Bears are starting to come ashore in Churchill. In early June, sea ice was reaching near record levels in Hudson Bay and Davis Strait. However, a late June heat wave and what looks like a lot of NW winds, have really opened things up along western Hudson Bay. You can see on the June 30 Sea Ice map below that NW Hudson Bay has really opened up even though about half the bay remains ice covered. So, Churchill is in the middle of the first wave of bears – as the Polar Bear Blog predicted (ahem). Each year, for about a week a good number of bears can be spotted swimming ashore in July. These are bears that either by choice, accident or simply geography have ended up on the Churchill side of the last sea ice and decided to swim ashore instead of heading back out into Hudson Bay to search of the dwindling pack ice. On July 2nd, five bears were spotted between Camp Nanuq and Churchill with another seven out east in buggyland. These bears will hang around for much of the summer, hopefully staying out east and making for a great summer tundra buggy season.
Of course, it sounds like one big ol bear has already shown up at L5, recycling and waste transfer station. A mother and cubs are already hanging out at Cape Merry. Right now, these bears are well-fed (especially having caught a bearded seal… and likely feeding on the guts and such from seal hunting season at Button Bay) and not so dangerous. However, we’ve got a long way to go between now and freeze-up in November.
Manitoba Conservation officers have a real challenge facing them this summer. Late June has been pretty hot and at this time of year, polar bears overheat in a matter of minutes. Trying to chase bears out of town or back into the bay will be tricky – older male bears especially will simply stop and turn on officers if they overheat and feel like they have run out of options. Secondly, if bears are captured and relocated, as it seems the new Polar Bear Alert policy is leaning towards, Manitoba Conservation really needs to look at flying these bears south to Cape Tatnum, not north to the Seal River area.
There is no ice to the north and flying bears north this early will just mean they end up as problem bears at the Arviat dump – conditioning them to return next year – or, at the very least, they will be moving bears into the fall hunting area for the Arviat quota. Tricky start this year…
While some bears are ashore early, others are still out on the ice riding it further south. I would say that mothers and cubs start coming ashore in Wapusk National Park next week (maybe July 9th or 10th?) and the last bears ride it out until late July. However, the bulk of this population will end up far south… so if Polar Bear Alert darts and removes all of the bears that are around right now, don’t expect replacements to be showing up any time soon.
Here is a good reference to the deviation from ‘normal’ on Hudson Bay – the Churchill area is well below normal but the rest of Hudson Bay isn’t that far off. I have also included my own little redneck chart to show where ice has traditionally been at this time of year… so you can see, this is still a pretty decent year for ice – not as good as the 1980s but similar to the mid-1970s or 1990s. (Click on the images to enlarge…) So, that’s where we are at with bears… now to everything else… The new Hudson Bay Post is out, trickling through the streets of Winnipeg and waiting for a way to get up to Churchill… which, of course, brings us to the train situation. Omnitrax’s latest ‘update’ says that they expect the rail line to open this weekend (which probably means next week). After that, VIA will send their own representatives to assess the line and I would expect passenger service to re-open around the 22nd…? Even when it does re-open, I would expect some major delays – Omnitrax is going to be pumping through grain cars all of July to make up for their lost month of shipping.
The good news is that Hudson Strait is still pretty choked with ice so I don’t see a shipping season starting before August. As for Omnitrax, they did ‘fulfill’ the Town’s request at regular ‘updates’ on the progress of track repairs. The trouble is that the updates actually contained no real information other than three stock paragraphs that repeated how important employee safety and blah blah was to Omnitrax. They even had such audacity as to pat themselves on the back in their latest update for ‘working through the weekend’. All I can say is that if Omnitrax puts the same effort into the tracks as they do their ‘updates’, well, I understand how we got to this point… and ‘severe permafrost’ has nothing to do with it.
Aside from that, it looks like the Yeti might actually be an ancient polar bear, beluga whales are really performing in the Churchill River, and the mosquitoes are really performing in town.