Well, the jet stream dipped pretty far south again this year so this seems to bode well for Hudson Bay and Davis Strait Bears. Mothers with cubs were reported emerging from the dens in the first week of Watchee Lodge’s operations in Wapusk National Park. There seems to be a fair amount of movement and it looks like cub season may be a week ahead of schedule… much like freezeup was this fall.
Last ‘bear season’, we encountered a lot of mothers and cubs and most looked pretty healthy, so there is a fair bit of hope for this population right now. In fact, they have just been reclassified as ‘stable’ instead of declining by the Polar Bear Specialist Group. For now, things are looking good and again, a population ‘increase’ is certainly not out of the question with another good ice year.
Over on the east coast, it looks like there are positive signs as well. Polar bears have been reported near Black Tickle, a small community on the southeastern tip of Labrador. Residents say this is among the earliest they have seen bears near the community. Now, this could mean a lot of things but judging by the limited sea ice information we have from there right now, conditions look pretty decent – with ice near the long-term average.
As well, a polar bear seems to drifted well up the St Lawrence along the Gaspe Peninsula to Rimouski, Quebec. It was reported in good condition and wildlife officials relocated the bear north to Labrador. This is a rare event but has happened before, most notably in the 1960s and even in 1934, with a polar bear reported in Lac St. Jean, Quebec. Sightings in and around Newfoundland have been increasing in the last few years as well.
Again, there are a lot of factors in play but everything seems to point to the Davis Strait population being in great condition, possibly over carrying capacity…? This would be one explanation for bears moving earlier and moving outward from traditional areas. We’ll see.
On the other side of the continent, things are pretty up in the air for the Beaufort and Chukchi populations off Alaska. Its been a cold winter but now the jets stream has pushed north. In some places, temperatures are closing in on 30C. So, if the jet stream stays far north in the west, it could mean a warm spring along the coast of northern Alaska. This, in turn, forces many Southern Beaufort bears east into Canada and more Chukchi bears towards Russia. Needless to say, the boundaries of these populations are still surrounded in a fair bit of mystery. It would not surprise me if they were re-assessed at some point.
Overall, sea ice is considered ‘low’ this spring, however, this is primarily due to declines south of Russia and along the southern edge of the Chukchi population. The good news here is that the Chukchi bears appear to be doing quite well with reduced sea ice and have a healthy population. Then again, the Arctic Oscillation is in a positive phase and – I’m not going into boring detail – but this usually means a pretty fast melt in the spring.
Anyway, things look good right now and I’m heading up to Watchee Lodge this weekend to photograph polar bear cubs. I will have a few field updates coming in the next week… stay tuned.