11/6/2014 4:29:49 PM

Where Are the Cubs?

I am thrilled to be back on the tundra this year to witness the polar bear migration and do web broadcasts with Polar Bears International®. We are talking to the public and school kids about climate change and polar bears. My role on the panel is to talk about climate change and sea ice, which are the focus of my research and teaching.

Our location next to Hudson Bay is a prime spot for polar bears to congregate while they wait for the Hudson Bay to freeze up. In the early part of the satellite record (the 1980s and early 1990s), the bay would freeze enough for polar bears to move out on the ice during this week. In the last few years the ice came on about mid-November, about 10 days later than in the earlier years. This year there is no sign of sea ice yet, and it was so warm that it rained the first two days this week.

At dinner tonight we talked about how the tourism industry has shifted to accommodate the change in sea ice. The old-timers who have been coming here since the 1980s said the final week of polar bear viewing is two weeks later now. Even still, the warm temperatures have made it more difficult for the Tundra Buggies® to transit the roads here to take the visitors to the shores of Hudson Bay.

The length of the ice-free season on western Hudson Bay was three months long in the early part of the satellite record; now it is four months long. This means the bears aren't feeding for 30 days longer than they used to here. We don't know when the bay will freeze sufficiently for the bears to go out this year, but I think it is unlikely to occur for another couple of weeks.

The few female bears I have seen look reasonably healthy. They will survive until the bay freezes over. But where are the cubs? I haven't seen any yet. The folks who have been here for the whole season say they have seen just a handful of cubs. It is hard to know if we are seeing a representative sample here, but the lack of young bears worries me. The young and the old are the first to go in a population.

The bears have a melancholy demeanor. They are silent, except for the occasional snort. We can protect this species and many others from extinction if we act together to stop climate change. We can all do something to help. Perhaps the most important is to sign the PBI petition to ask for meaningful governmental action to stop climate change and save arctic sea ice.

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