Tag Archives: western hudson bay

No signs of a climate emergency for W. Hudson Bay polar bears this year ahead of UN climate meeting

I’ve been told that another complete aerial survey of the Western Hudson Bay polar bear subpopulation (from the Nunavut to Ontario boundaries) was conducted in August this year and that the bears have been hanging out further south than usual. It will be years before the results of the population count are published, of course (especially if it’s good news) but my contacts also say virtually all of the bears are in great condition again this year.

This is significant because W. Hudson Bay bears are one of the most southern subpopulations in the Arctic (only Southern HB bears live further south) and older data from this region is being used to predict the future for the entire global population based on implausible model projections (Molnar et al. 2020). And scary predictions of future polar bear survival are often taken to be proxies for future human disasters (see ‘Polar bears live on the edge of the climate change crisis‘), a point that some activists will no doubt make in the coming weeks, as the long-awaited UN climate change bash #26 (COP26) gets underway in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31.

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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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No updates from Churchill polar bear alert program since July 12

What the heck is happening in Churchill? Either the Polar Bear Alert Program has produced no reports or they have simply not been posted. It’s been more than 6 weeks since the last published report.

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Western Hudson Bay fat polar bear video from the shore of Wakusp National Park

Here is a short video from last week on the shore of Wapusk National Park of a fat sow and her fat cub. At this time of year, the Cape Churchill caribou herd (population ca. 3,000) is wandering by with their new calves. Unlike deer, both male and female caribou have antlers. The bears and the caribou simply ignore each other most of the time. Very rarely, a bear will chase one and even more rarely, catch one. However, the bears will scavenge caribou kills made by wolves, which are their primary predator.

Polar Bears and Caribou Explore org 18 August 2021

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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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Polar bears have begun to come ashore on Western Hudson Bay

So far, the first evidence I’ve seen of a bear ashore in Western Hudson Bay was one photographed near Churchill Manitoba on 28 June (below).

28 June 2021 near Churchill

However, by 5 July, the first of six collared females from Andrew Derocher’s WH study (below) had also come ashore, as did others along the shore of Wapusk National Park. This is not ‘early’ – just earlier than the last few years. Like last year, however, there is still a fair amount of sea ice left on the bay and some bears seem to be choosing to stay out longer on what ‘experts’ describe as unsuitable habitat. As you can see on his bear tracker map, Derocher uses a filter that shows only ice >50% concentration because he and his buddies have decided that bears so dislike anything less that they immediately head to shore as soon as ice levels fall below this threshold.

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Polar bears of western Hudson Bay still on the ice at third week June

According to the tracker map provided by Andrew Derocher (University of Alberta), all of the western Hudson Bay polar bear females that still have operational satellite collars (deployed in 2019) are still out on the ice of Hudson Bay. The Explore.org live video cam that sits on the shore of Wapusk National Park just south of Churchill has been capturing images of caribou and birds but so far, no polar bears. Last year, the first bear seen onshore by the cameras (shown in the video) was on 13 July.

It wasn’t until a month later that more bears were seen: the fat mother and cub in the screencap below were spotted on 18 July 2020 and the last of the collared bears didn’t come ashore until late August:

This year at 21 June, only 6 collars still operating but only one of them is anywhere close to shore yet (courtesy Andrew Derocher via twitter, below):

That ice in the middle of the bay is still primarily very thick first year ice, as the chart for this third week of June shows (below):

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The conundrum of Hudson Bay bears that left shore late in 1983 with video from CBC archives

In 1983, it was claimed that freeze-up of Hudson Bay was so late that polar bears didn’t leave the shore until the 4th of December – several weeks later than had been usual at that time. However, the fact that sea ice charts show significant ice offshore weeks before that time suggests something else was probably going on.

About three weeks ago, CBC News republished an article (with video) from their 1983 archives for 1 December, about the plight of the people of Churchill who had already suffered one death and one serious mauling by polar bears. That was thirty-seven years ago, long before lack of sea ice was blamed for everything bad that happened to Western Hudson Bay polar bears. In fact, rather than a really late freeze-up, it appears the problem had more to do with the fact the bears had had an especially tough spring that year and arrived onshore in only ‘OK’ condition – and as a consequence, the town dump became such a strong attractant for many bears that they were reluctant to leave when the sea ice formed offshore.

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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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Amid crying over low Arctic ice, W Hudson Bay polar bears leave ice as late as 2009

This year, the last collared Western Hudson Bay polar bear to leave the ice left as late, or later, than the last collared bear did in 2009 (which was an unusually late breakup year) and so far, all bears spotted have been in good physical condition despite inhabiting one of the most southern regions of the Arctic. All the while, sea ice experts have been hand-wringing about low Arctic sea ice –– in general and as polar bear habitat.

Polar bear Cape East 0 Wakusp NP _24 Aug 2020 earlier

A female with two yearling cubs on the shore of Wakusp National Park, Western Hudson Bay on 24 August 2020. Taken via livecam from almost a mile away.

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