Tag Archives: satellite collars

Tracking polar bears – two S. Beaufort bears spent August 2015 on ice that doesn’t exist

Two out of seven polar bears with collars in the Southern Beaufort Sea either spent the month of August on ice that satellites couldn’t see – or they spent the entire month swimming around the Beaufort. Which seems most likely?

Thin ice Lisa Robbins Sept 15 USGS_04

See previous discussions here and here regarding the problem satellites have in accurately detecting melting ice. The presence of these two bears is evidence that there is more polar bear habitat than satellites record as officially present. This was also an issue for Hudson Bay bears earlier this year.

Five out of the seven visible females were on the ice in August – but are the other six bears that were visible last month spending the summer in the Arctic Basin like the one I reported last week? Or have their collars actually failed or dropped off? USGS isn’t saying.

See the August track map below, from the USGS Tracking Polar Bears website1 and a sea ice map.
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July 2015: all 13 collared polar bears in the Southern Beaufort are out on the sea ice

Most of these bears are close enough to shore to hit the beach if that’s where they wanted to be but they’re on the sea ice.

Polar bear S Beaufort_PolarBearNews2010

I’ve been posting these USGS tracking maps for two years.1  The map archive at USGS goes back to December 2009.  Seeing all animals on the ice in July is usual for Southern Beaufort polar bears.

During August, a few of these females usually come ashore (see here and here), probably because they plan to den there later. But most polar bear females stay out on the ice, no matter how far it contracts into the Arctic Basin. Only about 5% of SB bears spend time on land during the summer.

See the July track map below and some sea ice maps and graphs for the region.
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Tracking polar bears in the Southern Beaufort June 2015 – all 17 bears out on the sea ice

Sixteen females with satellite collars plus one with a glue-on transmitter – down from 17 with collars and 6 with tags last month – all out on the ice during the month of June 2015.

Tranquilized_pb570_S Beaufort March 2014_USGS

Polar bears were captured by USGS biologists in 2014 and 2015 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. The glue-on tags don’t seem to be holding up very well, with only one remaining out of the original eight deployed this spring.
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Hudson Bay breakup later than average, longer hunting season for polar bears

Due to the atypical pattern of sea ice melt on Hudson Bay this year, 2015 will definitely be a later than average breakup year – perhaps not as late as 1992 but maybe almost as late as 2009. Easing into the first days of Arctic summer, there is still a lot of polar bear habitat left on Hudson Bay, especially in the east.

Hudson Bay breakup 2015 vs 2009 at 29 June_MASIE

Although official breakup in 2009 was only a little later than usual (9 July), bears came ashore about the same time (after mid-August) as they did in 1992, when breakup was very late (30 July). With the pattern this year being so unusual (and the melt so slow over the last few weeks), who knows how late it could be before the last bears leave the ice in 2015?

There is definitely more sea ice this year on the bay than there was last year, when breakup was about average for the last 24 years.

UPDATE 2 July 2015: CIS weekly ice coverage graphs added to the end of this post. Hudson Bay ice highest since 2009 and Davis Strait highest since 1994! Have a look.
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Polar bear habitat update: many bears on the ice in Hudson Bay, lots of sea ice globally

Polar bear habitat over Hudson Bay was average this week (at 60% coverage), despite the odd pattern of breakup – but the end of spring in the Arctic is only 5 days away and there is still plenty of polar bear habitat in all regions.

Hudson Bay breakup 2015 June 22 and 24_sm

According to the Canadian Ice Service (CIS), there is still more ice in the eastern portion of the bay than usual and much less in the northwest (Fig. 1 below). There is far more ice than average ice in Hudson Strait, the approach to southern Davis Strait.

Figure 1. Hudson Bay sea ice, difference from average at 22 June 2015. Blue is less than average, red is more than average. CIS.

Figure 1. Hudson Bay sea ice, difference from average at 22 June 2015. Blue is less than average, red is more than average. CIS. Click to enlarge.

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Same amount of sea ice for Hudson Bay polar bears as 2013, bears still on the ice

Sea ice coverage for Hudson Bay on 14 June converged on levels recorded in 2013, when breakup was slightly later than the average of the last two decades.

r10_Hudson_Bay_ts

There is also more ice over Hudson Bay than there was in 2011, which was an early breakup year (charts for other Arctic regions here, originals here).

Andrew Derocher notes (via twitter) that rather than heading to shore, most of the Hudson Bay bears with satellite tracking collars (7/10) are out on the ice (Fig. 1 below). They appear to be hunting along the ice edge, where they are most likely to find seals.

Update 17 June 2015: Sea ice images for the week 18 June 2015 compared to other years added below, for Hudson Bay and the Beaufort Sea.

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Tracking polar bears in the Southern Beaufort May 2015 – thick ice and polynyas

Polar bear habitat in the Southern Beaufort for May 2015 was a contrast between the development of recurring polynyas (patches of open water) and tremendously thick sea ice. So it’s interesting to see where the polar bears tagged by USGS biologists chose to hang out.

Polar_Bear_Biologist_USFWS_working_with_a_Bear_Oct 24 2001 Amstrup photo

The total number of bears being tracked in May – 23 – is down markedly from the 30 bears USGS biologists started with in April.

Most of the collared bears were concentrated in May along the shore lead (crack of open water) that normally develops between the shorefast ice and the pack ice offshore. That’s especially understandable this year, since most of that pack ice is 3-5 m thick (10-16 ft) – see the maps below.
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Tracking polar bears in the Southern Beaufort, with a sea ice surprise – April 2015 map

USGS biologists were clearly busy this spring putting more satellite radio collars and glue-on tags on Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears but there’s some surprising information in their April 2015 tracking map about current sea ice conditions.

From the 2013-2014 issue of  “Polar Bear News” (USFWS).

From the 2013-2014 issue of “Polar Bear News” (USFWS).

What’s interesting is that the sea ice maps they use show less dark spots that might be open water this year than were present last year in late April. Oddly, this phenomenon has one prominent biologist worried about “challenging” polar bear habitat developing this year – without mentioning last year at all.

The USGS track map for April 2015 is copied below.1
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Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea – March 2015 map

Here is the March 2015 follow-up to my post on the July 2013 track map for female polar bears being followed by satellite in the Beaufort Sea by the US Geological Survey (USGS) – “Ten out of ten polar bears being tracked this summer in the Beaufort Sea are on the ice.”

putting_collar_on_polar_bear_slider_USGS

See that post for methods and other background on this topic, and some track maps from 2012 (also available at the USGS website here). The USGS track map for March 2015 is copied below.

Three out of eight female bears tagged in the Southern Beaufort Sea were in the Chukchi Sea subpopulation region during March – not surprising, many bears cross this “boundary.”
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Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea – February 2015 map

Here is the February 2015 follow-up to my post on the July 2013 track map for female polar bears being followed by satellite in the Beaufort Sea by the US Geological Survey (USGS) – “Ten out of ten polar bears being tracked this summer in the Beaufort Sea are on the ice.”

polar_bear with collar_USGS

See that post for methods and other background on this topic, and some track maps from 2012 (also available at the USGS website here). The USGS track map for February 2015 is copied below.

There were 7 bears in February, up from 6 in January, because one of the bears has re-entered the area from elsewhere. However, many bears from the original sample have either had their collars fail, moved out of the area and stayed out, or they have died. We can’t tell from which of those options, or combinations of them, explain the reduced number still being followed.
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