10/23/2012 1:09:59 AM
Polar Bear Play
Today marked my first day on Buggy One for 2012. This is my third time out with Polar Bears International and every year I learn more and more. I'm here to take part in the Tundra Connections panel, and we spent the day today planning our upcoming videoconferences and webcasts, making sure to incorporate as much polar bear knowledge as possible. The highlight of the day, however, was watching the polar bears do their thing along the coast of Hudson Bay.
The bear watching this Monday morning started out a little slow. There has been one polar bear close to the Tundra Buggy® Lodge for the last several days, rarely moving from his comfy grass bed. We pulled up near him today to watch his morning routine. He had some fun scratching himself and rolling around for several minutes in the morning, but that was the maximum amount of activity out of him for the day. Even the trundling Tundra Buggies coming in for a picture didn't stir him from his day-long nap.
I don't blame him for not moving much right now. At 3°C (37°F), even humans only need simple jackets outside at the moment because it is so warm (for this time of year, anyway). The sun is shining and there is a total absence of snow or ice. For a well-insulated polar bear, it's quite warm outside and there's no need to expend energy unless absolutely necessary. Experience also plays into this: older bears are more likely to sit and wait out the ice, while the younger bears are more likely explore and be a little more active around this time of year. We saw an example of this today when we were lucky enough to spot a mom and two yearling cubs.
Just after lunch we came upon a mother polar bear and her two cubs sauntering slowly across the tundra. These cubs were almost as big as their mom and they were ranging farther away from mom than very young cubs would have been allowed to do. The cubs seemed to be having a good time checking out the landscape as they were periodically standing up on their hind legs to shake some willows, and chewing on random branches on the ground. These two inquisitive bears were also intermittently play fighting with each other, which was very fun for us to watch. The sparring didn't last long, since one of them was much more into wrestling than the other (much like what happens with human siblings!) but it was fun to observe while it lasted. Mom was doing her own thing nearby, resting while letting her offspring sort it out for themselves.
We guessed that these two cubs are almost two years old, and these will be the last several months under their mother's protection. They'll be set loose to live a largely solitary life where they'll have to figure out for themselves where and when to travel and how to act. Hopefully, their mom has taught them well so that next year they'll be ready to hunt on their own once the ice comes in.
It was nice to see polar bears relaxing and playing today, but I know they are hungry and anxious for the ice to come back. Hopefully, they only have a few more weeks to wait. Until then, we hope that they can stay cool and have a little bit of polar bear fun.