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Polar bears starvation risk as Hudson Bay ice is late arriving

By Lucy Brake - 23 Nov 2010 18:50:0 GMT
Polar bears starvation risk as Hudson Bay ice is late arriving

The delay in the annual winter ice that forms along the west coast of Hudson Bay has meant that hundreds of polar bears are facing potential starvation. Ice has been prevented from its normal formation by the region experiencing higher than usual temperatures. The Canadian Ice Service (CIS), part of Environment Canada, has confirmed that the ice is nearly one month behind its normal arrival time.

According to the CIS weather forecaster, Luc Desjardins, this is the lowest it has been for over 40 years. "The conditions that are currently occurring are indicative of the ice coverage that we would see probably in the mid-October time frame, rather than the mid-November," said Desjardins.

In his opinion, the 2010 levels of ice along this coast of Hudson Bay are not significantly different from the levels found over the last five or six years. However, it is the air temperature being consistently warmer, by about four degrees, which is causing all the concern.

Polar bears rely on the sea ice forming for catching seals and other mammals. The sea ice is used by polar bears during the winter as a platform to hunt from so they can build up fat reserves to survive through the summer season. So the real problem for the polar bears is that their feasting season is dwindling away.

Peter Ewin, an Arctic specialist for the World Wildlife Fund, says that "the longer that ice is in forming, the longer the polar bears have to survive on the fat reserves they put down in the spring and conserved right through the summer”. So he believes that the polar bears will become increasingly weak and less likely to make it through the summer periods.

Recent aerial surveys of the polar bears and their cubs have shown them to be in good condition. The results were "surprisingly pleasant," said Darryll Hedman, a regional wildlife manager for the provincial agency.

However, he points out that "as time goes on, and the ice doesn't come in, they're going to be getting hungrier and hungrier”. The increase in air temperature and the resulting late arrival of the ice into Hudson Bay has meant the local polar bear populations are increasingly at peril.

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Topics: Bear Articles