(This post may contain affiliate links. For more info visit our Privacy page.)
I traveled to Canada to visit the tundra in Northern Manitoba along the Hudson Bay. There is a tiny town called Churchill accessible only by train or plane.
This town calls itself “The Polar Bear Capitol of the World”
Each year, in October and November, polar bears collect along the bay. Here they wait for the water to freeze so they can go out on the ice and hunt their favorite prey, seals.
The polar bear is the world’s largest land carnivore. Males can weigh as much as 1500 pounds.
They are a deadly predator.
How dangerous are they?
According to my encyclopedia of mammals:
“Polar bears are the only Ursids (bears) that are likely to stalk and kill humans.”
I photographed this large male from the window of our rental car.
He was strolling directly toward me. This was as close as I dared let him get before yanking my camera back inside and closing the window. Then Abigail stepped on the gas.
Polar bears are normally solitary creatures, traveling alone over the arctic pack ice. Some have home ranges as large as 100,000 square miles! With an estimated world population of only around 20,000 to 30,000 (hardly enough to fill the seats in a football stadium) you can imagine they are extremely difficult to find in the wild.
With wildlife photography you have to be in the right place at the right time. Luckily, for polar bears, there happens to be a right place and a right time. Churchill, Manitoba in late October. It is one of only two places in the world where one can predictably see a polar bear. (The other being Wrangel Island in Russia which is virtually inaccessible).
This is because Churchill is at the very southern-most point of the polar bear’s range. Here the bears are forced to go ashore each summer when the bay melts. They may go as far as 50 miles inland to wait out the season. By fall, the bears have gone several months without eating.
Interesting fact # 1: Bears are the only mammals that can survive more than 6 months without eating, drinking, peeing or pooping.
Nothing in, nothing out. For 6 months.
Polar bears can synthesize water and protein biochemically from their waste product. This is an amazing feat, folks.
Pregnant females around the Hudson Bay do not feed for 8 months, during which time they must support themselves AND supply milk to their newborn cubs.
For most of the bears around the bay it has been about 4 months since their last meal. However, as shown in this photo, they do occasionally eat kelp (seaweed) and grasses for a little snack.
Interesting fact # 2: Polar bears have one of the most powerful noses in the animal kingdom. They can smell a seal under 4 feet of packed snow from a distance of over half a mile.
Interesting fact # 3: I’ve heard many times that under all that white fur, polar bears have black skin. I dare you to try shaving one to prove me wrong.
However, after printing that fact here on this page I was contacted by a zoo veterinarian who actually DID shave a polar bear and said the skin was pinkish gray.
Lesson: Don’t believe everything you read. (except what I tell you of course)
This photo does not show a roar of aggression, simply a casual yawn.