased away last week, Sunday night (22 Jan) the trio appeared again at dog kennels at the edge of town but this time, but this time officials drove them even further south.
Yesterday marked the first report I’ve found for polar bears onshore this winter, in a potentially dangerous repeat of a pattern that has become all-too common in recent years (especially last year) with bear populations booming virtually everywhere (but especially around Svalbard).
This is the leanest time of year for polar bears – fat Arctic seal pups won’t be available for another 2-3 months and meals for polar bears are hard to come by – and that makes the bears especially dangerous.
So, despite the marked lack of sea ice around Svalbard this winter, a female polar bear with two cubs were reported near the community of Longyearbyen (still enduring 24 hours of darkness) – on the west coast of the archipelago (see map above), where sea ice has been virtually non-existent for years (see map below).
It appears these bears traveled overland from ice off the east coast. There is no mention in any of the reports that the bears were thin or in poor body condition, or had so far caused any of the problems for which desperately hungry polar bears are famous. However, one dog-sledding guide had a frightening encounter in the dark in this on-going saga that began over the weekend (details and photos below). Continue reading
Reports from Seal River, just north of Churchill at Churchillwild, at July 26 were crowing about seeing lots of bears onshore, with a veritable beehive of activity the weekend of 16/17 July:
“This has without a doubt been Churchill Wild’s most spectacular start to the summer polar bear watching season. …Bear numbers are up spectacularly this year and all are looking very fat and healthy, perhaps much to the chagrin of climate change “experts.” Our best day for the seductive white carnivores over the past week featured 21 polar bears sighted between the Lodge and our whale swim spot!
The ice pack, which was still visible a week ago [i.e, 17 July or so], has finally dissipated and pushed a large number of bears on to our coastline here at Seal River, with the end result being many very happy cameras!” [my bold]
And in Churchill proper, the Polar Bear Alert program has issued three reports so far this season (courtesy the Town of Churchill), which confirm that bears in the Polar Bear Capital of the World are also in great shape.
For the week of July 11-17, 2016:
“Bears are off the sea ice and on land. They are looking well fed and in great shape.”
See all three PBA reports below, compared to one from last year at this time (as well as a map and some ice charts).
More fat, healthy bears than last year, enough to keep the Polar Bear Alert folks hopping and tourists in the north happy. Sure doesn’t sound like a suffering population to me. Continue reading
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged body condition, breakup, Churchill, extirpation, health, onshore, polar bears, Seal River, threatened, western hudson bay
Breakup for Western Hudson Bay (WHB) is looking to be later than usual this year, given that the average breakup date since 1991 has been July 1 (using a 30% threshold) – only a few days from now – and the ice in WHB is nowhere near 50% coverage, let alone 30%.
Note that few WHB bears come off the ice around Churchill – most come ashore along the southwest coast of Hudson Bay (almost into SHB) and make their way north over the course of the summer to meet the ice as it reforms in the fall north around Churchill – that’s why it’s called a “migration.”
There’s still a lot of ice left in Hudson Bay, as the Canadian Ice Service map for 29 June 2016 (below) shows:
It seems to me that breakup for WHB this year is looking rather like 2014, which was something like a week later than the average since 1991, but time will tell. See below for comparison to 2009 (a late breakup year), 2015, and 2013 (lots of variability!), as well as a discussion of when bears come ashore in relation to this sea ice breakup benchmark.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged 30 percent coverage, breakup, Cherry, Churchill, early breakup, late breakup, onshore, polar bear, sea ice, Southern Hudson Bay, variability, western hudson bay