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  • Lyndell Daniel

Polar Bears, Churchill

For many wildlife enthusiasts, there is nothing quite like seeing polar bears in their natural habitat, and Churchill, Canada—known as the "polar bear capital of the world"—is an ideal location to see them. Here mothers tend to cubs and young adult males play-fight as they wait for Hudson Bay to freeze over, signaling hunting season.

A polar bear can eat 100 pounds of blubber in a single sitting. Ringed seals are the most accessible, especially to younger bears and females. Male polar bears also hunt larger bearded seals.

The polar bears main prey is the ringed seal. Adult ringed seals have a thick layer of blubber and reach an average length and weight of

1 1/4 meters (4.1 feet) and 58 kilograms (150 pounds). Seal pups are typically born in snow dens on land-fast ice in March and April. Their mothers nurse them for about two months and pups learn to swim and hunt as the ice breaks up in early summer. The seal pupping season is a time of plenty for polar bears, since naive young pups make easy prey.

Arctic warming also threatens ringed seals. Loss of ice limits their distribution, rain events can collapse lairs, and low snow years can mean seal pups are born in the open, where they become easy prey for arctic foxes, several bird species, and polar bears. In western Svalbard, changes in sea-ice extent and snow cover have led to reproductive failure for ringed seals in some areas.

The below pictures are from Churchill, Manitoba. We spent hours watching this mother and her cubs. The mother fed on a beached beluga whale and was very wary of the other bears also feeding on this whale. The cubs never ventured far from the mother. At one time, the mother sensed danger from one of the other large bears and a fight ensued.

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