GN meets with Foxe Bay polar bear hunters on survey results

Sub-population “appears to be stable and in good health,” says GN

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

The numbers of polar bears in the Foxe Basin appear to be stable, according to researchers with Nunavut's environment department. (FILE PHOTO)


The numbers of polar bears in the Foxe Basin appear to be stable, according to researchers with Nunavut’s environment department. (FILE PHOTO)

According to the latest survey conducted by the Government of Nunavut, the Foxe Basin polar bear sub-population “appears to be stable and in good health,” a GN news release stated June 26.

Consultations to share the results of the 2009 to 2010 Foxe Basin polar bear survey began this week, with Hunters and Trappers Organization meetings scheduled in Chesterfield Inlet, Repulse Bay, Coral Harbour, Cape Dorset, Kimmirut, Igloolik and Hall Beach.

Researchers with the GN’s environment department, representatives from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and HTO members will meet to discuss the research findings and what they mean for polar bear management in the Foxe Basin, the GN said.

The quota for communities in the Foxe Basin now stands at 106 polar bears a year.

“Foxe Basin is one of many examples of the effectiveness of Nunavut’s polar bear co-management system,” said James Arreak, Nunavut’s environment minister, in the news release. “This is one of several sub-populations in Nunavut that is doing well, and is supporting a sustainable harvest because of our successful and collaborative co-management and monitoring efforts.”

The Foxe Basin survey used aerial survey methods and involved Inuit community members as observers, the GN said.

The survey did not involve handling of polar bears.

The estimated number of polar bears in the Foxe Basin is 2,580 animals, a number which the GN said is comparable to the estimate from the early 1990s, “even though annual harvest rates have also remained stable over the past 20 years.”

“Inuit knowledge and scientific observations of polar bear body condition and litter sizes suggest that the subpopulation is healthy overall,” the GN said.

The aerial survey results did not provide evidence to suggest that climate change is “negatively influencing” polar bears in the Foxe Basin area.

The Department of Environment carried out aerial surveys in Foxe Basin in 2009 and 2010 in September when polar bears are easily found along the coastlines.

The aerial survey replaced an earlier GN plan to tag 300 polar bears which angered hunters who said they didn’t want t see the animals tranquilized and fitted with radio-frequency ear tags.

That survey scheme was also opposed by the Kivalliq Wildlife Board and provoked strong reaction from NTI.

However, some maintain an aerial survey is not as reliable on providing population numbers as a mark-and-recapture surveys, when researchers shoot polar bears with tranquilizers, tag them, and then return every year for three years to mark more and count the proportion of polar bears with older tags.

But the GN decided to conduct an aerial survey on two successive years, so researchers could compare the results and see if the method produced reliable data.

The researchers flew 300 hours and 40,000 kilometres during each year’s survey and observed 816 and 1,003 polar bears in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

“In both years, we observed high numbers of bears on islands in northern Foxe Basin and on Southampton Island, neighboring islands and near Lyon Inlet,” says the GN survey report.

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