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Posts Tagged ‘polar bear population’

Manitoba Conservation officials discover large number of new polar bear dens on Hudson Bay coast near Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Polar bears relaxing Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Polar bears relaxing near Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

It’s probably too early to tell whether a spring Polar Bear Photo Safari is in order for Churchill Wild’s Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, but the recent discovery of a large number of new polar bear dens along the Hudson Bay coast in the vicinity of Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge by Manitoba Conservation officials make it a distinct possibility.

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is located 250 km southeast of Churchill, Manitoba, on the Hudson Bay coast near York Factory, and is currently home to Churchill Wild’s Mothers & Cubs summer polar bear adventure. According to Manitoba Conservation officials, the newly discovered polar bear dens are located in an area southeast of Wapusk National Park and east of the Nelson River, a region along the southern end of the polar bears’ range which is not as well-known as Churchill and other areas to the north.

“At this point we do not have enough information on the number of dens, their locations and if there is any potential for a spring Mothers & Cubs Polar Bear Adventure,” said Rick Kemp, Director of Marketing and Communications at Churchill Wild. “But we do know that Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is located in the heart of the newly discovered den sites, and this bodes well for many exceptional polar bear encounters in the years ahead.”

The discovery of the new polar bear dens could indicate that the bear population in the area is in excellent shape, but the Province of Manitoba is undertaking a three-year study to get more detail. An aerial survey released by the Nunavut government recently estimated the polar bear population in the area at 1,000, which was surprising. A survey done in 2004 had predicted the number of polar bears in the area would decline to about 650 in 2011.

The 2004 prediction was based on the fact that the ice covering this particular stretch of Hudson Bay is now present for three weeks less than it was in the past, reducing the time that the polar bears are able to hunt seals, thus affecting their livelihood. Scientists were also worried that climate change would affect the permafrost that the polar bears use to build their dens. Polar bear dens do not collapse on permanently frozen ground, but if warming temperatures cause the permafrost to recede north, the denning areas would be in jeopardy.

“The sheer numbers of polar bears moving up and down the coast past Nanuk indicate a very healthy population,” said Mike Reimer, founder of Churchill Wild. “This has been our best summer to date. Nanuk is located near Cape Tatnum, which is the premier landing site on Hudson Bay for polar bears coming off the last of the summer ice, due to prevailing winds and ocean currents. Once again we experienced a late sea ice break up this year, which gave the bears an excellent opportunity to extend their seal hunt. As a result, we are seeing a lot of polar bears this year that are in exceptional condition.”

“Manitoba Conservation has not indicated that they will base their research study out of Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge,” said Kemp. “But we would certainly welcome the opportunity to be part of this important discovery mission. Polar bear populations and their overall health are a concern for us all, as we come to grips with climate change and its impact on these beautiful creatures.”

“Churchill Wild is dedicated to providing life-changing polar bear experiences at our remote wilderness lodges,” continued Kemp. “Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is without a doubt poised to become a “must see” destination for discerning adventure travel enthusiasts.”

There will be five departures for the Mothers & Cubs Polar Bear Adventure at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in 2013, beginning on August 28 and running through to September 30.

1983 – The Worst Year Ever for Western Hudson Bay Polar Bears

by Ian Thorleifson

Ian carrying tranquilized polar-bear

Ian carrying tranquilized polar bear near Hudson Bay

We’ve all heard many sad stories and dire predictions about the future of the polar bears of Western Hudson Bay. And they have had some tough years – particularly in the early 2000s. The worst year they ever had was not recent however, it was almost 30 years ago. In 1983

My knowledge of 1983 is first hand. I was in charge of the Polar Bear Alert Program that year, and I was working as a biologist for Manitoba Wildlife Branch, and with the very capable crew from Ian Stirling’s group of the Canadian Wildlife Service.

But I must qualify that my observations are not backed by rigorous science – we simply did not have that defensible level of knowledge then. We did have a substantial amount of observations, notes and perceptions built up from many people’s observations over many years.

By 1983 the Canadian Wildlife Service had been intently working with the polar bears in Hudson Bay for about 15 years. A large percentage of the bears in the population were tagged – at least half of them, maybe three quarters. We estimated that there were about 1800 bears in the South Western Hudson Bay (SWHB) polar bear population at the time.

Productivity was very good – most mother bears had two cubs with them and many of those cubs were “independent yearlings” – able to hunt and care for themselves, and to allow their mothers to re-breed every two years – the most productive polar bear population known at the time.

Tourism, especially that related to polar bear watching, was starting to roll in Churchill – Dan Guravich and Len Smith and their Cape Churchill crew had been to the Cape for up to three weeks at a time for four years now – and their observations and photos had identified a “rogue’s gallery” of big old male bears who were at the Cape every year.

The winter of 1982-83 saw very heavy snowfall accumulating in SWHB, so heavy one could imagine the bears having a challenge getting through to the seals. When the bears were forced ashore, they were in “ok” condition, but not really fat. But they were early – by the first two weeks of July the ice had broken up and quickly melted completely out of the Bay. Then the summer was HOT. And DRY. We worked on the tundra with no shirts on – and no mosquitoes! The heat stressed the bears even more than the mosquitoes would have.

By November, there were a lot of bears around – and far too many were getting very skinny. In the middle of November, very cold weather brought a quick freeze – and bears started moving out onto the ice. Then came the big south wind with melting temperatures and weeks of fog and mist. The ice was completely melted, and the number of bears along the Coast was amazing – I counted 50 different bears in a 14-mile drive! Eight bears were shot by local people in self-defense. On November 29, a man was killed on the main street of Churchill by a young male bear. The Polar Bear Alert crew was handling as many as 15 bears a day. Walking skeletons were seen too often. And still no freeze-up until almost mid-December.

We did not realize the impact this all had on the population until a couple of years had gone by. At Cape Churchill, Dan could recognize only a couple of the “rogues” they had previously seen. And 1984 saw the lowest number of bear incidents in the history of the Alert Program.

Based on these observations and the “Mark/Recapture” rate of the next few years, we estimated that HALF of the SWHB population perished out on the ice that winter. We find very few dead bears, because they do not die where we can find them. Travel out on the Bay is very difficult and dangerous.

The population built up again in the late ‘80s and ‘90s – to at least 1200 to 1400 bears, then declined to the 950 or so estimated today. But no one year was ever as bad as 1983…the Worst Year Ever for polar bears.