Polar Bear Blog – Churchill Bears and Belugas

Beluga season is hitting full-stride up in Churchill, lots of pics being posted on facebook and twitter from the zodiac and snorkelling tours.  But, of course, as belugas peak, it also means that the season has just passed its halfway point.

The first beluga whales have shown up near Arviat on their way to northwestern Hudson Bay.  The Churchill River is still teeming with whales, of course, but in another three weeks most will be travelling back to their wintering grounds near Repulse Bay and into Hudson Strait.  If a bowhead or pod of orcas show up this year, it is usually around this week so stay tuned.

Bears can still be found in both Churchill and Arviat.  A mother and her yearling cub have been entertaining visitors for almost three weeks now, hanging out on Eskimo Point just across the Churchill River.  Another even fatter mom and cub have been spotted near Arviat.  For the most part, the bears seem in good shape aside from an old bear near the Arviat dump and a bear that came off the ice with a bad injury near Churchill.

The first grain ship has come and gone, the M.V. Ikan Suji departing for Mexico on August 5th.  Another ship has already docked and is being processed so it looks like a busy start for the port – the beluga cam is a pretty good way to keep up to date on the comings and going of grain in Hudson Bay.

Speaking of Hudson Bay, this sure has been an interesting ice year.  From well-above average ice cover in early June to a fast melt that brought the many bears ashore in mid-July to some very late season ice still sticking around off the coast of Wapusk National Park.  Its a bit of a tough call but, once again, I would not classify this as a bad ice year.

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A grizzly was spotted over in Button Bay, just to the west of Churchill.  It was been almost twenty years since the ‘first’ grizzly was officially spotted in Wapusk National Park so its pretty safe to say there is a resident population surviving and likely thriving up here.  A lot of grizzlies can be found west of Arviat as well, usually sticking a bit closer to the treeline.

So far, there are two bears in the polar bear jail and another deceased bear that was transported north (the injured guy from the ice).  So, it has been a busy summer for conservation officers but not too many bears handled.  It seems like a lot of the bears have settled into their spots either west or east of town.  That is good news.

And, finally, I’ve been trying to figure out how beluga population numbers work…  the new estimate for Hudson Bay is around 57,000 whales, increased because of longer dive length estimates (I think…) – but if the summering area for Hudson Bay is pretty much Seal, Churchill and Nelson Rivers – with Churchill being the central hub… then there must be 20-30,000 whales summering in the Churchill area – up from the usualy 3-4,000 estimate.  It doesn’t quite seem like it but who knows what’s going on under the water…

 

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