Within the Land of the Ice Bears

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I will always remember the primary time I locked eyes with a polar bear.

It is a pretty frequent incidence should you go to observe these silent giants within the wild – they are not actually afraid of a lot (undoubtedly not people), and are tremendous curious creatures.

So if you’re staying out on the Manitoba tundra at Frontiers North Adventures’ Tundra Buggy Lodge and a bear wanders over to examine the lodge’s tires, it is possible that it’ll additionally search for, it is massive black nostril twitching, to additionally examine YOU.

Buggy Love

My first polar bear encounter was on my first night time on the Tundra Buggy Lodge. We had been simply on the brink of have dinner, when a bear all of the sudden appeared and proceeded to pad silently across the lodge. I went out on one of many decks in between automobiles – in my slippers – and marveled at is large paws and fluffy fur that regarded silky within the lodge’s lights.

After which it walked over to the aspect of the lodge and stared straight up at me, locking eyes with mine and gazing curiously up at me for a full minute. I gasped, broke into a smile, and managed to snap this photograph.

These EYES! These PAWS!

It is a second I’ll by no means, ever overlook.

There is a sure intelligence and fearlessness in these eyes; I do know we’re not presupposed to ascribe human feelings and attributes to animals… however, you guys, I felt like that bear stared straight into my soul and knew what it was taking a look at.

Polar bears in Manitoba

The polar bear inhabitants that calls northern Manitoba “dwelling” for a part of the yr is taken into account the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation of polar bears, a inhabitants of roughly 1,000 bears.

The bears spend the winter out on the frozen Hudson Bay, and return to land in the course of the summer season. Within the fall (October and November), they begin congregating not removed from the city of Churchill, Manitoba (inhabitants at present round 800 folks), the place the Hudson Bay will first begin freezing as temperatures drop.

Polar bears at Hudson Bay in Manitoba
Polar bears at Hudson Bay

As a result of the bears listed here are so accessible, vacationers like myself have been flocking to Churchill for many years within the hopes of seeing polar bears up shut.

Seeing polar bears within the wild has been on my bucket record for a very long time, and final yr I lastly had the disposable earnings accessible to guide a dream tour to Manitoba. I booked a “Tundra Buggy Lodge Fanatic” tour with Frontiers North Adventures, which included Three nights on the Tundra Buggy Lodge (situated on the appropriately-named Polar Bear Level) and three full days in search of wild polar bears on safari-like excursions on the tundra.

This journey exceeded all my expectations (extra to return on the tour itself quickly!), and made me fall much more deeply in love with polar bears.

Polar bear on the tundra in Manitoba
(How may you NOT love these guys??)

Polar bear enjoyable details

I realized SO MUCH about these animals on my journey, and needed to share a few of that data with you. Listed here are some enjoyable details about polar bears – a few of which could shock you!

1. A bear of many names

Polar bears are native to a number of nations that encompass the Arctic; you may discover them in Canada, Greenland, Russia, and locations like Alaska and Svalbard (Norway). As a result of they exist in a reasonably wide selection of locations, they’ve all kinds of fascinating names.

The polar bear’s scientific identify is Ursus maritimus (“sea bear”), however another names for them embrace issues like beliy medved or The White Bear (Russian), isbjorn or The Ice Bear (Norway), and a few extra poetic names like The Rider of Icebergs (Norse), The Previous Man within the Fur Cloak (Sami/Lapp), Nanuk, that means Animal Worthy of Nice Respect (Inuit), and even The Grasp of Serving to Spirits (East Greenland).

Polar bear in Manitoba
Ice Bear, Rider of Icebergs

2. They’re marine mammals

As a result of polar bears spend a lot of their lives searching and dwelling on the ice, they’re the one bear species on this planet to formally be categorized as a marine mammal.

In proof of this, polar bears are glorious swimmers; they will swim at sustained speeds for days at a time, utilizing their dinner-plate-sized entrance paws as paddles and their rear paws as rudders.

Three. Polar bears aren’t white

A minimum of, not technically. A polar bear’s pores and skin is definitely black, which you’ll be able to see should you get a glimpse of a polar bear’s paw pad. Their fur seems to be white, but it surely’s really nearer to being translucent; every guard hair is hole to assist maintain in warmth, and the fur displays seen mild, making it seem white.

Polar bears sparring
Can you notice the black paw pad?

After they’re hanging out on land, napping in piles of kelp and padding by way of the tundra earlier than the snow comes, they get soiled and truly look extra yellow than white!

four. They’re BIG bears

If you happen to thought grizzlies had been massive, simply wait till you see a large male polar bear lumbering in the direction of you. Polar bears are the most important bears on earth. A full-grown male can simply weigh 1200 kilos – in the course of the fall when it has been fasting for four months!

