Still Hanging On ...

Friday, July 15, 2011 - 14:01
Contributor:

Polar bear on melting sea iceDespite some polar bears coming off the ice a couple of weeks ago, several of our satellite-collared bears are still out in Hudson Bay. Presumably these bears are trying to catch a few more seals before they have no choice but to come ashore. There isn't much ice left in Hudson Bay and the ice cover is far below normal. A worry is that some of the bears may be trying desperately to fatten up—observations from the coast of Hudson Bay have indicated wide variation in the condition of the bears already ashore. Some are chubby and others look far too lean for July.

Variation in polar bear body condition is normal, but with the backdrop of the longer term decline in body weights, there is concern that we could see a large part of the population struggling to make it through the ice-free period. The temperature hit 74 F (23 C) yesterday and this is a fair bit above average. Any ice left in the bay won't be there for much longer. Once all the bears are ashore, the waiting begins. When will freeze-up come?

In the Arctic as a whole, sea ice as of July 15 is now below the levels seen in 2007, which was the year when the record low ice cover was recorded (see chart below from the National Snow and Ice Data Center). It's easy to focus on the Hudson Bay polar bears, but it's clear that other populations are undergoing similar challenges.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent 7-15-2011

Polar bear on melting ice photo ©Daniel J. Cox/Natural Exposures.

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