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Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Magnificent Polar Bears of Subarctic Canada

Polar bears move closer to Hudson Bay each fall.

All Images Copyright by Tom Debley, 2011
All Rights Reserved

Churchill, Manitoba – The Hudson Bay polar bears of this Canadian subarctic region are magnificent creatures. A grown male can stand 10-feet tall and weigh 1,400 pounds. These belong to one of 19 subspecies that is endangered by global warming.  And as much as some people deny the scientific evidence of global warming, on a recent visit we learned that the polar bears here are 22 percent fewer in number than a quarter century ago.  Local scientists say that this subspecies could be extinct as early as 2035.

Understanding why these polar bears are in trouble does not take a rocket scientist to understand.  

Young male polar bears spar, practicing for mating fights.
Polar bears live by eating ringed seals, which live under the ice of Hudson Bay in winter. When the ice melts and breaks up in the spring, the polar bears are forced ashore until the ice forms again in the fall.  They do not eat during this time, living off accumulated fat from the hunting season. However, the Hudson Bay ice is melting earlier each year and freezing later.  This shortens the hunting season. Polar bears don’t store adequate fat reserves, and then have to live without eating for longer periods of time once on land.  Thus, fewer cubs are being born. More cubs, adolescent bears and older bears are dying. The population today is estimated at 935 bears.

We had five wonderful days at a Road Scholar™ program called “Lords of the North: Ecology of Hudson Bay's Polar Bears” at the non-profit Churchill Northern Studies Centre, which offers independent “learning vacations” as well as courses for Road Scholar™.  My wife, Mary Jane, and I went with some close friends and learned a great deal about the polar bears.  It also gave me a chance to get up close to polar bears to photograph them.

Not much more need be said except to enjoy the photographs I am posting here.

Polar bear walks along shore of Hudson Bay waiting for ice to form.

Polar bear with a mouthful of ice to quench his thirst.
Two young males begin a sparing match.

Bears, looking like dancers, become more animated.
The show become much more aggressive as sparring continues.