Figured I would do a quick roundup of some of the polar bear headlines this summer and take a shot at figuring them out…
Large Waves Recorded in Polar Bear Habitat
Sixteen foot waves have been recorded in the Beaufort Sea in a part of the arctic that was previously covered by multi-year ice. This ice sheet broke apart in 2012 after an arctic cyclone dispersed ice that was already pressure fractured. Again, this event can be evidence of climate change or of natural cycles.
What does this mean for bears? Well, bears don’t really like multi-year ice so very few bears actually used this area in the western Arctic. It may result in increased denning along the west coast of Banks Island and northern Alaska/Yukon.
The bears that it seems to be affecting are the Svalbard bears over in Norway. Judging from ice movement and currents, the multi-year ice in the Beaufort Sea possibly slowed down some of the current passing over the pole and around Greenland. It has been a tough ice year in Svalbard and I think we will see more given the way ice is now ‘flushed’ out by that current. On the bright side, Svalbard and the Russian Islands over there have seen this before (in the 1950s), those bears seem to be more ‘flexible’ in terms of denning areas than most.
Polar Bears Foraging on Land
Rocky Rockwell and Linda Gormezano’s research from Nestor 1 and Wapusk is out and it shows that many bears along the coast of Hudson Bay forage on goose eggs, berries, you name it while on land. The extent of foraging seems larger than previously believed but when you read the original polar bear books from the late 1960s/1970s, you can find countless references to bears feeding on land. Even in explorers’ and whalers journals, there are several incidences of bears foraging on land. It was only in the 1980s/early 1990s that the idea of a ‘fast’ really circulated.
Arviat’s Polar Bears
Some bears have already returned to Arviat’s garbage dump this summer. This is going to be a tricky situation for Arviat for, well, the next two decades. In the old Churchill dump days, cubs who were raised at the dump returned that forage for the rest of their lives. In fact, Churchill is just at the end of this generation of bears, now 18-20-ish years old. Not sure there is any real answer to this other than to get used to having bears around…
An interesting note from the old days is that cubs that fed at Churchill’s dump were actually ‘healthier’ – at least in terms of weight and survival – than cubs that did not. The bears at the dump actually gain weight over the summer, even if some ended up breathing fire occasionally.