According to a recent government assessment, polar bears are rapidly vanishing from the western side of Hudson Bay, at the southernmost point of the Canadian Arctic. Particularly, the number of mother bears and their pups has dramatically decreased.
Every five years, scientists have flown over the area to count the bears and estimate population trends, which includes the town of Churchill, a popular tourist attraction dubbed the “polar bear capital of the world.”
They observed 194 bears during the most recent survey, which was conducted in late August and early September 2021, and based on that count, they calculated that there were 618 bears overall, down from 842 five years earlier.
The study concluded that there may be a decline in the abundance of the WH (Western Hudson Bay population) based on comparisons to aerial survey estimates from 2011 and 2016. Between 2011 and 2021, it also “indicated considerable reductions in the quantity of adult female and subadult bears (cubs).”
According to previous projections about the demographic consequences of climate change on polar bears, “the observed decreases are consistent with those expectations,” the researchers noted.
The population drop was attributed to hunting as well as potential bear relocation to nearby areas. As a result of the far north warming up to four times faster than the rest of the world, the sea ice habitat for bears has been vanishing at an alarming rate.
The thickness of the sea ice has decreased, and it now breaks up earlier in the spring and freezes later in the fall. The ice is essential to bear locomotion, breeding, and seal foraging. According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, the bay’s summer ice pack has shrunk by close to 50% during the 1980s.