Tag Archives: onshore

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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Newfoundland conservation officers right to kill polar bear in hunting mode

Apparently, some locals were upset that a polar bear that refused to be scared away from a Newfoundland community over the weekend was shot as it advanced on conservation officers and a crowd of onlookers who refused to disperse (see updated report here on recent Newfoundland polar bear sightings, with annotated map).

Catalina map and bear shot location Nfld

Polar bear shot by wildlife officers near Catalina after being deemed public safety risk” (CBC 10 April 2017)

What these animal lovers may not realize is that Newfoundland in March and April is not a Churchill-like situation: polar bears are in strong hunting mode right now.

Polar bears in late winter and spring have an immense drive to kill and eat as much as possible. Even bears that look well fed will continue to kill and eat. Enticing smells attract them onshore as they investigate any food possibility (see list below).

Seriously, you don’t want that food possibility to be you.

Polar bears can go from watching to charging, in the blink of an eye. You can’t outrun one. Killing quickly is what they do and they are immensely strong. Polar bears generally go for a killing bite to the head. Things to think about when a polar bear is prowling your community…
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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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Another fat bear onshore in late winter, along Gulf of St. Lawrence north coast

Another fat bear onshore in late winter, this time along the Quebec shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence (22 March 2017) – and this time, one of the witnesses to the sighting took some great photos. Courtesy CBC News (Polar bear makes rare appearance on Quebec’s Lower North Shore 24 March 2017).

Gulf St Lawrence North shore PB visit 22 March 2017_CBC headline

Quotes, location map, and sea ice charts below.

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Several fat polar bears sighted in southern Labrador early this week

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.

Black Tickle polar bear visits 7 March 2017_CBC news 8 March

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.

Black-tickle-map-Labrador 2016

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Report of Hudson Bay polar bear onshore in winter is rare indeed – here’s why

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.

bear-onshore-end-feb-2017_cbc-photo-facebook

CBC North facebook entry 27 Feb 2017

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.
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New paper updates lack of trend in W Hudson Bay breakup/freeze-up dates to 2015

A newly-published paper shows that there has been no trend in the time Western Hudson Bay polar bears spent onshore between 2001-2015 due to sea ice conditions at breakup or freeze-up (previously available to 2010 only), despite the marked decline of global sea ice since 2007.

castro-de-la-guardia-et-al-derocher-2017-fig-3-no-caption

Figure 3 from Castro de la Guardia (2017) showing freeze-up and breakup dates and ice-free days 1979-2015 for Western Hudson Bay. Figure with caption is copied below, with explanation of symbols.

Previously, a 2007 paper by Eric Regehr and colleagues for WHB bears up to 2004, which was used to support the US bid to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ with extinction, concluded that between 1984 and 2003, bears were spending 3 weeks long onshore than they did in the 1980s.

The big news from Castro de la Guardia (2017) is that polar bears spent longer onshore from 1979-2015 by … 3 weeks. That is, no change from the situation in 2004. Wow!

Note the population size of the entire WHB subpopulation has also not declined since 2004 and is currently estimated at about 1030, based on a 2011 aerial survey (Stapleton et al. 2014).

Thanks to Andrew Derocher for the heads-up tweet.

From the abstract (my bold):

We found that the ice-free period in this region lengthened by 3 ± 0.8 wk over the period 1979−2015. Polar bears migrated onshore 2 wk earlier and offshore 1 wk later in the period 2005−2015 than in 1980−1989.

Here is the region in question, illustrated by Fig. 1 from the paper:

castro-de-la-guardia-et-al-derocher-2017-fig-1a-locationThe significant information contained in this paper is breakup and freeze-up dates and length of the ice-free period data for 2010-2015, which has been unavailable until now. More excerpts and comments below, including Figure 3 with its caption. Continue reading