Polar Bear Blog – The Northwest Passage Lost

In the race of northern shipping routes, its becoming pretty clear that the Northwest Passage has lost.  Still clogged with ice, we are entering yet another year of poor navigation across the Canadian Arctic.  Hudson Strait has had heavier ice than normal, Iqaluit’s breakup was weeks later than normal and, well, its just not a great season for commercial shipping in northern Canada.

The Northeast Passage, on the other hand, has been open for some time and traffic just seems to be gathering steam over there.  This is a bit of a mixed bag in terms that it lessens that odds of a commercial route through Canada and that’s better for most of the world’s polar bears and arctic marine mammals.  On the other hand, Russia and China are pretty hot and heavy to develop the Northeast Passage and, well, we haven’t even got baseline data on most of the polar bear populations over there.  The only saving grace is that if things go really wrong, a shirtless Putin will fly in with a rocket pack and single-handedly rescue orphaned cubs… whew.

Anyway, the sea ice maps this year tell a pretty interesting story.  Its a changing arctic for sure but, at least to me, there’s some real good news stories here mixed in with some deep concern.

August 20 Ice Extent


So, things don’t look great north of Russia…  We do have to keep in mind that there is more ice in real life than shows up on the satellite images, ice between 1-4′ thick may not appear on the map – so that’s a fair bit of a discrepancy.  Then again, some of the ice on here doesn’t quite correlate with real life observations either, but its what we’ve got.  The ‘open water’ in the Beaufort Sea is actually broken multi-year ice floes so that’s not quite as drastic as it looks.  Either way, sea ice is lower than average in northern Alaska and Russia but higher along Baffin Island, Foxe Basin and Hudson Bay.

Russia offers up another bit of bad news this year by not withdrawing from a joint Norwegian-Russian polar bear study planned for the Barents Sea population.  So, Norway will go ahead on their own and, unfortunately, we’ll only end up with a partial picture of these bears.  As we all know, politics and polar bears are never far away from each other.  Here’s a bit more info on the research project itself.

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Another bit of baffling news is the decision to approve Shell’s arctic oil drilling program…  I haven’t looked into this too much but $40 a barrel is, I think, at the absolutely lowest threshold for arctic drilling.   It just seems like a doomed program both financially and environmentally.  Maybe they know something the rest of us don’t… hard to say.

That’s about it for now… still some nice sightings of polar bears around Churchill this summer and the beluga whales are still cruising up and down the estuary.  Conservation sounds like its planning to round up these bears before ‘bear season’ hits so now would be a good time to visit, early October might be a bit quiet in Churchill this year.

French divers just swam with polar bears in Wager Bay, Nunavut – which seems a bit insane but who am I to judge…  Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat is importing a bear from Australia.  Greenland is launching a polar bear patrol with WWF.  And this guy crashed his helicopter.





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