Polar Bears (ursus maritimus) are the largest land carnivores in the world. Churchill’s polar bear population is the most southern population of polar bears on the planet. Several natural processes help make Churchill the Polar Bear Capital of the World. A counter-clockwise current pushes all ice and snow accumulation of the Hudson Bay against the shoreline of Cape Churchill. Aided by the fresh water ice of the Churchill River and northerly winds, the ice around Churchill will freeze up to a month sooner than other areas on the western shores of the Hudson Bay. The bears know this and use the Churchill coastline as a staging area, allowing them to get on the ice and hunt seals several weeks sooner.
The polar bears start to congregate on the Churchill coastline at the end of September. Numbers generally increase each day, peaking in mid-November. As the ice starts to freeze, the bears leave, usually around the end of November. Polar bears give birth to their young near the end of December. Blind, hairless and weighing only ounces at birth, the mother will usually birth one or two. However, the owners of The Lazy Bear Lodge have seen several family groups of up to four cubs over the years. Mother and cubs stay in the den till the beginning of March at which time they frolic outside the den site for about one week and then return to the sea ice where the mother feeds on seals and seal pups. She also has the advantage of the ice being at its greatest extent, as the Hudson Bay has seen cold sub-zero temperatures since November.
The polar bear diet consists mainly of ringed seals, but they will also eat harbor seals and the much larger bearded seal. Polar bear diets can also include beluga whales, and have been spotted near Churchill lunging after the beluga in open water. Mating occurs on the sea ice. Polar bears are promiscuous, mating several times. If an egg is fertilized, it does not begin gestation immediately. It actually free floats in the uterus until that fall. If the potential mother has enough fat reserve to carry her through to full term, then the egg implants. If not, the egg free floats until the following fall, at which time the egg either implants or is ejected from the body.
The polar bears enjoy the ice until about mid-July. At this time the ice pack becomes too small for the bears to stay, so they swim for shore, landing somewhere on the hundreds of miles of shoreline around and to the south of Churchill. At this time of year the bears become sleepy and groggy because they are generally fat and not eating any food. Polar bears will occasionally kill seals in the summer, if given an opportunity, but generally consider it too much work. They can be seen chasing flightless geese. For the most part, they are partakers of the couch potato lifestyle, resting on shore and sometimes inland where permafrost is close to the surface and a wallow can be dug into the frost. This keeps the bear cool without the fat-burning work of having to swim in the cool Hudson Bay waters, which hover just above freezing throughout the year.
In the summer, individuals looking for bears often will see one relaxing along shore or swimming in the Hudson Bay. The Lazy Bear Lodge whale watching tours take you to the areas that polar bears frequent for breathtaking photography and an experience you’ll cherish for a lifetime.