The Polar Bears International Bear Tracker has followed a subset of GPS-collared female polar bears in Hudson Bay each year for over a decade. By using this movement data, scientists can determine when and how polar bears use their sea ice home, helping us further understand what the species needs in order to survive and thrive.
It’s now late February, and the Hudson Bay polar bears have been back on the sea ice for almost three months. As expected, they are all making different choices about where to go while navigating the frozen seascape. Hudson Bay experienced a late freeze-up this fall, with polar bears not getting back onto the ice to hunt seals until the first week of December, about 2-3 weeks later than average. But, as soon as the ice formed, we saw the bears return to their seal-hunting grounds to find sustenance after being on land without a blubbery meal since late June.
While most polar bears are out hunting seals, the polar bear moms who recently gave birth are preparing to leave their dens. Their cubs were born tiny and helpless around January 1st but have been growing rapidly on mom’s fatty milk since. Pretty soon, these Hudson Bay moms will break out of their dens and give their cubs (who now weigh about 15-30 lbs) a few days to practice using their legs and gain strength before the family heads toward the sea ice in late February/March. Mom hasn’t eaten for about 8 months at this point, so she’s anxious to find a fatty meal and start teaching her babies how to be polar bears. This notable period in a polar bear’s life coincides with our celebration of International Polar Bear Day on February 27th.
On International Polar Bear Day we are celebrating moms and cubs, specifically how we can help protect this most vulnerable group of polar bears. Polar Bears International has multiple research projects looking at detecting dens and monitoring new families, setting us up to better protect them as their habitat changes. And it’s changing fast.
Since 1979, in the month of January the Arctic has seen a loss of 1.86 million square kilometers (718,000 square miles). This is equivalent to about four times the area of California or an area larger than the Northwest Territories (www.nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews). We will continue to lose the important sea ice habitat that polar bears and so many other species depend on if we do not act now to curb the carbon emissions that are causing the Arctic to warm.
Luckily, we have the solutions for change and know how to protect the future for polar bears. By working on community solutions to lower carbon emissions and protect sea ice, we can work together to keep moms and cubs roaming the Arctic sea ice. Mark February 27th, International Polar Bear Day, on your calendars and stay tuned to learn more!
Sponsored Bear Updates
1. Tiergarten Schönbrunn, Erlebnis Zoo Hannover, Zoologischer Garten Rostock , Tierpark Hellabrunn, CERZA Parc Zoologique Lisieux: X33872, Arctic Ambassador
This 15-year-old female from the Southern Hudson Bay population is now well out on the sea ice with her one male and one female yearlings (a recent happy birthday to all!). This family had been waiting on the coast of Ontario since mid-November for the ice to freeze-up, not getting out to hunt until about the second week of December. That must have felt like a long wait, especially considering they had been fasting since June and those hungry cubs are still nursing! Since getting on the ice, this family has traveled 497 km and mom is currently the easternmost bear on our Tracker. Arctic Ambassador bear seems like a smart mom: she hasn’t had to travel too far to find areas with good hunting, a smart strategy especially with young cubs in tow. Her cubs have just over one more year left with mom–hopefully they’re learning as much as they can and getting as big and strong as possible!
2. Canada Goose: X37037, Aurora 2
This now 20-year-old female may be from Southern Hudson Bay, but she is currently well and truly mingling with bears from the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation (and maybe the Foxe Basin subpopulation, too!). Aurora 2 has traveled a good distance northeast since December, clocking in at 692 km so far with her two two-year-old female cubs. This is a nice change since our last update when she had not yet had a chance to travel very far to find food. She seems to have found a favored spot in January, zigzagging back and forth in a small region–there must be good hunting there! Aurora 2’s cubs only have another couple months with mom before they are weaned, so hopefully they are soaking up any last hunting lessons and piling on some pounds. Soon, mom will wean her cubs and look for a new mate, starting the cycle over again. Good luck to them all!
3. Explore.org: X33714, Daphne
Eleven-year-old Daphne and her female yearling are truly Western Hudson Bay polar bears. Since leaving inland Wapusk National Park in early November and waiting on the coast for weeks, the family finally got on the ice to start hunting in early December. Thus far, they have traveled 920 km in a relatively small western region of Hudson Bay, racking up the distance by doing loop-de-loops. Daphne must be having some luck seal hunting here while teaching her daughter how to navigate the region. Her cub has just over one year left with mom, so she will be practicing hunting and getting used to the shifting sea ice and its patterns. Currently, this family is not too far from the coast or other bears, but it will be interesting to watch their travel choices as spring arrives and food becomes more abundant.
4. Frontiers North Adventures: X33505, Floe
This 15-year-old Western Hudson Bay female and two-year-old female cub have racked up 944 km in their travels since we started following them near the Churchill River in November. Once getting on the sea ice, they headed north almost right away but have since come down a little farther south, zigzagging in one region which must have good hunting conditions. This spring, Floe will wean her cub and look for a new mate, meaning her current cub only has a few months left with mom to soak up all the lessons she can. Hopefully Floe has taught her cub well and she becomes a successful subadult. Floe will need to pack on some serious pounds this spring to maintain a new pregnancy–she has some long months fasting ahead if she plans to enter a den this fall and give birth next winter. Good luck getting fat, Floe!
6. Natural Exposures: X33896, Portia
Thirteen-year-old Portia and her two-year-old female cub are still some of the biggest travelers on the Bear Tracker right now, already covering 1002 kilometers. After getting on the ice in December, this family headed northeast until late December before veering down south and hanging around in a relatively smaller area throughout January (probably had good hunting conditions!). In the last few weeks Portia has headed north again; time will tell where she picks to hunt this spring. Her cub only has a few more months left with mom before being weaned and going out on her own. Soon, Portia will be looking for a new mate, hoping to get pregnant and enter a den this fall, emerging with new cubs this time next year. To successfully sustain a pregnancy, Portia needs to get as fat as possible this spring/summer in anticipation of a long fast while denning. Happy hunting, Portia!