Churchill, Manitoba, a small sub-Arctic community based on the edge of the Hudson Bay is famously known as the polar bear capital of the world. Whether you’re in Churchill to see the roaming polar bears, spectacular aurora borealis or the surfacing beluga whales, Churchill is filled with seasonal wildlife. Each year, travelers from all over the world visit Churchill in October and November in hopes of spotting a wild polar bear, but few know why these majestic creatures are so plentiful during Churchill’s fall season.
While no animal migration can be predicted with 100 percent accuracy, travelers have an opportunity to see the Hudson Bay polar bear population (approximately 1,000 bears) begin their seal-hunting season each fall. As the autumn temperatures drop and cold air blows, the polar bears migrate towards the Hudson Bay in anticipation of its freeze. Unlike other water sources, the Hudson Bay is a freshwater bay making it one of the first areas to freeze over. Positioning themselves near Churchill’s bay will give this polar bear population a key advantage as they have earlier access to a plentiful food source. Once the water freezes, polar bears walk across the ice to hunt seals throughout the winter season.
Natural Habitat Adventures parks its exclusive Tundra Lodge in this path, so travelers may spot polar bears walking past their overnight accommodation en route to the Hudson Bay. In addition, travelers have the opportunity to witness mothers with cubs and young males playing as the bears make their way to this plentiful food source.
In the Hudson Bay, polar bears hunt for seals by finding seal breathing holes in the ice. When the seals come up to breathe, the polar bear will grab the seal and pull it out of the water, providing a high-fat content meal for the bear. Polar bears, which can devour up to 150 pounds in one sitting, survive off of their fat reserves until the next hunting season.
At the tail end of the hunting season, mating season will begin typically lasting from late March to mid-July. Pregnant females will begin denning in October and November, where they dig oval caves in snowbanks in an effort to provide a safe area for their cubs throughout the Arctic winter. The insulation of the snow combined with the polar bear’s body heat can raise the den’s temperature to as high as 40°F, providing a warm area for a mother to give birth. When the cubs are large enough, they will emerge from the den the following spring with their mother to start making their way over to the frozen sea ice.
Whether you’re spotting a mother with her cubs, male polar bears playing in the snow or a lone bear heading to the frozen bay, seeing a wild polar bear is a breathtaking experience. Churchill is the largest concentration of polar bears in the world, making it the perfect destination to see polar bears in their natural habitat.