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.
There’s been no word as yet, either from tour operators or polar bear researchers, that Western Hudson Bay polar bears have come ashore for the summer/fall season. Andrew Derocher reported at the end of June that the bears tagged by his team were still on the ice and as I write this, has not yet reported them ashore.
That pattern is consistent with the presence of thick ice along the west coast of the Bay — from well north of Churchill to the south of Wapusk National Park — for the last few weeks. The weekly chart for 3 July 2017 below from the Canadian Ice Service shows that virtually all of the ice remaining is thick first year ice (>1.2m, dark green on this map):
By the 9 July, the extent of this patch of ice was somewhat reduced but still a very prominent feature over the Bay, suggesting that if adult seals are using this ice as a refuge while molting, some bears may still be attempting to hunt even though their success rate may not be very high:
Bottom line: As has been the pattern for more than a decade, 2017 will not go down in history as an especially early year for WHB polar bears coming off the ice for the summer/fall season but instead may be as late as last year, when lots of bears were reported off the ice by mid-July at Seal River (just north of Churchill), all in excellent condition.
It remains to be seen if the condition of bears will be as good this year as they were in 2016, given the late start to the season. But it does mean that the lack of trend in breakup dates since 2001 continues: breakup of the sea ice in WHB since 2001 has been about one week later than it was before 1998 (Castro de la Guardia 2017; Cherry et al. 2013; Lunn et al. 2016).
If some polar bear struggle to survive this year it will be due to the late freeze-up date last fall combined with challenging winter conditions over Hudson Bay, not because of an early breakup of the sea ice.
And while it is certainly true that the overall trend in time spent onshore by WHB polar bears since 1979 has increased by about three weeks, the lack of a continued trend since 2001 is not what was expected or predicted, especially given the marked decline in global sea ice levels that have made headlines since 2007 (Crockford 2017), and the predictions of how devastating such low levels of ice would be to polar bears in areas like Hudson Bay that have to deal with a total disappearance of sea ice in summer and early fall.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged breakup, Churchill, global warming, hunting, melting ice, polar bear, predictions, sea ice, Seal River, shore, western hudson bay
Reports from Seal River, just north of Churchill at Churchillwild, at July 26 were crowing about seeing lots of bears onshore, with a veritable beehive of activity the weekend of 16/17 July:
“This has without a doubt been Churchill Wild’s most spectacular start to the summer polar bear watching season. …Bear numbers are up spectacularly this year and all are looking very fat and healthy, perhaps much to the chagrin of climate change “experts.” Our best day for the seductive white carnivores over the past week featured 21 polar bears sighted between the Lodge and our whale swim spot!
The ice pack, which was still visible a week ago [i.e, 17 July or so], has finally dissipated and pushed a large number of bears on to our coastline here at Seal River, with the end result being many very happy cameras!” [my bold]
And in Churchill proper, the Polar Bear Alert program has issued three reports so far this season (courtesy the Town of Churchill), which confirm that bears in the Polar Bear Capital of the World are also in great shape.
For the week of July 11-17, 2016:
“Bears are off the sea ice and on land. They are looking well fed and in great shape.”
See all three PBA reports below, compared to one from last year at this time (as well as a map and some ice charts).
More fat, healthy bears than last year, enough to keep the Polar Bear Alert folks hopping and tourists in the north happy. Sure doesn’t sound like a suffering population to me. Continue reading
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged body condition, breakup, Churchill, extirpation, health, onshore, polar bears, Seal River, threatened, western hudson bay