a well timed reminder – Watts Up With That?

a timely reminder – Watts Up With That?

From polar bear science

Posted on Jan 14, 2021 |

If you thought polar bears were a threat to humans only in the summer when the sea ice is low, think again. Occasionally, bears will come ashore early through mid-winter to forage for food as hunting is difficult and they are nearing their leanest season. They just go ashore from the ice – often near communities – because many things associated with modern human life are food for polar bears.

This tracking map of bears from Western Hudson Bay (women with collars) dated Jan 11, 2021 (courtesy Andrew Derocher) shows a bear just offshore near the community of Whale Cove on the northwest coast – close enough to get ashore when she decides this might be in her interest:

Derocher had the following to say about the location of this bear (January 12, 2021):

I thought the same thing … Let's hope there aren't any problems. It's a bit strange to have a bear so close to the shore at this time of year. There are seals in the fault line, so this is possible. Bear do what you want …

– Andrew Derocher (@AEDerocher) January 12, 2021

It may be "strange" for a bear to be this close to shore in winter, but knowing that polar bears come ashore in winter, this is not uncommon, it is "unusual". Most of the problems with bears on land seem to come in March / April on the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland, when the sea ice is bigger and 2017 was an exceptional year.


2019 Labrador, Bears reported on land in Labrador Jan. 2

2019 Labrador, Bears on land in Labrador cause trouble (Feb 1st)

2019 Alaska, Polar bears attack hundreds of miles from shore (Jan 15)

2016 Labrador, Bears ashore in Labrador (February 7th)

2016 summary of previous incidents and attractants (19th March)

Below: Sea ice conditions on January 13, 2021 in North America compared to 2020 and 2019, showing how extensive the ice was in 2019 (and the bears were on land in Labrador and Newfoundland in early January):

Below is a map from 1985 when the sea ice off Labrador and Newfoundland was just as thick in mid-January as it was in 2019, but to my knowledge there have been no reports of bears on land in Labrador or Northern Newfoundland. This difference is almost certainly due to the fact that the Davis Strait bear population size had not yet recovered from centuries of overhunting and the number of seals was still quite small compared to the numbers that had increased over the next three decades : Currently, both the polar bears of Davis Strait and the seals are abundant (DFO 2012, 2014, 2020; Peacock et al. 2013) and the numbers could continue to rise, although the results of a recent bear survey in the area are still were not published.


Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) 2012. Current status of the Northwest Atlantic Seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus). Scientific advisory report 2011/070.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada DFO. 2014. Status of the Northwest Atlantic Seals, Pagophilus groenlandicus. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Sci. Advis. Rep. 2014/011.

DFO. 2020. 2019 Status of the Northwest Atlantic Seals, Pagophilus groenlandicus. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Sci. Advis. Rep. 2020/020. http://www.isdm-gdsi.gc.ca/csas-sccs/applications/Publications/result-eng.asp?params=0&series=7&year=2020 PDF here.

Peacock, E., Taylor, M. K., Laake, J. and Stirling, I. 2013. Polar bear population ecology in Davis Strait, Canada and Greenland. Journal of Wildlife Management 77:463-476. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jwmg.489/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

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