11/6/2012 3:58:06 PM

Fingers Crossed

I landed in Churchill on Saturday to a rather blustery snowy day: perfect polar bear conditions. Cold creates a sense of optimism in the polar bear world. After two days of a warming trend, however, it feels decidedly less Arctic. Tomorrow we'll creep above freezing. Early November is a variable time of year for polar bears but there's no sense that the bears will be leaving soon. The shores of Hudson Bay are devoid of ice and a cold snap would be most welcome. I'm currently out on Buggy One with Polar Bears International to do outreach and webcasts.

Variation is a hallmark of the Arctic but the 2012 record low in sea ice was a grim reminder that we have to get serious about greenhouse gas emissions. The bears I've seen so far on this trip appear to be in better condition than the last few years. On the downside, there just doesn't appear to be as many. Watching a mother with two cubs-of-the-year shuffling along the shoreline picking at seaweed gives one a sense of urgency. The cubs are doing OK but they'd do a lot better if their mother could head out onto the ice to hunt. There are precious few reports of mothers with cubs and even fewer of mothers with yearlings this year.

The paucity of bears feels strange but it's hard to say what it means. An aerial survey planned for next week will give some additional insights. Early indications are that there just aren't as many bears about this year but we need hard data to know what's happening. When I first came to Churchill in 1984, the bears were gone by mid-November. That's clearly not going to happen and we know that a delayed freeze-up is tough on the bears. Fingers crossed.

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