6/13/2012 2:43:53 PM
Spring has officially begun in the town of Churchill, Manitoba: the birds are chirping, the frogs are croaking, and people are shedding their winter layers. However, while temperatures are climbing steadily elsewhere in Canada, Churchill’s temperatures are taking their time getting to T-shirt weather due to the wind coming off the sea ice still covering Hudson Bay.
While it might be nice for us humans if it were warmer up here, that sea ice is performing an important service for other creatures, mainly seals and polar bears. With a decent pair of binoculars, on certain days it is easy to see dozens of seals relaxing on the ice and splashing around in the waters around Churchill. They won’t be so relaxed in a few weeks though, when the polar bears are expected to start making their way back to land as the ice starts melting.
An earlier summer melt-off means less time to hunt seals.
People in Churchill are already buzzing about when the polar bears will be coming back to this region, especially people who are new to Churchill and have yet to see their first polar bear. The GPS collars that are out on about 15 polar bears from this region show that many have made their way closer to Manitoba in the last couple weeks, and they could potentially come ashore any day now.
While people are getting excited to see the polar bears on land again, those bears will stay on the ice as long as possible because more time on the sea ice means more time for hunting seals. Each seal a polar bear eats adds weight to the polar bear’s body, weight that will be very important during the upcoming summer. Once the bears reach land again, they won’t have another reliable food source until about November when the ice comes back; they will have to live off of the fat stores that they built up over the winter for months. If the ice melts too early, the bears are not able to eat as much and are forced to make their way to land skinnier than they’d like to be; any skinny polar bear coming to land now will have a hard time making it until next winter.
We hope that the polar bears will come back to land in healthy condition, maybe some of them will even be able to nab one of the seals hanging out near Churchill. I’m betting we won’t see the first polar bear on land for at least another week or two, and fingers crossed that it’s a fat bear. I will let you know!
Top photo copyright Alysa McCall; bottom photo copyright Daniel J. Cox/Natural Exposures.