Arctic sea ice at the middle of winter (January-March) is a measure of what’s to come because winter ice is the set-up for early spring, the time when polar bears do most of their feeding on young seals.
[Mid-winter photos of polar bears are hard to come by, partly because the Arctic is still dark for most hours of the day, it’s still bitterly cold, and scientists don’t venture out to do work on polar bears until the end of March at the earliest]
At 12 February this year, the ice was similar in overall extent to 2013 but higher than 2006.
A new paper on Baffin Bay polar bears reports data on body condition and litter sizes collected as part of a major study of the region completed in 2013 compared to sea ice declines since the 1990s; based on a computer model, the authors predict that in 37 years time (if sea ice declines continuously), the incidence of twin litters could “largely disappear.” However, no decline in population numbers was predicted and a critical caveat acknowledges that factors other than changes in sea ice could have affected the body condition and litter size data the authors analyzed, which means the conclusions are scientifically inconclusive.
The last (2013) polar bear population survey of Baffin Bay (SWG 2016) generated an estimate of almost 3,000 (2,826; range 2,059-3,593), which means that regardless of some slight changes in body condition and litter size over the last two decades (which may or may not have been caused by loss of sea ice), there are currently a lot of bears in Baffin Bay.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged baffin bay, body condition, causation, correlation, extinction, fatness, Greenland, litter size, NASA, polar bear, sea ice, weight
This aerial shot of six fat polar bears lolling around on a sand beach on the coast of the Southern Beaufort Sea, Alaska, was taken by NOAA employees in July 2019. It exemplifies the reality that bears in this subpopulation are currently abundant and healthy, negating the suggestion that numbers have continued to drop since 2006 because bears are starving.
The above picture of polar bear health is not an exception but the rule for all 31 bears recorded onshore last July, as the photos below from other locations testify. Those who would blame this abundance of bears on lack of sea ice in 2019 should note that ice retreated as early and as extensively in 2017 yet only 3 bears were spotted onshore. Results of a recent (2017-2018) population survey, which have not yet been made public, will of course not reflect conditions seen in 2019.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Beaufort, Cross Island, fat bears, Kaktovik, observations, polar bear, population, Prudhoe Bay, sea ice, survey
After a bit of ineffectual hand-wringing from polar bear specialists about low summer and fall sea ice conditions and unsubstantiated worries about impacts on bear survival – including Southern Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea and Hudson Bay – I’ve heard no concerns expressed so far about the unusually low extent of ice off the East Coast of North America at the start of this winter. The Labrador Coast is just about the only region bereft of ice this winter but could catch up quickly at any time: ice coverage in the Barents Sea, East Greenland, and Bering Sea is similar to or above recent levels (last five years) so far, as is the overall extent.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Davis Strait, habitat, Labrador, multi-year ice, Newfoundland, polar bear, sea ice, starvation, thick spring ice, winter
Although ice coverage along the Labrador coast this fall has been well below average, there was a report today of a polar bear on shore on the north west coast of northern Newfoundland. The media seem to be treating this as an every-day sort of thing rather than the true rarity it is. As far as I know, there are no records of polar bears onshore in Newfoundland in late December and for it to happen this year is especially surprising given that ice coverage so far has been below average on the East Coast. It’s a more rare event than the early January attack last year by a polar bear in Alaska that had traveled more than a hundred miles inland. Will 2020 be another active polar bear season for Newfoundland? Time will tell – stay tuned over the new year.
Few details have been provided about this year’s late December sighting at Green Island Cove, just north of the ferry port of Saint Barbe (where the ferry to Labrador docks, see below). No photos or descriptions of the bear were made public and so far the bear does not seem to have caused any trouble: the photo above is from another sighting in Labrador a few years ago.
Sea ice this year has been scarce on the East Coast, but obviously enough for at least one determined bear to have made its way down from Davis Strait, swimming part of the way. See the two charts below: