Polar bear mother and cub taking a breather lying on the Precambrian shield in Churchill Katie de Meulles photo.
All signs point to a decline in polar bear numbers in the southeastern region of the Hudson Bay, namely Churchill. Without even looking at the most recent statistics, there have been telltale changes in bear behavior that signal a potential shift in the polar bear population in the region.
A recent in-depth survey of polar bears in the world’s most southerly range indicates numbers have dropped and climate change is possibly rearing its head on the most accessible region to see these majestic creatures, Churchill!
Lead researcher and primary author of scientific paper Martyn Obbard focused on the polar bears residing on the shores of the James Bay and Hudson Bay known as the southern Hudson Bay population. Obbard collaborated with scientists from governments of Nunavut, Quebec and Ontario as well as the United States.
“If this trend is real and if it continues, I think we happened to have caught it just as it started to go over a cliff,” said Martyn Obbard, lead author of the paper that appeared this week in the journal Arctic Science.
A 17per cent decrease in five years, from 943 to 780 in that region has the scientific community on high alert. However, the more alarming number is a decrease from 12 percent to 5 percent of yearlings from 2011 to 2018.
“Many adult females may still be producing litters, but they may be less successful in raising cubs,” says the paper.
Studies over the last few years have reported what we have been seeing on average. Polar bears are getting skinnier and smaller from an annual reduction in the number of days of accessible sea ice
Between 1980 and 2012, research shows the number of days spent on land rather than on sea ice increased by 30 days. This time period severely reduces the amount of seal fat intake and leads to lower survival rates particularly for yearlings and less experienced hunters.
While the last survey of Hudson Bay polar bears conducted in 2011 showed population numbers fairly stable and in line with the previous 25 years of observations, Obbard wanted to quell the debate on both sides regarding the population. The latest ariel survey was conducted with rigor and quite comparable to the 2011 survey.
Obbard, recently retired from the Ontario government, cautions that having only two data points is not a conclusive study, the drop off observed is troubling at least.
“We’ve tried to be not alarmist. But we’ve tried to point out there are serious concerns,” stated Obbard.
While the years have produced images of polar bears seemingly adapting better to more ice-free days through finding alternative food sources or hunting seals on land or in the coastal shallows, Obbard’s most recent study validates impending warnings from researchers who have maintained that polar bear numbers would shrink like the ice when seal hunting days were reduced.
Polar bears have seemed to adapt in recent years to less “ice time” by hunting closer to shore. Alex De Vries – Magnifico photo.
“If we have a decline in body condition, what comes next? Declines in survival then decline in reproductive success,” he said. “And what are the consequences of those? The individual-level effects become population-level effects — declines in survival rates and now declines in abundance.”
Past warnings have been similar to what Obbard sees now. Everything points to climate change as the main end cause of polar bear body deterioration. The pure fact that sea ice has been reduced year over year cannot be ignored.
“It is disheartening,” Obbard states.
Another intensive survey should be scheduled for 2021 to further find an accurate baseline for the western and southern Hudson Bay populations according to Obbard.
Polar bear sow and two 2-year-old cubs. Brad Josephs photo.
Despite frequent heart-wrenching images of starving polar bears in the news recently, populations of polar bears are apparently thriving in the Nunatsiavut region of northern Labrador. This is some welcome good news on the status of polar bears in the Arctic.
Based on a quota of 12 polar bears from licenses granted this year by the Nunatsiavut government, wildlife manager Jim Goudie reported that the Inuit quota was filled within the initial seven days of the season.
“There are lots of signs of bears,” he told CBC Radio’s Labrador Morning. “Lots of bears and a continuation of what we’ve seen over the last three or four years.”
According to Goudie, a 2007 survey showed there were around 880 polar bears in the northern Quebec and Labrador regions while the revised numbers recorded show 2,152. This increase is a dramatic rise in the population. Researchers are involved in a two – year study that is indicating even more positive numbers.
“You can go wherever you want to within Nunatsiavut or the Labrador Inuit settlement area to harvest your polar bear,” he said. “Anywhere outside of Nunatsiavut boundaries, the harvest would be illegal.”
To keep track of polar bear pelts that are often sold to wealthy suitors from Asia to Canada, the furs are embedded with a computer chip validating when and where it was taken as well as proof it was acquired through a legal hunt and not poached. Any meat that is not used by the hunters must be donated.
“I think our polar bear population is very, very healthy,” he said. “The Davis Strait polar bear population is probably one of the most healthy in Canada, and certainly in the world.”
With regards to other populations in general, Goudie says most are in good standing and only a few are declining. Still, the fear propaganda is in the news and can be misleading.
Goudie highlights a National Geographic post showing it first look a starving polar bear, but in reality, the polar bear was sick and not long for life.
“It’s an easy story to put out there, that polar bears are in massive trouble. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue or keep my fingers off the keyboard when I see those social media posts,” he said.
Hopes are high that all polar bear populations in the Arctic will continue to thrive and adapt to a warmer climate in the coming years.
