Monday, 26 August 2019

Another day, another bear

I have been to the Canadian Arctic five times before this year and never seen a polar bear. The Alex field crew joked that I was the bear deterrent especially after we saw no bears when I was at Alex last year. That all changed this summer. As we flew into Alexandra Fiord, we saw bear tracks all over the snow on the sea ice of the Fiord. As our pilot circled to check out a good spot to land on the sea ice, a bear was spotted up the far end of the fiord. Bear protocol went into effect on landing. We carried guns and bear bangers as we ferried our supplies and gear up to the camp buildings.
Ferrying our gear by pulk across the sea ice to camp with bear protocol in effect.

A couple of days later we spotted a mum and two yearling cubs at the far end of the fiord, just tiny specs in the distance even through the telescope.
Mum polar bear and two yearlings seen through the telescope
several kilometers away down the fiord (photo by Signe Lett)
Then a day later Mum walked by with her cubs about a kilometer or so out on the sea ice from our camp. All four of us in camp were filming and photographing, awestruck by this amazing scene of mum trying to get her two somewhat wayward kids to follow her. One of the cubs spotted us, stood on its hind legs in a typical curious pose and started walking towards us to check us out, the sibling followed and Mum then reluctantly followed too. They got to the land fast ice several hundred meters below our camp and Mum barked an order that this was close enough. We also felt this was close enough and fired a bear banger in warning and off they ran and continued their trek down the fiord.
Mum and yearling cubs out on the sea ice
Mum and yearling cubs on the jumbled ice between the sea ice
and land fast ice below our camp looking curiously at us

A couple of days later at about 11pm we happened to look out the dining area window and saw a young female bear checking out our compost pile and clearly interested in a cabbage leaf. We nicknamed her ‘cabbage patch bear’. We all headed out with gun and bear bangers at the ready and chased her away. A somewhat exciting end to a relaxing rainy, windy Sunday in camp.
Less than 24 hours later another bear, an adult female, wondered into camp a little cautiously and inquisitive as to what was going on. Again, we went out as a group to chase the bear away firing a couple of bear bangers to hasten her departure. She gambled off at a good pace. I was amazed at how quickly she covered ground reaching the river delta and sea ice in mere minutes where it would take us half an hour.
Watching ‘Cabbage patch bear’ pay a visit to our camp.
We scared her away with bear bangers to discourage
her from returning. (photo by Signe Lett)
And so it continued. I spotted a female with one young cub from this year on the sea ice just out from camp running away, we must have scared her off as she approached camp. Then a few days later while I was doing the daily morning seal count, I spotted a female with two young cubs from this year walking down the fiord on the bear highway a couple of kilometers out on the sea ice. The young cubs are so fun to watch running and playing as they follow mum. We think we saw 14 different polar bears in the first couple of weeks we were at Alex and since then nothing. The ice has now all gone from the fiord so no seals close by but there are plenty of seals out in Hayes Fiord where there is still ice so likely the bears have moved on to new hunting grounds.
Two young frolicking polar bear cubs
following mum across Alexandra Fiord.

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