Polar Bears and Fauna and Flora of
Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are the largest of terrestrial carnivores (fully grown males weigh 1000–1800 pounds), slightly exceeding the largest grizzlies (Ursus arctos, properly called brown bears), from which they apparently evolved some 70,000 years ago. They are found only on the ice and shorelines around the Arctic Circle, with maximum concentrations of denning sites in the regions of Hudson's Bay, Spitzbergen (off Norway), and Wrangel Island (off Siberia). By a 6-nation agreement, they are protected from hunting except for a limited kill permitted to Canadian Inuits and a few other indigenous groups. It is believed that polar bears currently number 20,000 to 40,000 individuals world-wide. We've made two trips to Churchill to observe, photograph, and enjoy these magnificent animals and the other animals of this subarctic area (latitude 59 degrees north). All photos taken with Nikon equipment.
Because the 1998 trip was made before really cold weather, we were interested in returning to Churchill after the snow had come to stay. We were able to do so in 2000.
Hudson Bay is the southernmost limit of the polar bear's range. Churchill lies on the western coast of the bay at 59 degrees north latitude, so it's well below the Arctic Circle (66.5 degrees N). However, the pattern of currents in the western Atlantic and the weather over Canada creates favorable conditions for seals, and therefore for polar bears, in this area. After the ice on the bay melts in late June and July, the bears have to come ashore. They then fast — except for occasional windfalls of whale carcasses on the shore, berries, and other minor intake — until the ice freezes again in November and they can return to the bay for seal hunting. For more information about polar bears, see: http://www.state.ak.us/local/akpages/FISH.GAME/notebook/marine/polarbea.htm