Churchill, Manitoba Polar Bear Alert Program problem bear reports for weeks 3 (24 July – 30 July 2017) and 4 (31 July – 6 August 2017) show much less activity and fewer problems in this Western Hudson Bay location than were reported for the last two years (2016 and 2015) at the same time (relative to the first reports of the season):
Compare 2017 to last year (2016) at this time, where the problem bear report claims numbers were similar to 2015 (for which I don’t have a week 4 report), with more bears handled and placed in “jail”:
But most Western Hudson Bay bears are at their highest body weight when they come off the ice in early summer and present little risk to humans who keep their distance — few bears cause any real problems this time of year. Compare the above problem bear reports to the blog post from Seal River Lodge, just north of Churchill (5 August 2017, from Churchill Wild Eco-Lodge), which reports seeing 11 bears in one day of viewing. Great photos at this post confirm those bears are in good physical condition and interacting with each other without bothering people.
This is the third week of reports from the Churchill Polar Bear Alert Program but not much in the way of excitement or information, although more bears must be ashore by now.
Compare to last year at this time, when there was much more activity:
There was still some thick ice lingering off the coast of Western Hudson Bay last week, as this weekly ice chart shows:
The first activity report of the Churchill Polar Bear Alert Program has been released for 2017. It comes on the same week as last year’s (so about the same dates for first bears ashore both years), and reports pretty much the same activity.
Odd that this year’s report contains no mention whatsoever of the condition of the bears as did last year’s (see below), which may have brought criticism for spoiling the media ‘message’ that WHB bears are suffering because of reduced sea ice. Better no comment at all than good news, eh?
Sea ice for the week of 10 July off Western Hudson Bay this year consisted of a broad strip of thick first year ice (>1.2m thick) just off shore.
The ice charted above looked like this on a standard ice map:
There are no other reports that I could find of polar bears ashore along the coast of Western Hudson Bay, so these bears must be the first wave.
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.