Nfld. & Labrador

Pack ice scarce off Eastern Canada

Much of the ocean near Newfoundland and Labrador is reported to be devoid of pack ice — a condition that hasn't been seen in at least 40 years.

Lack of ice could hurt seal population

A Canadian Coast Guard official said Monday that many parts of the ocean near Newfoundland and Labrador are devoid of pack ice — a condition that hasn't been seen in at least 40 years.

"It's been an unusual year this year, to the point that there is no ice. There have been high temperatures, high winds, and as a result we have very little ice," said Dan Frampton, the Coast Guard's supervisor of ice operations. "By this time of year, pack ice is usually down to the St. John's area."

Frampton said icebreakers have been idle because there's no pack ice in the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula and southern Labrador, as well as in the Gulf of St. Lawrence or further north off central Labrador.

"Our data says we haven't seen a year like this since 1969 but when I took a closer look at it, it looks like this year there is actually less ice than 1969," he said." The northeast coast [of Newfoundland] is wide open."

Frampton says pack ice usually forms during January and February. He said even if temperatures drop in March it's unlikely that ice conditions will change significantly this year.

Seals need ice

It could be a problem for harp seals that give birth to pups on the ice. In the Gulf of St. Lawrence their population can swell to a million but with next to no ice this year only 500 seals have been counted so far. Heli-tour operators have already cancelled the season and sealers fear their hunt won't happen.

Researchers say it's more than just a one-year change.

"Over the last decade, the ice hasn't been as heavy as it had been for the previous decade, which suggests a longer-term trend," said Mike Hammill, who studies ice conditions for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Hammill predicts the lack of ice could lead to higher mortality among seal pups. He says the seal population is large enough to survive this, but that may not be the case if ice conditions remain poor for many years.

People living on Quebec's Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence confirm the pack ice they usually see at this time of year hasn't formed near their shores.

"Yes, there's only water around the island. There's no ice at all around the island. There's no ice at all," said veteran mariner Jean-Claude Lapierre. "I'm 69 years old and I never saw that before. I talked to the older people and it's the first time they saw that."