Here are the recent polar bear statistics from Manitoba Conservation in Churchill. Finally there is respite from the polar bear saturation around town. Polar bears are all moving to the Hudson Bay ice and it looks as if soon there will be little threat around the community. Great to know friends and folks in Churchill can breathe a sigh of relief.
Polar bear season in Churchill has been steady this year though the Manitoba Conservation report indicates there are numerous polar bears out at Cape Churchill. They should start to migrate along the coast west towards Churchill in the next week or so. The temperatures have been pretty mild so bears are isolated in certain areas at the moment. Stay tuned for more action from the CWMA!
Polar bear surveying the Hudson Bay. Brad Josephs photo.
Polar bear numbers for the past week were fairly consistent for this time of year. Looks like Manitoba Conservation is clearing the jail in preparation for the upcoming polar bear season in Churchill starting in a couple of weeks. Should be another exciting wildlife bonanza with incredible polar bear action in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area!
Mother polar bear and her two coy roam the frozen tundra. Thon Huijser photo.
Polar bear encounter stats from Manitoba Conservation for the week of September 19, 2016. Town of Churchill image.
An assessment of Manitoba government statistical documents point to increased polar bear encounters with people in Churchill, the self proclaimed polar bear capital on the shores of Hudson Bay. As a result of increased interaction between polar bears and humans the numbers of incarcerated bears has nearly doubled since 2013. That year 36 animals were captured and taken to the polar bear holding facility, or jail, compared with 65 this past year.
Polar bear lift in Churchill. Justin Gibson photo.
Over the past three years the numbers of documented cases of polar bear encounters in Churchill has risen from 229 in 2013 to 351 last year. All aspects of the current numbers point to increased activity between bears and humans in Churchill.
Daryll Hedman is the regional wildlife manager for Manitoba Conservation. His view on last year’s record for the number of polar bears caught in the populated “control zone” of Churchill indicates that even the authorities that deal with these animals on a regular basis are somewhat alarmed by the data. “Three hundred and fifty-one — for occurrences, that’s a high number,” he said.
Hedman and other experts are pointing to climate change as the culprit and resulting decreased sea ice as largely to blame. Over two-thirds of the planet’s polar bears live in Canada though experts are claiming that within only a few decades we could have a massive decline in numbers. With later freeze up in Arctic waters and thawing coming earlier in the spring, polar bears are competing for fatty seal meat within a tighter window. This impacts cubs trying to survive their first year the most. According to Andrew Derocher, a leading polar bear authority from University of Alberta, fewer cubs are making it through their first year out of the den. They simply are not getting the extended seal – hunting training on sea ice that they once were.
Polar bears spending more time on land are more likely to migrate to inhabited areas like Churchill in search of food. These encounters are happening more often and earlier in summer. Not that long ago polar bears rarely appeared in Churchill before August. Now early July seems to be the norm.
“What’s the tipping point?” Headman said. “What’s the threshold that they can go without food? When they’re on land, they’re not eating.”How long can they sustain themselves without getting onto that sea ice platform to hunt seals again?”
Polar bear sow and cub wearily survey their surroundings constantly aware of predators. Justin Gibson photo.
A Manitoba Conservation official has found evidence that wolves near Hudson Bay have learned to hunt polar bear cubs.
Polar bears are generally considered the top of the Arctic food chain, but recently a pack of wolves apparently distracted a mother bear long enough to take her cub in the Kaskatamagan Wildlife Management Area in northeastern Manitoba, said Daryll Hedman, the wildlife manager for the province’s northeast region.
“This is the first strong indirect evidence I’ve ever seen of wolves preying on a polar bear cub. They probably killed the cub and dragged it away.” reported Hedman.
For four years now Hedman has been conducting polar bear maternity den emergence surveys in the region by helicopter. These wolf and polar bear encounters have been somewhat lore and something he has not witnessed firsthand. This past March Hedman saw evidence of such an attack for the first time. Now the unreal became real. “This doesn’t happen often. It still seems to be a very rare event.” stated Hedman.
Arctic wolfpack searching for a meal on the ice. Carnivoraforum.com photo.
“We’ve had reports of wolves predating on polar bears [the cubs] in the past by lodges and First Nations, mostly when the polar bears are coming off the ice onto land at the end of July,” said Hedman.
“In our most recent report, a First Nations trapper reported to me what looked like a polar bear-wolf encounter” in the wildlife management area east of York Factory on the Hayes River, which runs along the Hudson Bay shoreline to the Ontario border.
“He said a single adult polar bear track was leaving the den site. About five days later, we were doing our survey by helicopter. We landed [at that site] and there was definitely evidence of polar bear and wolf tracks.”
Wolf pack working together. Digital Vision photo.
Members of a wolf pack get a mother’s attention, then the rest of the pack grabs her cub, Daryll Hedman says. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)
This most recent attack that Hedman saw evidence of was pretty conclusive and pointed towards a sure attack of a polar bear by wolves.
“It happened right on the tidal flats of Hudson Bay,” he said, noting the area contains a pretty healthy population of moose, the main prey species for wolves along the Hudson Bay coast in Kaskatamagan.
“I’ve had reports from people who have actually seen this sort of thing before,” he said.
“What usually happens is the sow polar bear can’t react quickly enough when the wolves are in a pack. Some of the wolves are getting her attention and the others go for the cub.”
Scientists and researchers studying these animals have also documented wolves hunting polar bear cubs.
“In 1983, the late Malcolm Ramsay and I found evidence of a pack of wolves in the Churchill denning area that had learned to kill polar bear cubs when they were on their way to the sea ice from their maternity dens,” polar bear specialist Ian Stirling wrote in his book Polar Bears: The Natural History of a Threatened Species.
“Where the polar bears den, there are no wolves, but once they leave the dens and get closer to the coast, they might encounter wolves.”
(Excerpts and quotes supplied by Martin Zelig for CBC News)