Each year, the Polar Bears International Bear Tracker follows a subset of GPS-collared female polar bears in the Western Hudson Bay population. By monitoring their movement data, scientists can determine when and how polar bears use their sea ice home, helping us further understand what the species needs to survive and thrive.
Our quarterly updates on the bears — in winter, spring, summer, and fall – provide insights into what the bears do in different seasons. During the fall, most of the polar bears in the Western Hudson Bay population congregate near the shores of the bay to wait for the sea ice to return so they can reach their seal prey. When the bay freezes, these bears fan out across the ice to hunt seals, replenishing their fat reserves after months of fasting on land. Pregnant females are the exception: In the fall, they head inland to den sites along river banks and give birth to their cubs in December or early January.
Below are snapshots of what each of the bears we follow on our Bear Tracker have been up to now that Hudson Bay has frozen and winter’s chill has returned.
1. Anuri - X19827, Polar Bears InternationaI’s Storytelling Bear
Twenty-three-year-old Anuri and her yearling spent the summer inland, not moving much after they found a good resting spot. In late October, they started heading east to the coast, getting there about November 6th. With no ice in sight, they started moving northwest, up through Wapusk National Park and, at some time in mid-November, very closely passed the Town of Churchill. The small family crossed the Churchill River (likely a swim was involved!) and hung out in a spot called Button Bay, west of town. In the last week of November, Anuri and her yearling finally got out on the sea ice that was forming along the coast and has since continued to expand. We haven’t seen this collar for a couple weeks but it is likely a bit water-logged. We are optimistic we will see more of Anuri soon and hope she’s already had success with hunting seals to fill up her belly after her long fast.
2. Arctic Ambassador Bear - X33203, Arctic Ambassador Centers
Right on track, it seems like 19-year-old Arctic Ambassador Bear is pregnant and finding herself a cozy den to rest in. After getting off the ice in late June, this bear moved south along the coast throughout July and August (maybe hoping to still snag a seal or two) and started heading inland to a known denning area in September. Her movements slowed down in late October/early November, which hopefully means she has found herself a comfortable den. She may have dug one or may be using an older den already existing in the permafrost. She’ll give birth this winter and emerge with a new cub or two, likely around March. That’s a long time to go without eating — about eight months in total! Hopefully, she was very fat before returning to land this past June — that will help her chances of producing healthy cubs and remaining healthy herself. We hope to see her movements start back up in February or March 2024. Until then, good luck to Arctic Ambassador Bear!
3. Betty White - X33570, explore.org
A few months ago we got the news from researchers that 11-year-old Betty White had been spotted from the air this summer, unfortunately without her cub. We don’t know when she would have lost the cub, but it seems like it was sometime last winter, before the spring mating season. Betty’s movements suggest she may be pregnant and has headed inland this winter to den, which is hopeful. Betty was a bit late returning to land this summer, arriving in mid-July (which may have meant she had a decent swim to shore): she was likely trying to maximize her time eating, especially if pregnant. She would have needed to pack on hundreds of pounds to sustain this pregnancy over this winter and go for eight months without eating. After coming onto shore this summer, she moved north for almost a month, before heading back south down the coast and further into Wapusk National Park as of mid-September. She seems to have settled in a known denning area in early November, and we hope she is resting peacefully. We’ll expect to see her move again in late February or early March. Until then, we wish for her some healthy cubs and deep sleep.
4. Portia - X33829, Natural Exposures
Seven-year-old Portia came off the sea ice in mid-July this year, heading right inland as soon as she hit the coast. She quickly found a spot in a denning area and slowed down; as of November 6th she’s been still. This means either, (1) her collar stopped working or, (2) she lost her cub last year, got pregnant, and is now denning in hopes of having another cub or two over the winter. We won’t know for sure unless we see her collar move again, either back on the ice in the next weeks or (more likely) around March when she emerges from her den. If she is pregnant, she would have needed to gain a lot of weight over the spring to sustain herself and cubs as she will spend roughly eight months fasting. It’s not too surprising if she did lose her cub; she’s a young mom and, even at the best of times, cub mortality is about 50%. We wish the best for our big traveler Portia and hope she is doing well, wherever she is.
5. Talini - X33565 - Canada Goose
Eleven-year-old Talini came back to shore in late June. We thought she would have her yearlings with her, but it looks like she may have lost them sometime last winter. Talini’s current movements suggest she mated this spring then came ashore pregnant and is currently denning. After coming ashore, she seems to have wandered up and down the coast, maybe trying to find a last meal or two to pack on extra pounds in preparation for her long fast over this winter. As of mid-July she started heading inland where she stayed throughout the fall, and settled down in a known denning area in late October. Talini is likely now in a den, conserving her energy and having a long rest before the arrival of a new cub or two in the coming weeks. We expect to see her move again in roughly late February or early March and, until then, hope she is getting lots of sleep and has enough body fat to sustain herself and cub(s).
6. Vicky - X33881 - VICKS
Fifteen-year-old Vicky is currently traversing the Hudson Bay sea ice with her yearling cub. As a Western Hudson Bay polar bear, she has experienced some habitat changes over the past decade so it will be interesting to see how she navigates this year’s later sea ice freeze-up. Her cub has to learn as much as possible in the coming months because this spring it will be weaned and head out on its own — a very difficult time for young bears. But until then, Vicky’s yearling should be helping her hunt seals and get as fat as possible. Vicky will be trying to get pregnant this spring so she has to gain hundreds of pounds in the next year to be able to give birth to a new cub or two next winter. Until then, we look forward to following her journey!
15. Yvette - X17402, Frontiers North Adventures
Yvette can’t stop, won’t stop. This 19-year-old is still one of the biggest travelers on the Tracker, already racking up over 400 kilometers since last we checked on her this summer. She spent the summer on the coast north of Churchill then started her big movements once temperatures started dropping. Yvette and her yearling have followed the same game plan as last year: heading far north, up the west coast, eventually walking into Nunavut to get up on the sea ice in northern Hudson Bay sometime in mid-November. We haven’t received a signal from her collar in several weeks, which may mean she had a bit of a swim at some point, but we hope to see her soon. She may be a great distance away by then! Good luck hunting to Yvette and her yearling; she always has us impressed with her adventures.