Churchill, Manitoba, a small sub-Arctic community on the edge of Hudson Bay in Canada, is famous as the world’s polar bear capital. Churchill is teeming with seasonal wildlife, whether you’re there to see the roaming polar bears, the spectacular aurora borealis, or the surfacing beluga whales. Every year, visitors from all over the world flock to Churchill in October and November with many tours in the hopes of spotting a wild polar bear, but few understand why these majestic creatures are so abundant during the fall season.
Why Are There So Many Polar Bears In Churchill In The Fall?
While no animal migration can be predicted with absolute certainty, visitors can see the Hudson Bay polar bear population (approximately 1,000 bears) begin their seal-hunting season each fall. Polar bears migrate to Hudson Bay in anticipation of its freeze as autumn temperatures drop and cold air blows. The Hudson Bay, unlike other water sources, is a freshwater bay, making it one of the first to freeze over. Positioning themselves near Churchill’s Bay will provide this polar bear population with a significant advantage, as they will have earlier access to a plentiful food source. Polar bears walk across the ice to hunt seals once the water freezes over during the winter season.
Natural Habitat Adventures places its exclusive Tundra Lodge along this route, so visitors may see polar bears walking past their overnight lodging on their way to Hudson Bay. In addition, visitors can see mothers with cubs and young males playing as the bears make their way to this abundant food source.
Polar bears in Hudson Bay hunt for seals by finding seal-breathing holes in the ice. When the seals come up to breathe, the polar bear will grab them and pull them out of the water, providing the bear with a high-fat meal. Polar bears, which can consume up to 150 pounds in one sitting, rely on fat reserves to survive until the next hunting season.
The mating season typically begins at the tail end of the hunting season and lasts from late March to mid-July. Pregnant females will begin denning in October and November, digging oval caves in snowbanks to provide a safe haven for their cubs during the Arctic winter. The combination of snow insulation and polar bear body heat can raise the temperature of the den to as high as 40°F, providing a warm area for a mother to give birth. When the cubs are old enough, they will emerge from the den with their mother the following spring and begin making their way over to the frozen sea ice.
Seeing a wild polar bear is a breathtaking experience, whether you see a mother with her cubs, male polar bears playing in the snow, or a lone bear heading to the frozen bay. Churchill has the world’s highest concentration of polar bears, making it an ideal destination for viewing polar bears in their natural habitat.
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The Best Time To See Polar Bears In Churchill
According to Goodyear, climate change has altered the seasons in Churchill, as well as animal migrations. Visitors should adjust their travel plans accordingly. The best time to see polar bears is between the middle of October and the end of November. Custom-built tundra vehicles guide visitors into the path of migrating polar bears on these trips. Reservations are essential at this time of year, as many services quickly fill up.
The summer season in Churchill begins in early July and can last until early September when thousands of beluga whales congregate in the Churchill River estuary during long days of sunshine. In the summer, it is common to see polar bears walking along the coast or swimming in Hudson Bay.
How To Get Around
In the winter, tundra vehicle tours offered by operators such as Frontiers North Adventures and Great White Bear Tours are the best way to see polar bears. During the summer, visitors can snorkel with beluga whales through Sea North Tours or Lazy Bear Expeditions. During the summer, the latter also provides polar bear viewing by boat.
Bring waterproof hiking boots with you whenever you visit. The majority of the town is within walking distance and depending on the season. You may encounter dirt, mud, slush, ice, or snow.
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