Well, this may indeed by the ‘time of the most polar bear’ after all. Polar Bear Alert has been very busy in Churchill this year with over 120 calls and 24 polar bears cycled through the jail already. Eleven bears are being held right now. Admittedly, Polar Bear Alert officers are a fair bit more ‘proactive’ these days but still, that’s a lot of activity.
The snow is very good these days for tracking polar bears, we found the tracks of a mother and cub at Bird Cove and a couple other younger bears along the coast. Another bear was spotted along the railway spur near town. Three or four bears have taken up residence in the grain piles at the old dump. If we actually do hit the predicted highs of -5C by the end of the weekend, then the bears will really start arriving en masse.
Up in Arviat, things have been busy all summer and things don’t seem to be slowing down. There are about eight bears kicking around the area, four of them were actually spotted in town this week, including a 9 foot polar bear was spotted checking out one of the houses. Bears hang out near the dump, along the coast and over on the spit across from town.
WWF has sponsored a polar bear patrol and paid for electric fences around the community’s sled dog kennels. Still, there are a few incidents, Arviat probably has a few more years of ‘growing pains’ with polar bears but it sure looks like the bears are becoming an annual attraction up there.
The three lodges north of Churchill all seem to be busy this year. Scarbrow, a regular visitor at Dymond Lake Lodge, is back and there are about four or five bears hanging around Seal River and St.John’s Camp in Nunavut.
Sebastian at Blue Kennels sent over a report from his friends in Kaktovik… It sounds like the wait for the Polar Bears of Kaktovik is coming to an end. Although temperatures have been well above normal for most of the past weeks, the inner lagoon next to the Airport has frozen over. The snow cover this season came much earlier than last year, by the third week of September winter had arrived on the North Slope and it just stayed below freezing enough for the snow to stay. But then the temperature stayed stagnant and did not drop according to the seasonal normal.
The ice in the bay close to town was solid enough that the bears felt safe crossing it about one week ago. Some prime bear viewing was possible from town, and in Kaktovik that means very close to town. No binoculars needed. Matter of fact a friend who just returned from his last trip to of the season reported seeing several mothers with cubs right when he stepped off the airplane.
Due to the forming ice boating was limed to the outer channels for the last week of Kaktovik bear season. The bears had changed their traveling and resting pattern with most bears having left the barrier islands and coming on shore. Of course that has some consequences. The whale bone pile had long ago been gnawed clean. That did not make it easier to keep the bears out of trouble in their quest for food. Lots of smelly whale bubber in peoples houses and driveways. Polar Bear patrol has been very busy, especially at night.
So, the north is pretty busy with polar bears already and to be honest, Churchill’s ‘bear season’ is just getting rolling. This could be a big year.
With the days getting shorter fast, even if the temperatures reached close to freezing sea ice was forming quickly. By now the channel has become completely impassable for any boats and all have been pulled out to shore. For most boat guides that means trips to the big cities of either Fairbanks or Anchorage for some time “ outside “.
Bear season is about to come to a close in Kaktovik. Only a few hardy photographers remaining as the light and shots with the current snow cover are just epic. But very quickly, any day now, the bears will be on their way north, out on the sea ice in hope to catch their next meal. Compared to years in the past, the number of Polar Bears in Kaktovik was above average. They also came to town earlier than in the past. Bears were pretty much present all summer long from early July on, anywhere between 4 and 6 bears at any given time. Time will tell by what time the receding sea ice forces them to shore again next summer and in what numbers they will return.