Hudson Bay, glimpsed through the spruce trees, remains ice-free in the unseasonably warm weather. Across the Arctic, sea ice is at a record low, as the graph at the bottom of this post shows.

© Madison Stevens/Polar Bears International

1/9/2017 2:16:26 AM

Polar Bear Week on the Tundra

By Andrew Derocher

It’s been a wild week out in polar bear habitat at the Tundra Buggy Lodge. BBC Two joined us this year, broadcasting their Arctic Live program from Buggy One. The series aired live in the UK for three nights during prime time. It was quite the operation but went off without a hitch. Sharing the polar bear's situation with over two million viewers in the UK helped bring the information to a new audience.

It’s been a strange November on the shores of Hudson Bay. Across the Arctic, sea ice has been at a record low and this seems to have carried over to November. The bears overall are in fair shape for this time of year but a few are definitely running out of fat stores.

During the fasting period onshore as they wait for the sea ice to return, polar bears burn about one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body mass per day. Bigger bears burn more and smaller bears less. If a mother bear is in good shape, she’ll keep nursing her cubs and that will help them get back out on the sea ice. If mom runs out of fat stores, she can’t produce milk and the cubs will quickly deplete their own stores. This is one reason why we’re seeing a low number of yearlings. A low cub survival rate is one of the reasons the core of the western Hudson Bay population has declined about 30%.

There’s no sea ice anywhere in Hudson Bay yet—not even in the northern part of the Bay where ice should be forming. It’s above freezing today and if the forecast holds, it will be a record high for this date. It was 10 degrees colder last year at this time. The bears would benefit from some colder weather. While freeze-up doesn’t create great hunting conditions, it does allow the bears access to seals that have “forgotten” that polar bears are a threat. We always see some seal kills right at freeze-up.

It’s been a great week with PBI on the tundra. It’s an amazing place to be and the bears are always magical to watch.

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