Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut November 29, 2016 - 1:10 pm

Tracking collars reduce need to disturb or handle polar bears: federal agency

Environment Canada currently tracking 12 collared bears in western Hudson Bay

SARAH ROGERS
An Arviat hunter took a photo of this emaciated polar bear, its paws, head and skin already removed, after it was put down outside of Arviat Nov. 22. The female had recently been fitted with a collar to track her movement. (PHOTO BY TONY ULUADLUAK)
An Arviat hunter took a photo of this emaciated polar bear, its paws, head and skin already removed, after it was put down outside of Arviat Nov. 22. The female had recently been fitted with a collar to track her movement. (PHOTO BY TONY ULUADLUAK)

There are currently 12 polar bears in the western Hudson Bay region fitted with tracking collars, put in place by Environment and Climate Change Canada to monitor the animals’ condition and movement through the year, the federal department says.

That number doesn’t include an emaciated female polar bear that was euthanized in Arviat last week after she was seen exhibiting aggressive behaviour and trying to walk into the community multiple times.

Environment Canada officials said they were made aware of the polar bear’s behaviour once it reached Arviat and the decision to euthanize the animal.

This particular female polar bear was fitted with a collar near Churchill, Man., last September, the agency confirmed.

The 22-year-old polar bear also had twin cubs with her at the time she was collared, through the cubs were nowhere in sight when she reached Arviat.

Inuit in Nunavut worry that collars disrupt polar bears’ natural routines and ability to hunt food, though it’s not yet clear why this polar bear was so thin or if it suffered from disease.

Environment Canada said all its research projects and the handling of live animals are extensively reviewed and approved by the department’s animal care committees.

Western Hudson Bay polar bears are monitored as part of a long-term research project to track the sub-population’s movement patterns and how the animals respond to changing sea ice conditions throughout the year.

“Without satellite collars we cannot assess the movements of bears across seasons—many bears move tens of thousands of kilometres during the winter months,” Environment Canada told Nunatsiaq News in a Nov. 28 email.

“Collars are efficient because they provide high quality data and minimize the need to disturb or handle bears.”

Only adult female polar bears are collared, however, because the necks of adult males are wider than their skulls and collars wouldn’t stay on.

The tracking collars are programmed to provide location data for a period of two years, the agency said.

The devices are fitted with a release mechanism that opens on a fixed date, which means that the collar can be recovered without the need to recapture the animal.

Government of Nunavut wildlife officers in Arviat took samples of the euthanized bear last week. They will be analyzed to determine what condition the animal was in before she died.

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