Polar Bears Seen From Cape Churchill Tower
Yesterday I accompanied a group of volunteers from Polar Bears International who flew by chopper out to Cape Churchill. Our mission was to refuel the remote robotic camera that is perched in the tower and used for science and data collection. It’s October 29, and Hudson Bay is wide open. There’s not an ounce of ice anywhere on the big open water. Three days ago the freshwater lakes began to freeze and today the temperatures have been no higher than about 16 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s good news for the polar bears. Hudson Bay needs to freeze so they can get out and start hunting again.
From the Cape tower we counted 14 large males just hanging out in the willows. A couple showed some curiosity when we began our chores of hoisting the fuel cell fuel into the tower. A couple of cracker shells had to be fired their direction to keep them from coming closer. So far this year at the lodge the number of bears have been sparse. Maybe a half dozen here and there.
What concerns me is how gaunt the bears have looked around the lodge. One female with two cubs hasn’t moved more than a few hundred yards in the three weeks I’ve been here. I thought maybe this was normal but checking with others I’m told it’s fewer numbers than we usually see this time of year. I’m typically not here this early in the season. The predictions by the scientists PBI work with talk about how the polar bear numbers in this area will decrease slowly. First to be missing will be the young and the very old. The strong and healthy will survive the longest. Seeing the large, healthy males at Cape and so few young bears around camp makes me concerned the change in climate might be talking it’s toll faster than expected.
A recent report put together by Dr. Steve Amstrup gives us much to be concerned about regarding the speed that climate change is taking place. The following is a quote from Dr. Amstrup in a recent email he sent Polar Bears International president Robert Buchanan. He said, “Compared to the long term mean summer ice extent, this year alone, we lost over a million square miles of sea ice. That is an area the size of Alaska plus Texas plus Washington state combined.”