Amid viral pandemic UK photographer captures images of Canadian polar bear cubs

The Sun ran a photo-essay yesterday (22 March 2020, below) taken by a UK photographer who went to Wapusk National Park just south of Churchill, Manitoba in order to get much-coveted images of polar bear mothers and cubs newly emerged from winter maternity dens. The photos were said to have been taken “early last week” (16-17 March?).

Sun pb emerging with cubs feature 22 March 2020 lead photo

The trees in the photos are a give-away to the location: no other subpopulation regions except Western and Southern Hudson Bay are below the treeline. Scrubby little spruces but ‘trees’ nonetheless. Mothers in more northern regions won’t come out with their cubs until April.

The question is: what was this photographer thinking to travel to a remote Arctic location in the middle of a global pandemic?

Let’s just hope “Brian Matthews, 41, from Hartlepool, Co Durham” didn’t take the Chinese coronovirus with him when he went to Canada. By the end of February, it was quite apparent that something very serious was going on and travel was ill-advised.

I therefore found it surprising that with a deadly pandemic in play across the world, Mr Matthews was not only willing to risk exposing the aboriginal people who run these spring polar bear cub emergence tours to this novel virus but all other people he came in contact with along the way. Perhaps Sun reporter John Sturgis, responsible for putting the feature together, should have thought to ask. As it is, we don’t know the details: perhaps Matthew had been in Canada for weeks, well before the seriousness of the global situation was apparent.

Ultimately, however, his timing was lucky on this trip: at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday 19 March, Wapusk National Park was closed because of the Chinese virus and on Wednesday 18 March, Canada banned entry of virtually all non-Canadian travelers into the country.

Suggested reading

Amstrup, S.C. and Gardner, C. 1994. Polar bear maternity denning in the Beaufort Sea. The Journal of Wildlife Management 58:1-10. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3809542?uid=3739400&uid=2&uid=3737720&uid=4&sid=21101008172123

Ramsay, M.A. and Stirling, I. 1988. Reproductive biology and ecology of female polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Journal of Zoology London 214:601-624. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-7998.1988.tb03762.x/abstract

Obbard, M. E. and Walton, L.R. 2004. The importance of polar bear provincial park to the southern Hudson Bay polar bear population in the context of future climate change. Proceedings of the Parks Research Forum of Ontario (PRFO):105-116. [added July 26, 2013] pdf here.

Van de Velde (OMI), F., Stirling, I. and Richardson, E. 2003. Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) denning in the area of the Simpson Peninsula, Nunavut. Arctic 56:191-197. http://arctic.synergiesprairies.ca/arctic/index.php/arctic/article/view/615

via polarbearscience

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March 23, 2020 at 11:30AM

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