Male polar bears will common round 1000 kilos after they’re full-grown, and females will weigh about 600 kilos – however males can simply attain 1500 kilos, and females can pack on a pair hundred additional kilos after they’re on the brink of have cubs.

Big polar bear in Manitoba
It is robust to inform in a photograph with nothing to make use of for scale, however this bear is HUGE. A minimum of 1300 kilos, our information guessed.

And as for top? An grownup male polar bear can simply be 5 ft tall at its shoulders when it is on all fours, and the most important polar bear ever recorded was over 11 ft tall when standing on his hind legs.

5. Distinctive pregnancies

Polar bears are fairly distinctive in the case of having cubs. Breeding season for polar bears is normally within the spring out on the ocean ice, however a feminine will not really turn into pregnant till the autumn – and provided that she’s fats sufficient. That is known as delayed implantation, and I feel it is fascinating!

If the mom bear is not in a position to devour sufficient meals in between when she breeds and when it might be time for her to construct a den, the fertilized egg that is been suspended since mating merely would not get implanted and he or she would not turn into pregnant.

Mother polar bear and twin cubs
Momma with twin cubs – these guys are about 10 months outdated.

If the mom HAS packed on sufficient fats, then she’ll construct a den in late autumn (principally a small snow cave) and provides delivery to cubs normally in December.

Mom polar bears usually have twins, and generally even triplets. Polar bears are born tiny (solely about 2 kilos), blind, and utterly helpless. They develop quick because of tremendous wealthy milk, although – by March or April, they’re going to be leaving the den with Mother outfitted to outlive within the Arctic together with her safety.

Twin polar bear cubs in Manitoba
Polar bear cubs are SO fluffy a cute at this age.

6. Solitary creatures

Polar bear cubs will stick with their moms for two.5-Three years, studying all they should find out about being polar bears. After that, when Mother is able to mate once more, she’ll chase them off and so they’ll be on their very own.

Apart from when cubs are reliant on their moms, polar bears – each women and men – are solitary creatures.

Polar bear on the tundra in Manitoba

This doesn’t suggest that they cannot get alongside, although, or that they do not generally type friendships. When there is no meals to struggle over (like when the Manitoba bears are hanging out across the Hudson Bay, ready for the ice to type), it isn’t unusual to search out bears napping close to one another, or getting collectively for a pleasant spherical of sparring.

7. Polar bears will be playful

If you happen to’ve ever seen a polar bear in a zoo tossing round a bucket or splashing with a good friend in a pool, you may know that polar bears will be fairly playful.

That is true within the wild, too. They’re very clever animals, and it isn’t unusual for them to get bored when there are no seals to hunt.

I noticed polar bears putting yoga poses, taking part in with sticks and bits of kelp, and even sparring with one another.

Polar bear yoga
We named this one Yoga Bear
Polar bears sparring
Sparring bears

Whereas it’d look pretty scary when these large paws and sharp tooth are flying, scientists have determined that polar bears spar principally for enjoyable. Positive, younger male bears could also be practising for after they’ll must struggle for actual for females within the spring, however you may inform by watching that they are solely play-fighting.

Regardless that a polar bear can knock a seal out with a single blow of a paw, they do not normally draw a single drop of blood after they’re sparring like this within the fall.

Polar bears sparring
That paw may do a whole lot of harm!
Polar bears sparring
Polar bears sparring

eight. Glorious noses

After their large paws, the subsequent factor you discover about polar bears is their massive black noses. Their noses are nearly like one other appendage, at all times twitching round, sniffing for brand spanking new smells.

And people noses are highly effective – polar bears can scent prey from miles away.

Polar bear on the tundra in Manitoba
This bear seems to be prefer it’s basking within the solar, but it surely’s actually stopping to get a whiff of us.

9. They eat principally seals

Talking of prey, polar bears primarily eat seals. Within the Arctic, ringed seals are their favourite meals, although additionally they eat bearded seals and the most important bears may take down the occasional hooded seal. It is not unusual for polar bears to eat different animals which have died, too (and even to eat different polar bears), although they hunt greater than they scavenge.

A full-grown polar bear must eat the equal of 1 ringed seal per week in an effort to survive.

Polar bear playing with ice

In contrast to different bears which can be omnivores, a polar bear’s weight loss program is nearly totally meat/fats. That is principally as a result of they want the fats to outlive within the Arctic (polar bears have a layer of blubber below their pores and skin that may be as much as four inches thick!), and berries simply do not lower it.

You may even see a bear consuming berries or kelp in the summertime months, however most bear scientists imagine that is simply to assist the bears really feel “full” since they actually cannot chew or digest something aside from meat and fats very properly.

