Polar Bear Blog – Fast Times at High Latitudes

Reports came out this week that the test oil shipment for Churchill seems to have been put on hold for this year. So, that’s pretty darn good news. Its still a bit tricky for the future, as shipping oil through Churchill does kind of make economic sense so I would suspect that we all end up re-visiting this topic next summer.

I find it a bit strange that the whole focus of the debate ended up centred along the rail line and not shipping in Hudson Bay. To me, an October oil spill in Hudson Bay is the far greater environmental threat than anything on land. So, I guess I am still hoping that some of the polar bear NGOs and influential players in the industry take a proactive stance on this issue and not just ‘gather information’ in the background. The fact remains that there is just no safe way to ship oil through the arctic, we all know this…

The first snowfall of the season and the first charter flight with tourists arrived in Churchill today so I guess you can say ‘bear season’ is officially underway! In most year, there is an early season wave of bears and this one is no exception. A pregnant female has been spotted cruising through, somehwere half a dozen hanging around all told, a fair bit of other wildlife – red foxes, swans, snowshoe hare, raptors, ptarmigan… A pretty good start to the season.

The Assiniboine Zoo is holding their bear in the polar bear jail now, waiting for the 30 days of quarantine to expire before shipping it south. A really unfortunate incident to be honest, we’ve had other incidents before and the bears have not re-offended, just a real shame that this one is being blown out of proportion. Even more disappointing is that Manitoba Conservation has now allowed the new celebrity to be filmed/photographed inside his cell and it sounds like he is being fed as well. All other bears get nothing during their solitary confinement – as a means of ‘deterring’ them from return visits… Strange times indeed.

Crazy northern lights show in the arctic (and the prairies) last night. A major coronal mass ejection (kind of sounds like a heavy metal band name) hit the earth yesterday and lit up the skies with green and purple. It was cloudy over much of the Yukon and Alaska but great shots are being posted from Nunavut. This should continue for ‘bear season’ as we are at the peak of Solar Cycle 24 – even if this ‘peak’ in sunspots/northern lights is a fair bit lower than the last one.

This sun cycle is so low – the lowers in 100 years – that some scientists are concerned that this continuing trend might bring on a new ‘Maunder Minimum’. The Maunder Minimum lasted from 1645-1715 and the low in solar activity meant that summers were very cold and winters were severe. This, of course, would be good news for the bears and probably a big pain in the ass for folks living in log cabins! Either way, this year should be one last ‘great’ year for northern lights in Churchill… then again, you never know – maybe 2014 will be awesome too… all this information is just from computer models that have actually missed their predictions since 2009!

Polar bears are still hanging around Kaktovik although the season is starting to wind down. There are still tours running until October 15th but, at the same time, a few folks are already taking their boats out of the water. The sheer number of polar bears and eye-level viewing sure is intriguing… I think its safe to say we’ll hear a lot more about (and maybe from) Kaktovik on this blog.

Down in southwestern Hudson Bay, Nanuk Lodge is just wrapping up their season. This year, they built a new lodge (a lot like Seal River Lodge) and unveiled a new ATV/tour trailer called the Tundra Rhino. Sounds like another nice season down there – lots of mothers and cubs, a photograph with a polar and black bear in the same frame, wolves, geese and, of course, northern lights. One pretty neat observation this year was that very few of the bears down there seem to bear the marks of recent handling by researchers or radio collars. Makes you wonder if some bears haven’t caught on to this little ‘refuge’ from research between Wapusk National Park and Ontario…

Arviat is getting busy with bears. Mushers are already complaining about polar bears stealing their ‘dogfood’ on the edge of town. As well, the Arviat polar bear patrol has started – should be an interesting year there for sure. With the way the ice broke up this year, I really could see another Arviat ‘bear invasion’ happening…

I will be heading back up to the cabin at Camp Nanuq soon, pretty excited – even though, there are a ton of renovations waiting for me when I get there… then again, fall is the time for renovations, wood cutting and yard cleaning… no bugs! Of course, having a bear dog handy makes the whole process a lot more relaxing too…

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