Polar Bear Facts
– Polar bears inhabit the circumpolar regions around the north pole, including northern Russia, the Canadian Arctic, the coast of Alaska, Greenland (Denmark) and Norway’s Spitzbergen Island. 25,000-30,000 polar bears are thought to exist worldwide with Canada home to around 15,000 of these animals.
– They spend the vast majority of their lives on sea ice with only a few populations spending significant time on land. The exception being pregnant females who more commonly venture onto land to prepare their maternity dens.
– One of the most effectively managed arctic species, polar bears are not endangered. However, as a top predator, they are considered high risk to environmental change, including pollution, climate change and human impact, such as overhunting.
– There are twenty partially discrete polar bear populations known to exist. Three of these populations frequent Hudson Bay – western Hudson Bay (extending from the Manitoba/Ontario border to Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut), southern Hudson Bay (James Bay) and Foxe Basin (at the northwestern edge of the bay).
– This population is one of the most accessible in the world. In fact, much of our knowledge of polar bear biology and behaviour comes from research conducted in the Churchill area. The Canadian Wildlife Service has over thirty years of continuous research data about Churchill’s polar bears, one of the longest research programs in existence.
– Based on CWS research, the breakup of Hudson Bay is thought to occur about 2.5 weeks earlier than in the early 1980s. This leaves the bears less time on the ice during their prime hunting season (April through July) and an estimated 22kgs (50lbs) lighter
– Adult males congregate along the coastal regions and gravel spits. Several of these spits near Churchill have been designated as polar bear resting areas, including sections of Eskimo Point and Gordon Point.
– Females (pregnant or not) and some males (definitely not pregnant) spend time in earthen dens during the summer…it is cooler there and there are less bugs.
– April through July are the most productive hunting months for Churchill’s bears. Young seals are high in fat and not that experienced with predators. Therefore, the timing of breakup is critical for polar bears. If the ice breaks up even a week early, this may cost the bears up to 10kg (22lbs) in fat stores.
– After months of feeding, bears are very fat when they finally swim ashore. With up to 4” of blubber, the bears are quite buoyant. This makes swimming a lot easier but diving a little difficult; their rump bobbing up to the surface much like a cork – not a very strategic position!
– Once on land, bears spend the vast majority (70-90%) of their time simply resting. Given the right conditions, however, they forage on berries, sedges, grasses, kelp, snowmobile seats and almost anything else.
– Polar bears are highly intelligent and adaptable. Bears have been seen hunting caribou, beluga whales, snowy owls, eider ducks… well, you get the picture. Along the Seal River, a polar bear was observed lunging onto the backs of passing beluga whales.
– During the summer and in times of food shortage, polar bears can enter a state of walking hibernation. They reduce their metabolism, lowering energy demands to conserve their fat stores..