Churchill's Polar Bear Migration

A polar bear mother leads her three cubs along the shores of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba. Polar bears migrate here each fall to wait for freeze-up so they can return to hunting seals, the mainstay of their diet. Details...

Every fall, hundreds of polar bears gather near Churchill, Canada, on Hudson Bay to wait for the sea ice to form.

The bears are part of the Western Hudson Bay population, which is located at the southern edge of the polar bear’s range. Every summer, bears in this population are forced ashore when the bay ice melts. They spend the next few months fasting, living off their fat reserves and conserving energy. When an autumn nip chills the air, they begin migrating north along the coast to Churchill, where the first ice of the season forms. They congregate near Churchill in anticipation of freeze-up and a return to their seal-hunting grounds.

Although Churchill’s polar bear migration is part of an age-old pattern, climate change has caused Hudson Bay to melt earlier each summer and to freeze later, shortening the hunting season for these bears and straining the limit of their fat reserves. As a result, their numbers have dropped by 22% over the past 30 years. The trend is expected to occur in other populations in the foreseeable future unless climate warming is stopped or reversed.

The live Polar Bear Cam provides a window onto the migration, allowing viewers to become inspired by the beauty of these majestic animals, to witness the effects of climate change first-hand—and to become inspired to take action.

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