Polar Bear Blog – Summer Seals, Summer Ice

Bears are starting to arrive on shore in larger numbers now.  This year it looks to be a bit of a split – with significant numbers coming ashore north of the Churchill River and many still riding the ice far to the south.

Here is an excerpt from ChurchillWild’s Seal River blog.  Feature image is also couresty of Seal River (www.churchillwild.com)

‘Six gorgeous bears spent the day sharing a ringed seal one of them had managed to catch. Said seal made the fatal mistake of falling asleep on a nice warm rock on lodge point while the tide was going out and forgot to leave, ending up several hundred meters from the receding water line. This is huge no-no when you are trying to survive on a coastline liberally sprinkled with hungry polar bears and you also happen to be loaded with thousands of calories of their favourite snack, seal fat!

This must have been one of those seals that didn’t belong in the gene pool, and it certainly provided hours of incredible polar bear watching for our Churchill Wild guests.

The bears are satiated and fresh as they emerge from their icy Hudson Bay hunting grounds, but they’re certainly not going to pass up an easy meal. At times there were as many as six bears, including a couple of family groups that were graciously sharing their prize. This certainly won’t be the case come fall when the new ice is forming and the last seal-meal is a distant memory. At present the bears look very well fed and in fabulous shape, so we’re looking forward to another great summer!’

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That is one of the most interesting things that one discovers about polar bears – their capacity to share and the sheer complexity of their ‘society’.  From what I have gathered, bears seem more apt to ‘share’ meals when times are either very ‘lean’ or when hunting is good and they are all well-fed.  Right now, everyone is well-fed and at their highest weights of the year.

The other surprising aspect involves just how high ‘mature’ family units are up the hierarchy of bears.  It is actually quite rare that a family will be ‘chased’ off a seal kill and quite rare that they will back down from large males.  Most of this comes down to having a mother bear who has some experience, probably 12-15 years old at least…  pretty neat though. Either way, an early summer seal like this makes the summer ‘fast’ a lot more bearable.

That area around Seal River is actually quite productive, sometimes beluga whales wash up near Long Point, either lost by Inuit hunters or dying by natural causes.  The tricky part with all of this is that many of these bears will eventually end up in Arviat and at Arviat’s dump…  WWF and everyone really needs to get their heads together to resolve that garbage situation – some cubs are already conditioned to that place so Arviat will have ‘problem’ bears for the next 15 years even if the dump closes tomorrow…

To me, this is just more evidence of a potential split in this population…  Looking at the July 7th sea ice map, we can see a lot of ice far to the south.  Again, this translates to a banner year for Southern Hudson Bay and a likely ‘migration’ of Western Hudson Bay bears to the south.  There is a stream of thought now that these ‘southern’ western Hudson Bay bears may just be staying at Cape Tatnum and avoiding Churchill altogether… we’ll see…

Ice-HudsonBay-July7

Yes, the ice in the middle of Hudson Bay is below average but the amount of bears north of Churchill would suggest that our satellite images drastically under-estimate shore ice.  No ice has been listed north of Churchill for almost a month now… yet bears are just coming ashore here.  Based solely on Environment Canada ice maps, bears coming ashore at Seal River would mean swimming against the current and skipping closer land masses… reality and satellite seem to have a slight information gap this year…

Port of Churchill And speaking of information gaps… here’s our now world-famous Hudson Bay Rail update..

VIA Rail has listed July 16th as their track inspection date.  Basically, they told me that they would mobilize their track inspector once Omnitrax has approved the tracks for freight.  It seems that VIA must have wanted to wait for a few freight and grain trains to move before it inspected the tracks and approved passenger service – fair enough.  Still the level of communication from VIA is decidedly lacking although thankfully not nearly as self-congratulatory as Omnitrax’s daily non-updates.

Oh well, still looking like my original prediction of July 22nd is pretty realistic. The ice melt in Hudson Bay actually looks like we could have an early shipping season this year.  If Canada actually had a usable icebreaker fleet, we could have one positioned in Hudson Strait and the Port could be operating right now…  but if I was taller, I could play for the Cleveland Cavaliers too.  

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