A polar bear in Gaspésie, Quebec!
A polar bear was seen in the Gaspé Peninsula on May 1, near the municipality of Sainte-Madeleine-de-la-Rivière-Madeleine. Due to the risks to public safety, conservation officers from the ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs had to resign themselves to fatally shoot the animal. The bear carcass was submitted to the Centre québécois sur la santé des animaux sauvages (CWHC-Quebec) for analysis. The bear in question was a 300 kg male estimated to be around 5- or 6-year-old. The animal was in very good body condition; its reserves of subcutaneous and perivisceral fat being abundant. Our examinations did not identify any health problem in this animal. The very good body condition observed indicates that this bear has been able to eat properly over the past few weeks or months. Although polar bears are associated with arctic habitats, the presence of this species is occasionally documented along the coasts of Labrador, Newfoundland and the region of Basse-Côte-Nord in Quebec. In fact, a polar bear was observed in multiple locations in the Basse-Côte-Nord at the beginning of April. Many believe that the bear seen in Gaspésie could well be the one observed on the Basse-Côte-Nord. This animal would have crossed the Gulf of St. Lawrence, on ice or swimming. At this level, the Gulf is just over 100 km wide, which is well below the documented maximum non-stop swimming distance for a polar bear (over 600 km).
We can hypothesize that this exploration behaviour is related to a search for food sources. The traditional habitat of the polar bear is strongly altered by climate changes. This species is a specialist in hunting seals on the pack ice. With the melting of the ice getting earlier and earlier, the period suitable for this type of seal hunt is getting shorter and shorter. This seems to push polar bears to diversify their diet. For example, polar bears have been documented hunting caribou or waterfowl. It is possible that the presence of large numbers of harp seals, which give birth on the ice off the coast of Labrador, is attracting polar bears south. With the global changes to come, this type of exploration outside its usual distribution area could be more and more frequent in this species.
Polar bear photo from Jean Bergeron’s facebook account.
Stéphane Lair, RCSF – Quebec