Polar Bear Icy Winter Arrives

Following an unusual two week extended polar bear “season” in the Churchill region, it finally seems that polar bears will be hunting seals out on the Hudson Bay ice – pack sooner than later. North winds and a dramatic drop in temperature has brought the ice in for good it appears. With tension around town growing increasingly high due to polar bears roaming the streets, ice on the Hudson Bay has never been more welcomed! Thanks to Polar Bear Alley and Great White Bear Tours for the awesome photos.

Hudson Bay ice in Churchill

Ice on the Hudson Bay in Churchill. Polar Bear Alley photo.

polar bears churchill great white bear

Mother and cub polar bear linger in the middle of the road. Great White Bear Tours photo.

Churchill Video of the Week – Beluga Bear Hunt

Awesome video footage of a voracious polar bear attempting to snag a beluga whale in a open lead in the ice of the Arctic. Exciting footage and evidence that polar bears will go after any creature to provide the sustenance for their high metabolism. Adaptation will be the key for these hearty animals as the Arctic ice dwindles even more due to global warming. Polar bears depend on the ice platform to hunt seals through the winter and with less ice time they must turn to protein – rich alternatives.

Polar Bear Skin is Black

Traveling to Churchill evokes images of pristine white polar bears. This “white” fur blends in with snow and ice to camouflage the animal, not from predators, though more so from prey, such as seals. The black also acts as a receptor for heat absorption from sunlight.

Polar bear with blackish tongue in Churchill, Manitoba.

Polar bear with blackish tongue. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.

Each polar bear hair is hollow in core, pigment-free and transparent that scatters and reflects sun-light. The same principle happens with ice and snow.

Just after the molting season in spring and early summer, polar bears appear most white since they are cleanest then. During the seal hunting season out on the Hudson Bay, polar bears absorb oils from the seals and appear yellow in color.

Underneath this thick “white” fur is a black skin layer with four and a half  inches of fat below that.

Polar bear at a polar rover in Churchill, Manitoba.

Polar bear skin is black underneath the transparent guard hairs. Brad Josephs photo.

When a polar bear is on land or on the sea ice surface the thick fur coat is what insulates the bear from the cold. However, when polar bears are swimming in water, the thick fat layer is what protects them from the frigid cold. Wet fur is not a good insulator and for this reason mother polar bears tend to keep their cubs out of the water as much as possible. The young bears have not built up the protective fat layer yet. Their fur however is enough to survive the cool spring temperatures.

Mother polar bears avoid having their cubs swim in the ocean until they have the fat reserves to protect them. Jonathan Hayward photo.

Mother polar bears avoid having their cubs swim in the ocean until they have the fat reserves to protect them. Jonathan Hayward photo.

Another unique characteristic that allows polar bears to keep warm and exude a whitish glow is luminescence. The insides of these transparent guard hairs have tiny bumps that scatter light and create a greater surface for the light across the animals body. The outside of the hairs also collect salt particles from the ocean and act in the same way to refract or scatter the light. Both of these processes cause an overall glow of white in appearance.

National Geographic ice bear

Get immersed in the intimate lives of polar bears with National Geographic WILD and Ice Bear. Using stereoscopic 3D camera technology, the complexities of polar bear survival is brought to life as never before with an immersive 3D experience and point-of-view shots that will take you right in to the polar bear’s sensory and physical world.

Through the course of Ice Bear, we follow individual bears and entire families as they make the treacherous journey from the hunting grounds on the winter ice fields, to the highly contested summer pack ice of the Hudson Bay. In the winter, bears can use the ice platforms to hunt seals and fish which provide them with a rich source of protein. With the encroaching summer, the ice begins to melt, leaving the bears to fight for their patches of hunting ground. Opportunistic packs of hungry wolves and a shortage of available prey could mean a bear won’t survive the summer. But when bear meets bear, a whole new set of challenges arise. -National Geographic.

Enjoy this video of a three-year old polar bear out on his own. The Arctic can be a truly formidable place to live…even for polar bears.

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