Polar Bear Blog – Swimming Bears and Sea Ice

Okay, so its no Rimouski but a polar bear did show up at Hibernia drilling platform, just east of St. John’s, Newfoundland.  The bear was first spotted by the supply vessel, Atlantic Merlin, with varying reports of either one or possibly two bears (mother and yearling).  These support vessels are sometimes tasked with towing icebergs away from the platform in spring.

This is the southern extent of the Davis Strait bears’ range, and depending how you look at it, either not too far or pretty far from the sea ice.  The ice edge is around average on the east coast this year, in places it extends beyond normal but near St. John’s its a bit further north than other years.

Polar bears have been recorded undertaking marathon swims, between 100 and even up to 600km.  However, this is still early in seal hunting season so unless this bear has absolutely packed on weight from harp seals – which is possible – it is not at its peak weights… or peak buoyancy.  Either way, it seems like this polar bear is headed the wrong way.

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Another headline this week is the record low sea ice level for spring.  This is a bit of a mixed bag.  On one level, a record low extent is never good for bears because it likely heralds a speedy breakup and may indicate thinner ice in general.  Interestingly, Davis Strait and Labrador is the only area cited with above average ice conditions.

On the other hand, this record low is primarily the result of very low levels of ice south of Russia and the Bering Sea.  This area actually has little to no effect on polar bears so that is a bit of good news.

Over in Svalbard, it looks like a fairly erratic year.  The current Arctic Oscillation phase has meant more south winds than usual and this has pushed ice north.  It would seem that it will be another year of good ice in some parts of Svalbard and no ice in others, so whatever you’re looking for can probably be found there.  Generally, however, it looks like a bit of a tough year for the Barents Sea bears, probably will be a fair bit of movement within that population.

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