Seven polar bears came ashore this week, either passing through or exploring, in Black Tickle, Labrador. It’s not that unusual an occurrence but the take home quote sure is:
“They look really healthy … they have been eating good, these ones have.”
Lucky for them – residents in my novel – EATEN – were not so lucky.
A bear onshore along eastern Hudson Bay late last month was also described as fat.
Quotes from the CBC News report (8 March 2017: “7 polar bears visit stormbound Black Tickle“) below.
Late February is still the dead of winter in the Arctic, a time when most polar bears are at their leanest and out on the sea ice trying to find seals – and that means yesterday’s report of a “very fat” polar bear onshore outside Inukjuak is unusual at face value – but my followup inquiry revealed details that make it even more startling.
At my request, CBC North reporter Priscilla Hwang reached out to the hunter involved, who is the mayor of the community. She was told the incident took place on Saturday 25 February 2017 and the very fat bear in the story was actually a young, subadult female.
Subadults are more likely to be in poorer condition than adults at any time of year, due to their lack of hunting experience and competition with adult males. So to see a young bear that’s very fat before the feeding begins is quite astonishing: it suggests that feeding opportunities out on Hudson Bay have been very good over the winter and/or this bear was a savvy hunter despite her youth.
According to the mayor’s report, this community hasn’t had a bear onshore in nearly 30 years. Polar bears in Hudson Bay travel with the retreating ice to the western and southern shores, so with some exceptions, bears usually only have access to the east coast during winter through spring.
Last winter saw an extraordinary number of reports of bears on shore in winter, most of them causing trouble (see summary here). This Inukjuak sighting is the second I’ve come across this year – the other was in Svalbard (a female with cubs). Whether this new pattern is due to more bears or lack of hunting leading to bears having less fear of people – or a bit of both – it’s not yet possible to say.
So under the circumstances, the mayor of Inukjuak’s decision to kill this bear for the protection of the community seems quite reasonable (given the extensive resources required in Svalbard to drive their problem bears away rather than kill them).
Excerpts from the CBC story, and some maps and charts, are below.
Posted in Life History, Polar bear attacks
Tagged attacks, facts, fat, Hudson Bay, onshore, polar bear, problem bears, spring feeding, subadults, winter
Update to 18 Jan 2017 post: For at least 10 days, officials in Longyearbyen, Svalbard have been trying to keep a particularly persistent female polar bear and her two cubs away from the community. After being chased away last week, Sunday night (22 Jan) the trio appeared again at dog kennels at the edge of town but this time, but this time officials drove them even further south.
Sea ice charts for 18 January from NSIDC Masie show exactly as much sea ice in 2017 as there was back in 2006 – 13.4 mkm2.
Yesterday marked the first report I’ve found for polar bears onshore this winter, in a potentially dangerous repeat of a pattern that has become all-too common in recent years (especially last year) with bear populations booming virtually everywhere (but especially around Svalbard).
This is the leanest time of year for polar bears – fat Arctic seal pups won’t be available for another 2-3 months and meals for polar bears are hard to come by – and that makes the bears especially dangerous.
So, despite the marked lack of sea ice around Svalbard this winter, a female polar bear with two cubs were reported near the community of Longyearbyen (still enduring 24 hours of darkness) – on the west coast of the archipelago (see map above), where sea ice has been virtually non-existent for years (see map below).
It appears these bears traveled overland from ice off the east coast. There is no mention in any of the reports that the bears were thin or in poor body condition, or had so far caused any of the problems for which desperately hungry polar bears are famous. However, one dog-sledding guide had a frightening encounter in the dark in this on-going saga that began over the weekend (details and photos below). Continue reading
Never mind that the sea ice maximum this year came almost a month later than last year (and close to latest since 1979) – and was lower by only .02 – the US National Sea Ice Data Center (NSIDC) today trumpeted a new record low. What this means to polar bears, if anything, remains to be seen.
2015: maximum set February 25 (day 56), at 14.54 mkm2
2016: maximum set March 24 (day 84), at 14.52 mkm2
[The difference in area? Smaller than the Islands of the Bahamas]
Latest maximum extent (since 1979) occurred in 2010 on April 2 (Day 92).
The average date for maximum extent is March 12.
I note, however, that given the lateness of the winter sea ice surge meant that the amount of ice present at 24 March 2016 (see NSIDC Interactive) was more than was present on the same date in 2006, 2007 and 2015.
Clearly, there was plenty enough sea ice in the spring of those years for most polar bears to hunt seals successfully and put on the weight they needed to survive the summer fast ahead. I see no reason to expect 2016 to be different.
“Until Wednesday, Malik Frederiksen owned nine horses at his property in southern Greenland. After an attack by a polar bear, he now owns eight.”
So begins an article published in The Arctic Journal yesterday (18 February) about more problem bears onshore in mid-winter. But this time, the location is the south-west tip of Greenland and this time, the polar bear killed something before it was shot. It could just as easily have been a person.
In addition, according to this report, this is the second time in two days that a polar bear has been shot onshore in Greenland because it got too close for comfort.
It’s also the second report in as many weeks of multiple polar bears onshore causing problems in the middle of winter – the other reports were from southern Labrador in late January/early February. This is a new pattern: it’s different and it means something. Continue reading