The movement patterns of two polar bears that spent the winter in southern James Bay look like spaghetti when viewed over several months. Both bears came ashore on Akimiski Island in the last week of June, when James Bay was largely ice free. Map by Kevin Middel.

7/24/2015 6:54:42 PM

Journey of Southern Hudson Bay Polar Bears

Martyn Obbard

Polar bears carrying GPS/satellite radio collars in the Southern Hudson Bay study began to move out onto the band of landfast ice that was forming along the Ontario coast of Hudson Bay and James Bay in late November of 2014. 

By December 1st, the bears were at the leading edge of the rapidly forming ice as it spread east across James Bay from the Ontario coast towards Quebec. By December 8th, some bears were already close to the Quebec coast near Long Island, where Hudson Bay and James Bay meet on the Quebec side of James Bay.  

By early January of this year, the whole of Hudson Bay and James Bay were ice-covered. Several of the bears followed a familiar pattern, remaining in the region between the Belcher Islands and the Quebec coast in eastern Hudson Bay. Others wandered as far north as the Ottawa Islands at 60°N. An amazing amount of walking in a short time! 

Two of our collared bears followed a different path and headed to the southern end of James Bay. In fact, those two bears spent the entire winter and spring in the vicinity of Charlton Island and other smaller islands in southern James Bay.

By mid-May, we saw the first signs of ice beginning to deteriorate off the mouths of the major rivers flowing into James Bay. As the ice receded north in James Bay, the bears followed it. By the last week of June, James Bay was largely ice free, and two of our bears came ashore on Akimiski Island. 

The rest of our collared bears stayed far out on the ice in eastern Hudson Bay, west and south of the Belcher Islands, extending their hunting opportunities as long as possible.  By mid-July, two more bears had left the ice and come ashore near Cape Henrietta Maria, where Hudson Bay and James Bay meet on the Ontario side. 

However, at this writing (July 20th), five more bears remain on the ice far from the Ontario coast. Their journey over the next few weeks will be interesting to monitor as the ice is deteriorating more rapidly now. Their journey may include a very long swim to the Ontario coast. Stay tuned!

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