Warm Weather, Sleepy Polar Bears

10/25/2011 1:59:28 AM

Warm Weather, Sleepy Polar Bears

 Polar bear along shore on a rare sunny day

Today was our first day out on the tundra near Churchill, Manitoba, and it was a beautiful day for wildlife viewing. The sky was bright blue with hardly any clouds, the wind was low, and the temperatures were perfect for standing outside on the viewing deck of Tundra Buggy® One. In fact, the weather is abnormally warm for this time of year at 28°F/-1°C. We were lucky enough to spot some tundra swans, ptarmigan, a snowy owl, and even an Arctic fox trotting along the edge of a pond. But of course, the main attraction for everyone was spotting the polar bears dotted across the landscape.

Polar bear snoozing in the sun

It's the beginning of a new season for PBI's Tundra Connections program and I'm very excited to be back on the panel this year. I am looking forward to the week ahead with my fellow scientists and polar bear enthusiasts in Buggy One, reaching out to the public about what makes polar bears so amazing—and what actions we can take to ensure their future.

We saw several polar bears today: one slowly ambling to a destination only he knew, one curled up and resting close to some willows, and one lying on some spongy moss next to one of the buggy trails. We ate our lunch right next to the second bear, who looked at us a couple times briefly before tucking in his head behind a paw and nodding back off to sleep. Eventually, as we were finishing our meal, he decided to check out another part of the tundra and slowly made his way to his next resting spot.

While this weather is comfortable for humans, it is still on the warm side for the polar bears so they are not very active at the moment. When it starts to cool down—hopefully soon—we will see more activity as they get ready for their trek across the sea ice to hunt seals, their first meal in months. Until then though, they need to conserve every bit of their precious fat stores as possible by resting, especially when temperatures are relatively warm. In these conditions, too much activity can make polar bears overheat easily, wasting calories that they will need while they continue their fast until the ice freezes again. I expect to see many more sleepy bears than active ones as the days go on.

Sleepy bear using a rock as a pillow

We are back at the Tundra Buggy Lodge for the night now and getting ready for our video conferences tomorrow. We're looking forward to meeting many students interested in the great white bears this week, and we hope to have more polar bears to show them!

Top two photos ©Shari Burnett; bottom photo ©Randy Kokesch.

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