Are polar bears increasing or decreasing?
With global warming on the news almost nightly and certainly on everyone’s minds, one of the key icons of the Arctic, the polar bear, is at the epicenter of the concern over melting Arctic sea ice.
Polar bear populations in the Churchill, Manitoba area (perhaps the most intensively-studied population in the world) have dropped some 20% in the last 20 years. But assessing the total bear numbers worldwide is more difficult, due to the lack of good historical data.
Conservation organization Polar Bears International spoke with a top bear scientist recently. Read more [opens in a new window]…
When is the best time to go? Summer? Or fall?
The best time to go will depend on the location. Polar bear watching in Spitsbergen is done in the summer months when the bears are coming ashore as the ice melts. At that time, you can see them on some of the melting ice floes, on land and swimming in the inlets and channels between the islands. Cruises in Spitsbergen operate only in the summer months.
In Churchill, the best time is in the mid-fall months of October to November. The bears are gathering along the shore of Hudson Bay waiting for the water to freeze so they can begin their annual seal hunt. Most tours start around the 15th of October and end by about November 20. Bear sightings are almost assured any time during this period, but if you want to see them on snow and ice, it’s best to go around the end of October and later.
How long should I stay?
Most tours and cruises are of a fixed length, and will incorporate several days of bear viewing opportunities. Since wildlife movements and weather can’t be predicted, the longer you spend in the field the more opportunities you will have for encounters with bears.
Spitsbergen cruises range from a week to three weeks, while Churchill trips vary from three to nine days which include two to four days of actual bear viewing on the tundra.