The wild polar bears of Churchill, Manitoba are so well known there is a tourist industry generated by their presence. Many people travel there to see the bears on eco-tours provided by local vendors. Churchill is regarded as the best place in the world for polar bear viewing because of the relatively easy access, and the consistency of bear visibility. From October through December people flock to the area so they can ride in a tundra buggy to see wild polar bears on the ice that forms on the Hudson Bay. There is even a research center in the area dedicated to studying polar bears, beluga whales, birds, and other wildlife.
Recently a†polar bear researcher from the University of Alberta said the population of polar bears around Churchill could dwindle so low that it may not be able to sustain itself. Climate change is reportedly causing there to be less and less ice for the bears to hunt seals upon. With less ice, the bears will not be able to find food, and without food their chances of reproducing become so small, they may not survive. Mr. Stirling, the researcher, said, “Missing out on only two of those meals every year is enough to cause a polar bearís body weight to decline to the point where females produce underweight cubs or no cubs at all.” He was referencing the number of seals that an average polar bear eats. Even missing two seals in their diet per year could disrupt the reproductive cycle so much, the region’s 900-1200 polar bears may not be able to remain there at the current population level.
The Churchill Northern Studies site says, “The Churchill area lies near the southern limit of where polar bears are able to live year-round.” So presumably, rather than staying and dying out, the bears would migrate north to places where they can find more ice and seals. Mr. Stirling has said, that it is not a matter of if the polar bear population declines, so much as when. There is also some speculation that grizzly bears might be moving into the area. National Geographic reported in February, “The preliminary report notes an increase in grizzly bear sightings in Wapusk National Park, just south of Churchill, Manitoba.”
Image Credit: cdubya1971