Featured photograph, Polar Bear at Cape Churchill, courtesy of CanUK Images – Simon Gee Photography
Polar bears have been spotted from Churchill this morning. A mother with two cubs (probably the same one that got the bearded seal) were seen near Cape Merry (the mouth of the river) and a couple more adults were spotted out on the ice. With the floe edge this close and this consistent, its no surprise that bears are very close to town. Given their current hang-outs, these ones will probably come ashore early instead of riding the ice south.
Up north, its been a pretty active year for polar bear sightings as well. Polar bears generally come and go from the floe edge near Arviat, sounds like one pregnant bear even denned near the town this spring. Tons of bears have been sighted out along the Labrador Coast and in northern Newfoundland. One of the largest bears I’ve heard of was shot in the Western Arctic by Sachs Harbour Hunter, Bobby Gruben Jr – who has a fantastic interview on CBC with some pretty neat insight into Inuit hunting culture – and another polar bear attack just occurred at the floe edge near Arctic Bay, Nunavut.
So, beyond the fact that it seems like a great year for polar bears in Canada, what strikes me about all these sightings are the different worlds in which polar bears live in – as in, the stark difference in attitude towards bears between Manitoba and the Arctic. Each of those hunters had seal meat by their camp, Gruben used a seal tail to lure a bear to his camp for hunting and the two young men who were attacked had just butchered a seal near their camp. Arviat is planning to harvest seals in order to keep polar bears out of town, with bait piles south and northeast of the community in the hopes that bears move past instead of through. In fact, any community that you go through in the arctic has dead seals, whales, walrus, caribou kind of generally spread out around and through them (sounds worse than it is… ). Hunting is life up there, that’s the way it is.
In Churchill, they have worked pretty hard for the last ten years to reduce bear attractants in the area, with decidedly mixed results. The old garbage dump is closed but L5, the holding facility, is closer to town and, while it is now secure, the smells still attract bears. A new ‘dump’ has been opened but sounds like it will only be used every few years to clear out L5… and unfortunately destroyed one of Churchill’s few pristine views.
Polar Bear Alert sounds like they are planning an even more aggressive campaign to keep bears away from town after last year’s attack. Word on the street is that Conservation will allow Ladoon to keep feeding bears as long as he doesn’t have too many bears around there… ? A typically cryptic and confusing edict from the higher ups… oh well. Either way, its still technically a $15,000 fine for feeding or baiting polar bears in Churchill. So, two almost polar opposite approaches seem to be reaching extreme levels. Arviat is embarking on diversionary feeding and baiting remains acceptable for traditional hunting in the High Arctic while Churchill seems to be getting more active in deterrence outside of tourist areas and, well, another $30-40,000 raid on Ladoon’s is never out of the question. Interesting times.
What makes things even more complicated is the changing ice patterns in Hudson Bay. As explained in Polar Bear Alley’s last post, the ice will breakup around Churchill first this year, leaving bears with a choice to come off the ice to the north or far to the south. With ice patterns pushing bears south and Arviat’s diversionary feeding, I really believe the Western Hudson Bay bear population is on the verge of splitting, some staying north, some migrating south. There is anecdotal evidence of this already happening and if Manitoba keeps up with the current level of handling, deterrence and removals, I could see a real divide occuring within the next ten year period.
Note: While moving this site, I have been going through my archived posts and was kind of shocked at how supportive my posts were towards Polar Bear Alert previous to the Ladoon Raids – funny how things go. Wonder what changed.