7/6/2012 2:39:34 PM

Churchill's Polar Bears Swimming to Shore

Churchill on July 5, 2012

July 1st was Canada Day, and in Churchill it included the chill-inducing Bay Dip where those much braver than I dove into the freezing cold water of Hudson Bay and dodged icebergs to compete in the annual relay race. Many people swam out to have their pictures taken on the large pieces of sea ice that were still floating everywhere along the coastline, but then were forced to make the cold swim back to shore.

Just four days later, all of those big pieces of ice have completely melted away and the Bay is ice-free as far as our eyes can see. The environment changes fast up here! While there is still some sea ice cover in certain areas along the coast of Hudson Bay, we know that many polar bears are currently making a similar icy swim heading back to shore, though they must swim for much longer distances and they're not doing it for fun!

Polar bears swimming to shore

The temperatures here have been up and down. One day it is quite warm and sunny, but the next it's barely above zero with winds gusting incredibly fast; today on my walk I had to wear a scarf and mittens! Those intermittent days of sun have brought back the green shrubs and the pretty flowers of the north, but I've been thinking about what it must be like for polar bears out in the water or on the remnants of ice during a summer storm. At this time of year there isn't much shelter, so hopefully they can duck down for awhile or find something to hang on to as the storm passes by.

Flowers along the shores of Hudson Bay.

We are expecting to see polar bears make it back to shore any day now. Quite a few of the collars we have out are not working at the moment which often happens when the bears are swimming. Our latest map shows that many polar bears are getting closer to land, but some seem to be trying to hang on to those last little pieces of ice, most likely to continue hunting. Hopefully they're finding some seals out there, and the extra time on the ice and in the water is worth it. Swimming long distances to shore expends quite a bit of a polar bear's energy, so they try to balance staying out longer on the ice to eat with getting off the ice and back to land without wasting too much effort.  

By now there may be many bears nearing Churchill. Maybe a couple of them even saw the fireworks display from a distance on Canada Day. What would a polar bear think about that?

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