Habitat for polar bears is abundant worldwide as the prime feeding season passes its peak and mating season for sexually mature bears winds down.
Battle among polar bear males for the right to mate, from this 2011 DailyMail story here.
There is much more ice than usual around Svalbard in the Barents Sea and off Newfoundland and southern Labrador, home to ‘Davis Strait’ bears. There have been no media reports of polar bears onshore anywhere (since the third week of April in Newfoundland and late January in Svalbard).
Sea ice map below for 12 May 2017:
Compare the extent and concentration of ice around Svalbard above (at 12 May 2017) to conditions that prevailed on the same date in 2015 (below), considered a “good ice” year for local polar bears (and the year of the last population size count which registered an increase over the 2004 count):
There hasn’t been this much ice in the area at this point in the season for many years, especially to the north of Svalbard, and levels since late April have been above even the long-term average (disregard the huge downward blip, which is clearly a sensor malfunction of some kind):
In fact, ice is pretty solid throughout the Barents Sea and East Greenland at this time:
Across the Atlantic, the situation is similar, with unseasonably heavy sea ice off eastern North America and the Southern Beaufort Sea.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged body condition, Churchill, fighting, Hudson Bay, mating, polar bear, problem bears, ringed seals, sea ice, snow depth, Svalbard
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
Guess which year between 2006 and 2016 had the latest start to freeze-up on Hudson Bay, given that 2012 had the lowest September average and 2007 and 2016 tied for second-lowest (see graph below, from NSIDC), and that sea ice in the Arctic right now is the lowest it’s been for this date since 1979?
If you guessed anything other than 2010, you guessed wrong – in addition, 2006 (not 2016) was second latest.
There is no correlation between Arctic sea ice coverage and freeze-up dates for Western Hudson Bay.
Yet, Polar Bears International (“Save Our Sea Ice”) – who were surely in and around Churchill in 2010 and 2006 watching polar bears – just posted an alarming statement about local conditions, implying that slow freeze-up of Hudson Bay this year is a reflection of the fact that “sea ice is at a record low across the Arctic.”
They also claim that “…the weather is the warmest we’ve ever seen at this time of year.” That may be true, but if so, it is also meaningless with respect to the progress of freeze-up.
Does no one at PBI remember the very late freeze-up of 2010 or 2006? Odd, that.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic, attack, Derocher, fall, fatality, freeze-up, Hudson Bay, Lunn, minimum ice extent, PBI, polar bear, Polar Bears International, population size, problem bears, sea ice, western hudson bay
Week 17 (I’ve been counting) for 31 October – 6 November (Week 1 was 11-17 July):
“Most bears are still out at Cape Churchill.” [see map below]
See previous reports here, and here. Ten-day sea ice animation, CIS.
After a great start this year for Churchill-area polar bears of Western Hudson Bay – who came off the ice in better than usual condition after what must have been a good spring hunting season – ice maps suggest that freeze-up will be later than last year, an impression confirmed by on-the-ground observers.
Ice coverage this year at 7 November (2016):
Ice coverage last year at this date (7 November 2015), see this post for details:
A quiet year for problems in the polar bear capital of the world (Churchill, Manitoba) so far – despite this year tying for the second-lowest minimum since 1979 – and the ice is growing fast. In fact, Arctic ice growth in the second half of September was rapid and there is now more ice than there was at this date in 2007 and 2012 (when polar bears in those regions considered most at risk did not die off in droves).
Pessimistic polar bear specialists are wrong – polar bears are much more resilient to low sea ice levels in summer than they assume: their own data from low summer ice years proves it. If you’ll recall from my previous post, polar bears seem to have barely survived the extensive sea ice coverage during the Last Glacial Maximum – in other words, too much ice (even over the short term) is their biggest threat. Polar bear numbers, as confirmed by the latest estimates in the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment, are higher now than they have been since the 1960s, despite almost 10 years of summer sea ice minimums below 5.0 mk2.
Churchill Polar Bear Alert reports and Arctic sea ice comparisons at this date, in detail below.
Posted in Conservation Status, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic, attacks, biggest threat, Churchill, facts, ice growth, last glacial maximum, minimum, polar bear, polar bear alert, population size, problem bears, Refuge, resilience, sea ice, September, summer, thick spring ice
A large polar bear population with lots of adult males – due to bans on hunting – means more survival pressure on young bears, especially young males. To blame more problems with young male bears on lack of sea ice due to global warming ignores the downside to the reality Norway asked for when it banned hunting more than 40 years ago.
More hungry young males coming ashore looking for food is one of the potential consequences of living with a large, healthy population of polar bears. Biologist Ian Stirling warned of such problems back in 1974.
UPDATE: added below 6 Oct. 2016, statistics of defense of life shootings of polar bears in Svalbard since 1973.
Svalbard area polar bear numbers have increased 42% since 2004 and more hungry young polar bears almost certainly mean more polar bear problems, as folks in Svalbard (see map and quotes below) have experienced this year.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Polar bear attacks, Sea ice habitat
Tagged attack, competition, facts, feeding, global warming, human-polar bear conflicts, numbers, polar bear, population size, problem bears, sea ice, subadult males, Svalbard, young bears