Tag Archives: problem bears

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

The problem with this narrative is that the East Coast had much reduced sea ice in 2021 and virtually no polar bear sightings in Newfoundland and none in Labrador. There was more ice in 2020 than 2021 but also few bears. This year, ice extent was similar to 2020 for most of the region but polar bear sightings were up considerably.

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.

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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.

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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.

References

Crockford, S.J. 2019. State of the Polar Bear Report 2018. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 32, London. PDF here.

Churchill problem polar bear reports finally completed and posted online

Although since 2015 at least the Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill Manitoba usually issued and published its problem bear reports weekly during the ice-free season, this year has been an odd exception. Two reports in early July, then nothing. Yesterday, there was a dump of reports that had been compiled on 1 September and 7 October, according to their metadata.

There are still a few weeks missing, including the two most recent weeks but at least now we have a more complete picture of what’s been going on with problem bears in The Polar Bear Capital of the World that can be compared to previous years. Such reports in various forms go back to the late 1960s, although only those from recent years have been publicly available (Kearney 1989; Towns et al. 2009).

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Western Hudson Bay polar bears: still some out on the sea ice, some causing trouble

As of Monday (19 July), more polar bears had come ashore near Churchill and on the shores of Wakusp National Park but some are still out on the bay. The pattern of ice breakup this year means most bears will come ashore well south of Churchill and make their way north over the summer and fall. There have been two Churchill ‘problem’ bear reports so far but not one for this week, so I’ll go ahead and post without it.

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Ten fat polar bears filmed raiding a stalled Russian garbage truck

From the Siberian Times today (20 October) is a story with few facts but a fabulous video of six fat adults and four fat cubs as they set siege to a stalled open garbage truck in the Russian Arctic. It may have been filmed on Novaya Zemlya but that has not been confirmed.

Of course, Novaya Zemlya has had previous problems with bears habituated to garbage, most famously an extended incident in 2019 that was perversely blamed on climate change.

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Some surprises in polar bear sea ice habitat at mid-October 2020

Arctic sea ice has been growing steadily since the minimum extent was reached a month ago, with shorefast ice now developing along the Russian and Alaskan coastlines as ice cover expands in the Central Canadian Arctic. So while it’s true that the main pack of Arctic ice is far from the Russian shoreline, rapidly developing shorefast ice will allow bears to begin hunting seals long before ice in the central Arctic Basin reaches the Siberian shore, as they do in Western and Southern Hudson Bay every fall.

Cropped sea ice extent at 15 October 2020 (Day 289), NSIDC Masie.

And speaking of Western Hudson Bay, it’s a very slow season around Churchill for problem polar bears (photo below) – the quietest mid-October for the Polar Bear Alert Program in the last five years and perhaps the quietest in decades (which I could say for sure if I had the records but I do not).

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Polar bear damage to parked military helicopter shows their immense power

A polar bear punched out the window of a parked Royal Canadian Air Force search and rescue helicopter on 16 September in northern Labrador, which should be a reminder that these bears are extremely powerful and potentially dangerous.

If you ever thought you would be safe in a cabin or vehicle if a polar bear really wanted in, you might want to think again and remember that residents of the Arctic put up with this risk of polar bear attack, intrusion and damage all year long (Crockford 2019). And it’s not because the bears are simply ‘curious’.

Two photos below from Svalbard: of a bear that climbed onboard a boat moored offshore in 2019 while its occupants had lunch on the beach (damaging the hydraulic steering, vinyl seats, heating system, canopy, and an inflatable raft), and of a cabin ransacked by a polar bear in 2017 after it ripped the door off its hinges. Since it is my understanding that cabin owners in Svalbard are not permitted to leave stored food in unoccupied buildings, the attractants in these empty cabins must be other things that contain oil, like cleaning products, vinyl furniture, and candles.

 

 

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First polar bear alert report for Churchill an astonishing seven weeks later than last year

The first report of the Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill, Manitoba was released today (1 September), a full seven weeks later than last year due to many bears remaining on the Western Hudson Bay ice much later than they have done in the past.

2020 Aug 31 - Polar Bear Stats_week 1 jpeg

As I mentioned previously, as long as I’ve been collecting these published reports (2015), there has not been a first report of the season issued later than the second week in July, so this year is really unusual and I suspect similar to the 1980s.

I thought it possible that this was a Covid-related delay getting conservation officers to Churchill but as you’ll see above, that appears not to be the case: there simply have been not enough serious problems with bears in Churchill to warrant sending officers out before last week. No information on the general condition of bears was included this year, as it has been in other years (see below).  Activity this last week in August 2020 was similar to the first week in July 2018.

Polar bear Cape East 0 Wakusp NP _24 Aug 2020 earlier

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Fatal polar bear attack in Svalbard unfairly blamed on lack of sea ice

A fatal polar bear attack in Svalbard, in the early hours of 28 August 2020 just outside the main town of Longyearbyen, is being unreasonably blamed on lack of sea ice. Details of the attack show it was made by a three year old male: such subadult bears are historically responsible for most attacks on people and they are known to be especially dangerous. It looks to me like someone should have seen this tragedy coming and stepped in to prevent it.

Svalbard_PB_Fareskilt_38

I will update this story as more information comes in but see below for the details known so far.

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