Estimating the abundance of the Southern Hudson Bay polar bear subpopulation with aerial surveys

Polar Biology
By: , and 

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Abstract

The Southern Hudson Bay (SH) polar bear subpopulation occurs at the southern extent of the species’ range. Although capture–recapture studies indicate abundance was likely unchanged between 1986 and 2005, declines in body condition and survival occurred during the period, possibly foreshadowing a future decrease in abundance. To obtain a current estimate of abundance, we conducted a comprehensive line transect aerial survey of SH during 2011–2012. We stratified the study site by anticipated densities and flew coastal contour transects and systematically spaced inland transects in Ontario and on Akimiski Island and large offshore islands in 2011. Data were collected with double-observer and distance sampling protocols. We surveyed small islands in James Bay and eastern Hudson Bay and flew a comprehensive transect along the Québec coastline in 2012. We observed 667 bears in Ontario and on Akimiski Island and nearby islands in 2011, and we sighted 80 bears on offshore islands during 2012. Mark–recapture distance sampling and sight–resight models yielded an estimate of 860 (SE = 174) for the 2011 study area. Our estimate of abundance for the entire SH subpopulation (943; SE = 174) suggests that abundance is unlikely to have changed significantly since 1986. However, this result should be interpreted cautiously because of the methodological differences between historical studies (physical capture–recapture) and this survey. A conservative management approach is warranted given previous increases in duration of the ice-free season, which are predicted to continue in the future, and previously documented declines in body condition and vital rates.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Estimating the abundance of the Southern Hudson Bay polar bear subpopulation with aerial surveys
Series title Polar Biology
DOI 10.1007/s00300-015-1737-5
Volume 38
Issue 10
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Springer-Verlag
Publisher location Heidelberg
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB
Description 13 p.
First page 1713
Last page 1725
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N