Bears go hungry waiting for ice
Hundreds of polar bears were spotted on the west coast of Hudson Bay earlier this week, waiting for ice that is almost a month late forming.
But a fierce storm in the region Thursday has temperatures dropping and ice forming, which could be good news for the bears if the weather stays colder. “It’s just howling,” Luc Desjardins, of the Canadian Ice Service, says of the storm that could change the fortunes of the hungry bears.
Until the storm hit, recordbreaking conditions in the western Arctic this fall had kept the ice at bay. Temperatures up to 14 C above normal in one Arctic region in November prevented the formation of ice, which was almost a month behind schedule as of Monday, says Desjardins. He says the ice cover was the lowest since 1971, covering just 1.5 per cent of the sea, compared to the average of 20 per cent by mid-November.
Polar bears need sea ice to hunt for seals and other marine mammals. And after slim pickings on land in the summer, they are ready to get back on the ice come fall.
To get a read on the population, a helicopter survey was done Monday by conservation groups, Manitoba Conservation, and the York Factory First Nation Resource Management Board. The spotters counted 333 polar bears prowling the Manitoba coast of Hudson Bay.
Pete Ewins, an Arctic specialist for the World Wildlife Fund which helped co-ordinate the survey, says several “skinny bears” ended up in the “bear jail” in Churchill, Man., in September after scrounging for food where they were not welcome.
But the bears spotted in the survey appeared in “reasonably good condition,” says Ewins. They were mostly males, as females with cubs tend to steer clear of the males and travel inland.
“It is not a catastrophe about to happen tomorrow,” Ewins says of ice delay. “But the longer the ice is in returning, the more bears are going to be in very weak condition when they actually make it out on the sea ice.”
The “enduring concern,” he says, is that late ice in Hudson Bay is an increasingly common phenomenon that’s linked to climate change.