Tag Archives: whalers

Whaling crews and their encounters with polar bears and sea ice in 17th century Svalbard

A new paper published today by Dagomar Degroot is a long but interesting historical account about sea ice and whaling in the 1600s around Svalbard that includes some details on interactions of whalers with polar bears (Figure 4 from the paper copied below). These were the early days of whaling in the Arctic: the wholesale slaughter of whales and polar bears didn’t happen until the 1800s.

The paper is open access, so free to download but I’ve copied the abstract and a short excerpt here.

Continue reading

The slaughter of polar bears that rarely gets mentioned (ca. 1890-1930)

Chock this post up as another example of mind-blowing information you sometimes find while looking for something else.

In their dendrochronology paper on trees associated with polar bear dens in western Hudson Bay, Scott and Stirling (2002:157) reference an MA thesis in Geography by James Honderich (1991), in regards to a discussion of denning frequency during the period 1850-1899, “when polar bear hides were more or less traded consistently.”

It turns out the James Honderich’s thesis is actually a summary of polar bear harvests in Canada from about 4,000 years ago to 1935. The number of polar bears taken by Arctic explorers (1594 to mid-1900s), Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders (from 1670 to 1935) and Arctic whalers (1820s-1935) were calculated from a variety of historical sources. This post is a summary of the results for the period 1800-1935. It is likely you have never seen this astonishing information before and the implications for polar bear biology are substantial. Continue reading