A Churchill blizzard is once again upon us, pushing all the ice back into shore again. The bears, for their part, just float around on this big ice floe, waiting for a calm day, maybe waiting for seals too.
The ice has formed a bit differently on Hudson Bay this year. There looks to be an almost uniform band of ice stretching along the entire west and south coast of the bay, right from Repulse Bay in the north to James Bay in the south. To me, this is a sure sign of changing wind patterns along the entire stretch of the western Hudson Bay polar bears’ range.
Usually, the ice builds first along the 50 mile shelf called Cape Churchill. North winds push the ice in early both here and Cape Tatnum to the south while the north-south coasts stay relatively open (at least for another week or two). Not so much this year,
places like the western edge of Cape Churchill and the northern coast of Ontario have a lot more ice than usual. This is a little scary as the final Cape Churchill trip has not yet headed out but you never know, there always seems to be a late wave of bears going through there.
It should also translate to a banner year for southern Hudson Bay polar bears. The ice from the Ontario border to James Bay is far ahead of schedule and given that many bears came ashore further south than usual, there may not be much incentive for their natural migration north anymore.
When you consider that there is a mile or two of ice all along the coast heading north of Churchill, life looks pretty good for our bears there too. There seem to be less polar bear reports from our neighbouring community, Arviat, Nunavut, this year and that is a good thing.
In the very northern part of Hudson Bay, the ice is a fair bit behind yet the Coral Harbour and Southampton Island looks to be locked in. It is, however, hard to say what difference, if any, this will make as we have little information on the Foxe Basin polar bears of northern Hudson Bay.
Either way, this is a good start to the year for both the western and southern Hudson Bay populations. While there seems to be a genetic differentiation between the two, this does make one wonder how much interaction there is between the two sub-populations. It seems plausible to me that a lot of our western bears ended up far south this year. Who knows if they will decide to come back or not?
To me, the bears looked fairly healthy this year. We had a few skinny bears but even Dancer came back looking a lot better than last year. He is usually a good gauge of how our bears are doing, given that with his age he is likely on the periphery of the main population now.
In fact, most of the arctic looks to be on schedule with exception of open water around Victoria Island in the west arctic and a late freeze for Baffin Bay in the east. Polar bears have been reported on land near the communities of Ulukhaktok and Clyde River. Still, the ice should lock in with a couple weeks and the bears will leave.
I have a feeling that the few stragglers left near Churchill will also leave after this north wind dies down, all that remains now is for Manitoba Conservation to release the remaining fourteen bears in jail and that’s a wrap!