Predator vs. Predator
A lone lone polar bear ambles along the western shore of Hudson Bay, just outside the town of Churchill, Man. Every few minutes, she stops on the rocky beach, stands on her rear legs and peers across the bay’s open waters. Something out there has caught her attention.
It’s late August 2011. Months will pass before the increasingly unpredictable sea ice forms, providing a platform from which to hunt seals and fatten up after several lean months on land. It’s not ice, however longingly anticipated, that has the bear scanning the cold, grey water. About 300 metres from shore, seven triangular dorsal fins betray the position of a group of unusual visitors to the bay: killer whales. Perhaps the polar bear is just as surprised to see the whales as the tourists, whose Zodiac idles about six metres from the pod. The boat’s driver-a lifelong Churchill resident-is astonished.
“Oh, man, I can’t believe I’m looking at orcas!” Remi Foubert-Allen shouts over the noise of an outboard motor. “Look at the male’s dorsal fin. It must be seven feet!” He knows something most people don’t: until recently, killer whales have been a rare sight in Hudson Bay.
Jobie Attitaq, an Inuit hunter in Arctic Bay, Nunavut, has observed the same thing on the northwest coast of Baffin Island, 1,600 kilometres from Churchill. “In the late 1990s, we started to notice killer whales were coming around to Admiralty Inlet and even into Adam Sound and right here into Arctic Bay,” says Attitaq, chair of the hamlet’s Hunters and Trappers Organization. “We never experienced this before. Now we get them often.”
In fact, killer whale sightings in Hudson Bay and the wider eastern Canadian Arctic have increased since the year 2000, leading scientists to consider the rise of a new apex predator in the North. They say disappearing sea ice is opening up new hunting grounds for killer whales. At the same time, the vanishing mass is narrowing habitat for the North’s long-reigning monarch: the polar bear.