Polar bear eating kelp
A polar bear consuming some kelp

10. Polar bears do not hibernate

In contrast to another bear species that hibernate in the course of the winter months, polar bears are lively year-round. They hunt on the ocean ice in the course of the winter and spring (November-June/July across the Hudson Bay), after which quick on land all through the summer season till the ice varieties once more.

Mom bears that come off the ice in July and go into dens to have cubs within the autumn can quick as much as eight months (!!!) till they and their cubs head again out onto the ice to hunt once more. It is most likely not shocking, then, that a mom bear can go right into a den weighing 900 kilos and are available out within the spring weighing solely 300 kilos.

Polar bear nap time
They ARE fairly lazy, although, particularly after they’re ready for the ice.

11. No pure predators

Polar bears are on the very high of the meals chain and don’t have any pure predators. Most polar bears will die of hunger, normally on account of outdated age or harm that makes it inconceivable for them to hunt.

Subadult polar bears (usually any bear below the age of 5) generally must worry bigger bears – it isn’t unusual for males to attempt to kill and eat cubs – however no different animal predates on these predators.

Sleeping polar bear
Which is why they will dig little “day beds” within the snow and nap out within the open.

After pure causes, people have at all times been the most important risk to polar bears. 50 years in the past, an aggressive sport searching business threatened to wipe polar bears out, till the nations with polar bear populations (Canada, Denmark, Norway, the U.S., and Russia) signed the Settlement on the Conservation of Polar Bears in an effort to regulate issues like searching.

Immediately, it is principally solely indigenous communities which can be nonetheless allowed to hunt the bears, and so they now not face extinction from searching.

Polar bear yoga

However that does not imply that polar bears don’t have anything to fret about…

Polar bears and local weather change

At present there are about 26,000 polar bears unfold out throughout the Arctic, divided into 19 subpopulations. Whereas 26,000 feels like a reasonably wholesome variety of bears, the reality is that polar bears are a threatened species, and a number of other subpopulations being studied are in decline.

Lots of people on my tour to Churchill mentioned that their motivation for reserving a visit was as a result of they needed to see polar bears “earlier than they’re gone.”

And, regardless that that appears a bit excessive to say, the reality is that the Arctic habitat polar bears rely upon IS altering – and it is altering quick.

Polar bear at the Hudson Bay in Manitoba

In Canada, the Hudson Bay continues to be 90% lined with ice every winter. However the ice is thinner than it was once, and the bay is freezing later and thawing earlier annually – that means the Hudson Bay subpopulations of polar bears are having to quick a bit of bit longer annually.

The lack of sea ice has a trickle-down impact; as a result of the polar bears have a shorter searching season, they’re coming off the ice weighing lower than they used to. And it is totally doable that there’ll come a time within the not-so-distant future that feminine polar bears simply will not be fats sufficient for his or her our bodies to assist pregnancies any longer.

The Western Hudson Bay subpopulation of polar bears (those that decision the Churchill space dwelling) is likely one of the most-studied teams of bears on this planet. And that inhabitants skilled a 30% decline from 1987 to 2011, based on Polar Bears Worldwide.

Polar bear in Manitoba

Polar bears aren’t going to vanish in a single day; however there’s an excellent likelihood that they COULD disappear. In actual fact, it is predicted that polar bears could now not be round by 2100 on the charge the Arctic is altering.

How we will help polar bears

I do not need polar bears to be yet one more extinct animal children find out about in class 100 years from now. However if you examine all of the threats to the Arctic – from international warming and air pollution to grease drilling to mining to, sure, even will increase in tourism – it appears a bit hopeless.

Is there something we are able to really do?

Effectively sure, there may be.

Polar bear in Manitoba

Listed here are just a few, tangible issues you are able to do that may assist save polar bears:

  1. One of many largest issues all of us can do is get out and VOTE for leaders and representatives who really imagine in local weather change and the significance of taking steps to decelerate international warming. And take into account pledging, volunteering, or donating to the Environmental Voter Challenge, which goals to show already-eco-conscious folks into extra common lively voters.
  2. Go to Polar Bears Worldwide and find out about methods you may take motion based mostly on what you love to do. They’ve nice options for everybody from lecturers to enterprise homeowners. If all of us begin to take small steps to be kinder to the surroundings, it may snowball into a big effect.
  3. And take into account methods you may scale back your carbon footprint. (Which I do know is an ironic factor for a frequent traveler like me to say!) Along with making higher decisions in my on a regular basis life, I personally donate annually to a carbon offset program, too. My good friend Alex from Alex in Wanderland has an important put up on selecting a carbon offset program.

Polar bears in Manitoba

There is not any assure that we are able to save the ocean ice or the polar bears… however we at the least can attempt.

As a result of regardless that I used to be a wildlife advocate earlier than, seeing these majestic bears within the wild has made me much more of a champion for them and the Arctic.

Do you’re keen on polar bears, too? Did you be taught something new about them on this put up?