Polar Bear Blog – Orcas, Geese and Aurora

Just back from a locations scouting trip to Churchill, the fall colours are peaking – reds, yellows, orange and now the deep blues of ‘magic hour’ light that comes with October. Just a great time of year up there, although almost every time of year is pretty ‘great’.

A fair bit has happened since my last blog. The almost annual visit of Orcas caused quite a stir with folks driving down to the coast and a few brave/crazy souls heading out on zodiacs to photograph and cruise with the pod. The SeaNorth crew got within 10′ or so of a killer whale which is pretty amazing.  Here are some shots Alex deVries took while out on tour… and of course a bear thrown in for good measure.

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The bears are still pretty good right now too although Polar Bear Alert has been pretty active with handling and relocating bears already. When I was there, there were nine bears in jail and another eight already flown north through the summer – although a few of those have already returned. I’m a bit skeptical about keeping bears in jail this early because summer foraging is pretty important, especially now, for bears but I guess we’ll see how that goes.

Speaking of which, after all these years, I had another polar bear ‘first’ this September. We were watching a juvenile male, half dirty from grain or mud – as often they are – kind of tooling along the coast. Then, his head popped up from the willows and he began running straight towards the truck! But, instead of an aggressive charge at the vehicle, it turned out that he was just chasing a Canada Goose right past us and back onto the highway.

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After a couple sprints, he snagged it and trotted off back into the willows to eat his goose. I had watched bears chase geese in the past but seen one catch it or be so proficient at it. Paul Ratson from Nature First also mentioned that he had watched this guy catch geese in the willows behind the dump for some days, mostly hiding in the willows and squashing them as they went by. Pretty cool bear!

There is a lot of talk in Churchill now about how much geese seem to be apart of the bears’ summer diet now, probably in part to changing ice but also an exploding goose population. Of course, it should be noted that goose hunting and foraging is nothing ‘new’, its been recorded since the first days of polar bear research in the 1960s but, maybe, the level of goose hunting and access may be ‘new’, its hard to say… something to watch nevertheless.

The tricky part for the ‘Goose Hunter’ is that his hunting was taking place just past the airport so the key for him is to stay out in that area and not stray into Polar Bear Alert’s ‘no go zone’. Again, it certainly would be a shame to tranq and jail a bear that is so adept at surviving in a changing world. Then again, maybe that’s a learning experience too. Hard to say.

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