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The Labrador Sea is between Greenland, Labrador, and Qikiqtaaluk:

Map of Labrador sea
Map source.

A Greenlandic source on polar bears states:

In Greenland the polar bear lives and breeds in the northernmost parts of West Greenland and in Northeast Greenland, but is also occasionally seen elsewhere in Greenland, as it moves with the drifting ice.

However, it is extremely rare for either local inhabitants or tourists to see a living polar bear. The chances of seeing a polar bear are greatest when sailing by ship along the coast.

On the other hand, Parks Canada for Torngat Mountains National Park (northern Labrador) states:

Polar bears are true carnivores and can be a significant risk to human beings. Visitors travelling and camping in the park are in polar bear country and are at high risk of encounters. Polar bears are almost always present along the north Labrador coast.

The observation that polar bears are more common in Labrador than in southern Greenland is supported by Derocher (2010), Nature:

Polar bear distribution, Derocher (2010), Nature
Derocher (2010), Nature

Polar bears like the sea ice edge, but this is very far from either Labrador or Greenland when at its fall minimum. When sea ice is at its spring maximum, both Labrador and almost all of Greenland are packed deeply in ice (see maps below).

Then why are polar bears so much more common in Labrador than they are in southern Greenland? Arey they really? And how do they survive all summer long, when the sea ice is very, very far away? The occasional tourist might not be enough, I guess.

Arctic minimum sea ice
Arctic minimum sea ice from NSIDC

Arctic maximum sea ice
Arctic maximum sea ice from NSIDC

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  • $\begingroup$ (I was hesitating between Biology and Earth Science for this question) $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Mar 3, 2015 at 4:30
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not a polar bear biologist, but Labrador has trees and caribou and things, while Greenland has a lot less of those things. Labrador has 150 forest fires a year, but searching for 'greenland forest fires' mostly turns up ash from other places landing on Greenland. Labrador has a higher carrying capacity for large predators, I guess. On the other hand polar bears eat seals? I've heard that. So. I guess 'food' but I'm not sure. $\endgroup$
    – Resonating
    Mar 3, 2015 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Resonating It is true that Greenland is almost completely treeless, whereas Labrador has forest — but the forest is mostly inland. Inland forest is not a natural habitat for polar bears. Also, as far as I know, Labrador polar bears are mainly in the north; see for example the Torngat Mountains links. The Torngat Mountains don't have a lot of trees. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Mar 3, 2015 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ Then I officially have no idea. Excellent question! $\endgroup$
    – Resonating
    Mar 3, 2015 at 20:44

1 Answer 1

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I think the lack of sea ice coverage would point you somewhere- even with the maximum sea ice coverage picture, the SW corner of Greenland has next to none, which may impact the carrying capacity for both bears and prey animals on that narrow strip of land between the ice cap and the sea- less space and less things to hunt, less ways to get around, etc. And then there's not much continental shelf over there, either.

Labrador is surrounded by more continental shelf, which might contribute to higher levels of sea ice at high levels and greater seasonality. Might lead to more prey?

This article might get you somewhere:Polar Bears in a Warming Climate

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  • $\begingroup$ Hmm. But during maximum sea ice coverage, polar bears are hibernating, aren't they? $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Mar 11, 2015 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ Polar bears don't generally hibernate- they need the sea ice to hunt seals (ambushing them at their breathing holes, for example). See: "However, polar bears, with the exception of pregnant females, do not hibernate like other bear species, they rather roam the ice in search of seals in winter (DeMaster and Stirling, 1981)." From Lennox and Goodship, 2007 $\endgroup$
    – Cal_Wes
    Mar 12, 2015 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ The pregnant females tricked me! $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Mar 13, 2015 at 4:10

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