Wapusk National Park of Canada

Polar Bears in Wapusk National Park

Female polar bear with cub Female polar bear with cub
© Thorsten Milse

One of the world's largest known polar bear maternity denning areas is located in Wapusk National Park (NP). The park is located within the range of the Western Hudson Bay population of polar bears, which has remained stable at about 935 bears.

Sea ice is the natural habitat of polar bears, and it's where they hunt their major food source – the ring seal. In fall, from late September to November, many of the bears migrate along the coast to catch the first pack ice of the winter. During this time, the number of bears peaks in the areas around Cape Churchill, an area located within Wapusk NP, and along the coast between the park and the town of Churchill.

When the ice of the Hudson Bay melts in late July, the bears are forced to come ashore. While on shore, they gather along the coast and fast for about four months, until they can hunt seals again when the bay freezes. Pregnant females remain on land through the winter to give birth to their cubs and will fast for about eight months. An amazing adaptation unique to this species of bear is their ability to slow down their metabolism at anytime during the year which allows them to conserve energy when food supply is low.

Bear Facts

  • Adult males average 300 to 450 kg and the largest ever recorded in Wapusk NP weighed just over 700 kg.
  • At birth, cubs are about the size of their mothers paw and weigh less than 1 kg.
  • Females have cubs every 2 or 3 years in Wapusk. The oldest female known to have had cubs in Wapusk NP was 29 years old.
  • While on land, an adult polar bear uses up about 1 kg of its fat reserves every day. A healthy, pregnant female is just over 50% fat.
  • The fastest human sprinters can run at just over 35 km/hr. A polar bear trots at 30 km/hr and can sprint at nearly 50 km/hr.
Comparison of male & female Polar Bear appearance- side view
Male rump is higher than female rump. Male neck is longer and thicker than female neck. Adult males look longer, leaner and more massive. Females look stocky and fatter.
© Parks Canada
Male and Female polar bear prints
Adult male tracks are larger than female tracks. (Even young male tracks are larger than tracks of older females).
© Parks Canada
Male and female bear tracks Left: Male searching for a seal
Right: Female searching for a seal
© Parks Canada

Safety in Polar Bear Country

Remember that while polar bears may be beautiful creatures to watch, they are also large, highly unpredictable and can be extremely dangerous. Once you arrive in Churchill, you could have an unexpected encounter with polar bears at any time, anywhere. Please read the following polar bear safety brochure.

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