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It’s A Little Nippy Out

Greetings from Churchill! This is my first time being up North during this time of year for polar bear research and I must say – it’s a totally different ball game than our last fall season. Needless to say, the landscape looks just a bit different than I remember it, and the temperature has dropped just a tad! I was fortunate enough to be part of a very important research team last fall with Dr. Nick Lunn (Environment Canada) where we were studying bears around Churchill as part of my research on shifts in polar bear foraging behavior and diet. Being back here now and staying at the Churchill Northern Studies Center brought back a lot of great memories, and we wasted no time before jumping into the helicopter and heading out there.

The sky was perfectly clear and the sun was out shining as bright as ever – but that didn’t stop the cold from creeping in. The temperature was frigid and with the wind chill hovered around minus 30 ᴼ Celcius (-22 F), a bit too cold for us to dart any bears – so instead we scanned the landscape for bear tracks to get a better idea of where they were and where they are heading.

During this time of year here in Western Hudson Bay, male bears are out on the sea ice feeding on fat-rich prey like seals. Female bears that were pregnant in the fall follow a different schedule at this time. The mothers are just now coming out of their dens where they have been for several months birthing and nursing their tiny cubs that, prior to now, were just too small and frail to endure the cold. But they are on the move now! Slowly they will begin to come out of their dens and head toward the ice where they too will start to feed.

We were able to find quite a few mom and cub tracks and follow them either along the ice edge or further inland through the trees and around the river bend. With the wind at work though, it makes it a lot harder to follow tracks for very long and snow cover quickly causes them to vanish, as if the bears just disappeared! The landscape is draped in whites and blues, with large cliffs of ice, making it hard to believe anything at all would be able to withstand these types of conditions. The tracks in the snow prove otherwise, from polar bear, caribou, and even wolves telling us that this is a place full of unique wildlife!

Our day searching for bear tracks has come to an end, but we’ll be back out there again in just a few short hours in search of family groups and many more stories to share with you!