Polar bears are rapidly disappearing from western Hudson Bay at the southern tip of the Canadian Arctic, according to a government survey.
The report says there has been a dramatic decline in the number of female bears and cubs in particular.
Researchers have flown over the region, which includes the town of Churchill, a tourist destination billed as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World”, every five years to count bear numbers and extrapolate population trends.
In the last survey in late August and early September 2021, the results of which were released earlier this month, they spotted 194 bears and, based on that count, estimated a total population of 618, compared to 842 five years earlier.
Comparison with aerial survey estimates from 2011 and 2016 suggests that the western Hudson Bay population “may be declining in abundance,” according to the study.
It also found “significant declines in the abundance of adult females and subadult bears between 2011 and 2021”.
“The observed declines are consistent with long-standing predictions about the demographic effects of climate change on polar bears,” the researchers said.
They also discussed possible displacements to neighboring regions and the hunt for population decline.
Sea ice habitat for bears has been disappearing at an alarming rate, with the planet’s far north warming up to four times faster than the rest of the world.
Sea ice has become thinner and is breaking up earlier in the spring and freezing later in the fall.
Bears depend on the ice to be able to hunt seals, move around and reproduce.
Sea ice in Hudson Bay has shrunk nearly 50% in summer since the 1980s, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.
A report published two years ago in the journal Nature Climate Change suggested the trend could lead to the near extinction of the bay’s polar bears, noting there were 1,200 on its western shores in the 1980s .