There is a blizzard in Churchill today, windchill in the mid-fifties. Then again, its been cold a blizzardy through most of North America for much of this winter, Churchill hasn’t had it much worse than southern Manitoba; at least, everyone dressed for the weather up there.
Cold and snowy winters are a bit of a mixed bag for polar bears. Everyone wants the ice to thicken enough that it takes a long time to melt in the spring, extending the season. At the same time, winter hunting, mostly comprised of waiting by seal breathing holes, is a long and mostly frustrating process. Plus, the bears don’t really want seals to have too much difficulty maintaining their breathing holes either. Sometimes seals will have to keep scratching through ice that will grow to five or six feet thick.
Polar bear mothers with cubs are just starting to come out of their dens, so technically we would like a bit of a lull in winter right now, not so much a full on storm. Thick snow is tough on these bears. First they need to get to the ice and, while most snowdrifts are rock hard along Hudson Bay by now, deep soft snow can make travel difficult for cubs and even lead to increased predation by wolves.
Once on the ice, the female will need to break into seal birthing dens as soon as possible. Of course, this is easier with less snow cover – easier to detect the dens both by smell and visually – they may appear a big ‘slumped’ – as the bears travel along ice ridges and leads.
Still, this season seems to be okay, the bears got a decent headstart with an early freeze and some nice early season seal hunting spotted near Churchill. The long-term forecast seems to be near normal so hopefully they stay on the ice into late July but, again, its a long time between here and there.
Despite the polar vortex and such, sea ice levels remain below the thirty year normal, however, this is primarily due to an absolutely terrible ice season over by Svalbard and the Kara Sea. Conditions for Canadian bears are actually quite good from the ice charts and arctic rumours… If any doom and gloom stories come out this year, it will be from Svalbard and maybe the Beaufort, not Churchill.
With polar bear cub season just starting, I will be posting on here a fair bit more – should have an update from Watchee Lodge fairly soon.