Polar bear finishing up a seal meal on the Hudson Bay ice. Brad Josephs photo.
With an earlier than usual freeze-up of the Hudson Bay, Churchill polar bears were able to get a jump on their winter fat storage process. Seals were being devoured about 10 miles offshore and this opportunistic polar bear has just finished up a delectable dinner to keep him going for awhile. Let’s hope this winter supplies these voracious polar bears with the food they need to survive the summer months.
Check out these amazing video images from the high Arctic circle. A mother polar bear emerges from her winter den with two new cubs. This unique and spectacular video is from the BBC natural history masterpiece ‘Planet Earth’. Polar bear family’s emerge from their dens in early spring, sometime generally in March and after acclimatising they will be guided to the pack – ice for hunting lessons and for mom to hopefully capture enough seals to feed the family. Enjoy!
Outgoing President Barack Obama executed a critical order on Tuesday by banning any new gas and oil drilling in federal waters in Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. The move comes as an environmental safeguard prior to the new Republican administration taking office January 20th lead by President elect Donald Trump.
Utilizing a 1950s-era law termed the Outer Continental Shelf Act, Obama used the power of President to limit areas from mineral leasing and drilling. Trump’s incoming administration will only be able to challenge and change the edict by fighting it in court according to several environmental groups agreeing with the order.
Map of the Arctic waters to the north of Alaska just protected by President Obama. BOEM image.
The Alaskan waters ban affects 115 million acres in the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea as well as 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic Ocean. A main concern of environmental advocates regarding fuel exploration in the region is the devastating affects an oil spill or gas leakage in the oceans would have on the ecosystems. Such a remote and harsh climate would severely limit the capabilities of clean-up crews and emergency response teams. Wildlife such as polar bears, whales, seals and fish would be harmed and populations of the animals could be irreversibly destroyed.
Trump has continually stated that he will seek to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in the waters north of Alaska. Recent releases from his energy transition team predicted increases in production in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. These forecasts have been dealt a serious blow and are likely “dead in the water” at this time. Trump spokespeople would not comment on the actions.
Very limited oil and gas exploration has been happening in recent years as less expensive shale oil production primarily out of Texas and North Dakota has been the priority. Drilling off Arctic shores in Alaska is more expensive and risky in nature. Most notably, Shell Oil pulled out of the waters just last year following a shipping accident and limitation laws discovered by environmental groups limiting exploration.
Proponents for drilling such as the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry group, stated that Trump would be able to use a presidential memorandum to lift the ban rendering the move by Obama obsolete. “We are hopeful the incoming administration will reverse this decision as the nation continues to need a robust strategy for developing offshore and onshore energy,” said Erik Milito, API’s upstream director.
A view over the now protected Arctic waters from Barrow, Alaska. NASA photo.
Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are in agreement with protecting Arctic waters. The two leaders are initiating joint actions and these actions “reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.” stated Obama.
In similar action Trudeau and Canada will designate all Arctic Canadian waters off limits indefinitely to any future offshore Arctic gas and oil licensing. These sanctions will be reviewed every five years through a climate and marine science-based life-cycle assessment. Obama’s action, unlike the five year review applied to the Canadian law, contains no designated analysis period outlined for the U.S. law.
Under current law, authorization is not granted for reversing a previous presidential order of this kind so efforts by Trump to challenge this move will most likely need to be taken up in court via a lawsuit.
“No president has ever tried to undo a permanent withdrawal of an ocean area from leasing eligibility,” said Neil Lawrence, Alaska director and attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
A late season necessitated more polar bear lifts than usual as Churchill and the surrounding area was inundated with the majestic animals. It looks like the season has finally come to a close with winter weather settling in and the Hudson Bay ice pack finally land – fast against the coast. Good news for polar bears as they are now able to begin replenishing their fat storage through seal – hunting! Hopes are high that the late start will bring a bounty of seals for hungry polar bears and the spring thaw will happen later than usual.
Manitoba Conservation officers ready a polar bear for a lift north. Katie de Meulles photo.