Polar bears not starving, says Nunatsiavut wildlife manager

One of the people who oversees an Indigenous polar bear hunt in Labrador says the population is doing quite well despite a recent National Geographic photo that might suggest otherwise.

Jim Goudie says there are lots of bears the in northern Labrador/Quebec region

This monster polar bear was photographed in Labrador in 2016. Research suggests numbers of the animals have been increasing since before 2007. (Submitted by Edwin Clark)

One of the people who oversees an Indigenous hunt of polar bears says the population is doing well, despite heart-wrenching photos online suggesting some bears are starving.

Every year, the Nunatsiavut government awards polar bear licences to Inuit hunters living in the northern Labrador settlement area.

The Inuit set a quota of 12 polar bears this winter. Nunatsiavut wildlife manager Jim Goudie said all 12 were taken within the first seven days of the season.

A 2007 study showed that there were roughly 2,150 bears in the Davis Strait region, which was nearly 1,300 more than previously thought. A new study is currently underway to determine if that trend has continued. (pbsg.npolar.no)

Goudie said it's just the latest evidence that polar bears are on the rebound in northern Canada — a trend he said officials have been recording for years.

"There are lots of signs of bears," he told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning. "Lots of bears and a continuation of what we've seen over the last three or four years."

The Nunatsiavut hunt takes place over an area stretching from Cape Chidley at the northern tip of Labrador to Fish Cove Point further south near Rigolet.

Goudie said the majority of the bears are killed in the Nain and Hopedale areas.

"You can go wherever you want to within Nunatsiavut or the Labrador Inuit settlement area to harvest your polar bear," he said. "Anywhere outside of Nunatsiavut boundaries, the harvest would be illegal."

This polar bear was hunted near Makkovik by Darrell Voisey earlier this year. (Submitted by Darrell Voisey)

Those who hunt bears are legally obligated to donate any meat they don't use, but they are free to do what they want with the pelts.

Most opt to sell them to wealthy buyers from Canada to East Asia, and each pelt is embedded with a computer chip to prove it was acquired through a legal hunt.

Healthy numbers, misinformed public

Goudie said prior to a 2007 survey, it was estimated there were about 880 polar bears in the northern Labrador and northern Quebec regions.

However, the study actually found 2,152 animals, a significant increase over the earlier estimate.

Researchers are now two years into a new study, and Goudie said word of mouth indicates the population is continuing to rebound.

"I think our polar bear population is very, very healthy," he said. "The Davis Strait polar bear population is probably one of the most healthy in Canada, and certainly in the world."

Nancy Zydler took this photo of a bear that bumped against her 44-foot yacht while she and her husband were sailing along the north Labrador coast. (Submitted by Nancy Zydler)

Goudie said while there are a few different polar bear groups that are in trouble, the majority are thriving.

He said despite that, most people have no idea and — from what he sees online — many seem to think that polar bears are in trouble and in decline globally.

Goudie points to one post he saw recently from National Geographic that showed what appeared to be a starving polar bear, but in reality was an animal that was sick.

"It's an easy story to put out there, that polar bears are in massive trouble. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue or keep my fingers off the keyboard when I see those social media posts," he said.

With files from Labrador Morning