Extreme lack of sea ice in Hudson Bay puts polar bears under pressure

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Sea crystal successful Canada's Hudson Bay has been unusually precocious to form, raising fears implicit the interaction connected polar bears that hunt for seals connected the ice

Environment 6 December 2021

By Adam Vaughan

polar bears

A lone polar carnivore on Hudson Bay

Cindy Hopkins / Alamy

An utmost deficiency of oversea crystal successful Canada this wintertime should service arsenic a “wake-up call” for the hazard clime alteration poses to polar bears, accidental conservationists.

Ice usually starts gathering up crossed Hudson Bay successful November, but the country has remained astir wholly ice-free successful the look of temperatures 6°C supra average. In the north-western portion of the bay, crystal grade is astatine a grounds low, with conscionable 13 per cent of the country covered successful ice. In an mean year, 70-80 per cent of this portion of the bay is covered successful crystal by this signifier successful the year.

That has near polar bears lasting by the shore, waiting for the crystal to signifier truthful they tin hunt seals. Temperatures successful caller days person begun dropping and the US Snow and Ice Data Centre says the bay volition yet frost this winter. But the bureau says the existent debased is “extreme” and, crossed the bay arsenic a whole, 2nd lone to 2010 for this clip of year.

“It’s precise unusual. It’s precise low,” says Brandon Laforest astatine WWF Canada. “I don’t deliberation this is panic and everything is collapsing, but it’s indicative of the broader inclination [of oversea crystal loss].”

Climate alteration has driven Arctic oversea crystal to diminution astatine astir 13 per cent per decade.

“It’s not bully [for the bears],” says Peter Convey, an ecologist astatine the British Antarctic Survey. “The longer they don’t person oversea ice, they get a gradual nonaccomplishment successful condition. A batch volition past it [this year]. But it tips the equilibrium towards stress-related mortality. Fewer volition survive.”

Research suggests that astir each the world’s remaining 26,000 polar bears volition beryllium pushed to the borderline of their fasting limits by the extremity of the period owed to clime change. Laforest says that portion bears successful the precocious Arctic are presently doing fine, the sub-population successful the Hudson Bay country are the canaries successful the ember mine. 

“They are the archetypal to spell done these wide implications of clime change,” helium says. “We request to instrumentality these informing signals for what they are. It’s a wake-up call.

The distant quality of the portion successful which the bears hunt, and the outgo of tracking them, means it volition beryllium hard to measurement precisely what interaction this year’s precocious frost has connected the animals. In the meantime, Laforest says determination whitethorn beryllium much human-wildlife struggle arsenic bare bears rotation into Inuit communities successful hunt of food. The precocious crystal is besides impacting radical successful the region, helium notes, arsenic they cannot entree their accustomed hunting grounds. 

The National Snow and Ice Data Center successful the US says the representation for the Arctic arsenic a full is mixed, with oversea crystal grade lone the tenth lowest connected grounds for November. On the Russian broadside of the Arctic, oversea crystal maturation has been supra mean successful the Bering Sea, trapping ships successful crystal and disrupting supplies to Siberian cities.

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