Tag Archives: winter

It’s back: Bering Sea polar bear habitat has recovered from a low earlier this month

Fancy that! After a load of handwringing earlier this month, mobile pack ice in the Bering Sea has returned. Just like ice in the Barents Sea, Bering Sea ice is highly variable (Brown et al. 2011): it moves with winds and currents, so a ‘decline’ during the winter usually indicates redistribution, not melting.

Polar_bear Bering Sea 2007 USFWS lg

Polar bear on Bering Sea ice 2007 USFWS

According to researcher Rick Thoman from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, quoted by the Canadian Press:

“Wind blew ice to Russian beaches in the west and to the south side of Norton Sound south of Nome but left open water all the way to Chukchi Sea north of the Bering Strait.”

Polar bears that venture into the Bering Sea are part of the Chukchi Sea subpopulation, which is known to be thriving (Crockford 2019; AC SWG 2018; Regehr et al. 2018; Rode and Regehr 2010; Rode et al. 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018).

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Polar bear prowling small Labrador town cut off by storm had authorities on high alert

From CBC News late yesterday (28 February 2019) comes the news that a polar bear seen skulking around the homes of a small coastal town in Labrador this week has had residents on edge and authorities on high alert. If tragedy struck, the St. Lewis road was blocked by snow and the only way in or out was by helicopter. Message: polar bears are highly dangerous and a bear prowling a community is a very real threat to safety.

polar-bear-black-tickle_Edwin Clark submitted to CBC no date

This bear visited Black Tickle in Labrador a few years ago. Edwin Clark photo.

According to a CTV News follow-up, while the road to St. Lewis was cut off because of a recent snowstorm for most of the week, wildlife officers were able to get in today (Friday 1 March). Sighting about 100km north in Charlottetown earlier in the week are believed to be the same bear.

The last sighting of the animal was Thursday morning (28 Feb), so the bear may now have left of its own accord. No one seems to have captured a photo.

However, the fear felt by residents of St. Lewis (population 200) in this story is palpable, especially after the terrifying visuals from the well-publicized invasion by more than 50 polar bears at Belushaya Guba on Novaya Zemlya last month.

St Lewis and Charlottetown Labrador PB sighting and reaction 28 Feb 2019

St. Lewis is located at the red marker; Charlottetown is the third town to the north. Both are just north of the Strait of Belle Isle that separates Labrador from the island of Newfoundland.

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Bear on shore in January that threatened residents of Foxe Basin community was shot

According to a report by CBC News earlier this week (18 February 2019), there was a defence kill of a potentially dangerous polar bear and her cub in Foxe Basin, Nunavut on January 4th that we are just hearing about now. Yet another bear on shore in winter, when there is plenty of sea ice, looking for food in an Arctic community and threatening the lives of its residents while a polar bear specialist blames such incidents on lack of ice.

Black Tickle bears again 15 March 2017 headline VOCM

Polar bear on shore in Labrador, early March 2017, VOCM report

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Abundant polar bear habitat across the Arctic at the start of winter

January is the first month of the Arctic winter, the season when most polar bears really struggle to find enough to eat.

Polar bears feeding_Shutterstock_sm

Here is what the sea ice looked like around the Arctic at the end of this month.

masie_all_zoom_4km 2019 Jan 31

Compare to last year:

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Southern Beaufort polar bear attack far from the Alaskan coast: another winter example

A man from Arctic Village (Alaska), out checking his trap-line, killed a polar bear at his cabin when it came after him: only odd things were it was the first week of January and the cabin was more than 100 miles south of the Beaufort Sea coast.

polar_bear_in fall terry debruyne_usfws nov 10 2010_w label_sm

Winter is hard for polar bears, as I’ve mentioned before: it’s cold, dark, and hard to find seals. Most bears are at their lightest weight at the end of winter (March). Looking for food in the dead of winter, the bears can be very destructive as well as dangerous. See previous posts here, here, here, and here.

The map below shows how far south Arctic Village is from the Beaufort coast. This hunter is lucky he had his wits about him and his gun handy, because he came awfully close to being a polar bear’s dinner.

arctic village ak map google

Here’s an excerpt of the story (my bold): “Polar bear encounter reported in Arctic Village, many miles south of normal range” (KTOO, Ravenna Koenig, 15 January 2019):

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At the winter maximum, still about the same polar bear habitat this year as 2006

There is no evidence that slightly less winter sea ice than the average since 1979 has had any negative impact on polar bear health or survival: the difference is simply not biologically meaningful to Arctic animals.

PB_male on ice_Regehr USFWS_March 2010_labeled

Polar bear on winter sea ice around the yearly maximum in the Beaufort Sea, 2010 (March 21).

NASA’s 23 March 2018 announcement regarding the Arctic sea ice maximum this year:

“Sea ice in the Arctic grew to its annual maximum extent last week, and joined 2015, 2016 and 2017 as the four lowest maximum extents on record, according to scientists at the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA.”

Except, what they don’t tell you is that 2006 had almost the same extent as 2018 and 2006 wasn’t far behind according to the official, averaged data presented at NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis:

Arctic sea ice Maximum 10 lowest extents_NSIDC 23 March 2018

Current conditions at the winter maximum (at 17 March 2018, from NSIDC Masie, extent measured at 14.7 mkm2, using software able to discern more ice than used for the figures in Table 1), shown below: Continue reading

Polar bear ashore in Puvirnituq NE Hudson Bay over the weekend

More ‘bears on shore’ news today, this time involving a young polar bear that came ashore in the village of Puvirnituq, northern Quebec and was shot for safety reasons by a local hunter.

puvirnituq_tweet-polar-bear_7-march-2018_translated.jpg

This incident is reminiscent of one last year a bit further north (Ivujivik) in early March, which I reported here.  Both involved young bears from the large and stable Foxe Basin subpopulation. As I’ve pointed out before, most bears in late winter are at their lowest weight and this can make them very dangerous if they come ashore looking for food.

But unlike the Ivujivik incident, was the first time a bear had ever come into the village of Puvirnituq, making it more like the visit in late February 2017 of a young female bear in Inukjuak further  south along the coast, the first such visit of a polar bear to that community in more than 30 years.

The exception to lean condition in late winter being the norm are bears in the Davis Strait subpopulation that have harp seals to feed on by February and are often in good condition by early March, as was the bear reported ashore yesterday in Newfoundland.

Puvirnituq Quebec_location_Google maps

Puvirnituq, northern Quebec. Polar bears in this region are part of the Foxe Basin subpopulation.

The news today came via an English language blog post that got an essential detail wrong1, so I turned to Google Translate to offer this version of the original, in French (Journal de Montreal, 7 March 2018):

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