Anyone ever wonder how Arctic towns above the tree – line get their Christmas tree for holidays? Well, we just discovered the secret…is Santa flying that helicopter? Everything that happens in the Arctic is unique. Let’s hope we can protect this amazing land for future generations.
The tiny green dot descended upon the community of Kuujjuaq, Quebec in time for this year’s holiday season. Over 14 meters tall, this is the fifth year the community has had a community Christmas tree delivered from the heavens.
Mayor Tunu Napartuk has a vivid memory of that first occasion.
“I was there, and I remember exactly the moment and the feeling — the euphoria basically — of seeing from a distance a helicopter coming in, slinging a large tree,” said Napartuk.
“If you were there with me, you would’ve been seeing a grown man jumping up and down like a little boy, being all excited.”
Councillor George Berthe, of the newly formed town council, suggested in 2012 the town have the biggest tree it could find flown into the remote town.
“It wasn’t so far-fetched,” said the mayor.
“Kuujjuaq is one of the few [Nunavik] communities that has trees readily available not too far to the south,” said Napartuk.
A couple of men from the town went on a scouting trip to find the perfect tree.
“They found it right away. And a couple of days later, we asked the helicopter to go pick it up.The only way to access it was to pick it up by helicopter. We don’t have a big enough sled to pull by skidoo. “
“Of course, we don’t have access to it by road, by truck, so the only option was to get it by helicopter,” said Napartuk.
The annual Christmas tree drop is becoming a tradition. After the tree is secured in its resting spot next to the town hall, city staff decorate the tree utilizing equipment, then an angel is placed on top of the tree.
An individual who’s made a contribution to the community is selected by town council, and the honoree has the prestige of lighting the tree.— and people are “just mesmerized by it,” says Napartuk.
Concept design of northern Arctic housing. Fournier, Gesrovitz, Moss, Drolet and Assoc. Architects image.
Traditional high Arctic home building designs have been similar in structure and layout to those found in the south. However, as with the tiny house movement in the lower lattitudes, architects in Quebec are rethinking the design process for buildings that will be constructed above the 60th parallel. These new highly efficient structures will be more aptly suited for the climate and lifestyle of Inuit residents of the region. The Societe D’habitation du Quebec the chief housing authority for the province is working on new designs for the Arctic.
Since 2012 the agency has been working on the design in collaboration with a Montreal architectural firm as well as regional housing bureau agencies which have provided key input related to design needs and cultural traditions of Cree and Inuit inhabitants, especially relating to interior layout.
Initially, two prototypes will be constructed this year in Quaqtaq on the Diana Bay shore along the Hudson Strait. It is unclear how the inhabitants of these first two homes will be selected or what they will be required to pay for the units.
Quuaqtak in Nunavik, Northern Quebec is site of prototype design of housing unit. Google maps image..
The structural design will be highly energy efficient with walls, roof and floor insulated above standard levels as well as a heat exchange heating system generated from the water heater. Steel piles will anchor the homes in the Precambrian shield and adjust for melting of permafrost in many areas.
Pilings being driven into housing location in Nunuvik, Quebec. Societe d’habitation du Quebec photo.
Storage for the unit will be maximized with innovative spacial concepts for the attic, laundry room and kitchen that provides a movable large island for additional space. Securely locked storage cabinets will be built in for hunting firearm and ammunition. Both a cold and warm porch will be features that specifically cater to the traditional Inuit lifestyle. In all this new design will be highly efficient and desired by Inuit families.
The winter dive on the HMS Erebus, Sir john Franklin’s long lost but now found ship, went well but is only “scratching the surface” according to senior researchers on the expedition.
Divers were literally scratching the surface of the sunken ship. Removing the kelp that covered the old wooden hull was the first task to be able to get a better look at the wreck in relation to the overall site. Rather than strip it all away from the entire ship they cut it off only along the port side of the 34-meter long wooden vessel.
Although the Erebus has not disclosed much information about its fate as of yet, clearing the hull and mapping the site has provided more of a story.
Jonathan Moore drilling the ice for a dive hole at Erebus Dive Camp. Parks Canada photo.
Parcs Canada senior underwater archeologist Ryan Harris says the artifacts recovered so far “can help capture what life was like inside Erebus, as well as perhaps on the still-missing second ship of the Franklin expedition, HMS Terror.” Brass buttons, a cannon and ceramic dinner plates have all been discovered and are currently on display with a dozen other items in Gatineau, Quebec.
Brass buttons discovered can be narrowed down to only four crewmen. Parks Canada photo.
Ceramic dinner plates found at the Erebus wreck site. Parcs Canada photo.
In another mysterious and intriguing twist to the expedition, glass prisms were placed inside the upper deck which focused a very small amount light streaming through a skylight, and allowed that daylight to pass through, into the dark spaces below.
“It looks like something out of Jules Verne,” Harris says. “At this point in time, we’re absolutely just scratching the surface of what we might learn from this shipwreck,”
A cannon from the HMS Erebus is pulled to the surface through one of the dive holes cut in two-meter thick ice. Jonathan Moore/ Parcs Canada photo.