WWF Canada Blog:
Arctic

News, views and analysis from our team as we work to create solutions to conservation challenges facing our planet.


New polar bear cubs and research

March marks the beginning of spring in the Arctic: Upirngaksajaaaq (moving into/early spring). Signs of Arctic spring are everywhere: long daylight hours and increasing rapidly each day, snow bunting flocks arriving and ringed seal preparing under snow lairs for their April pupping season. Temperatures remain well below zero, creating good snow and sea ice conditions for travel and hunting. March is also when polar bear mothers and their cubs begin to emerge from their dens and prepare to move out onto the sea ice for their first ringed seal meal since denning in the fall. 

Polar bear cubs, Svalbard, Norway
© Jon Aars / Norwegian Polar Institute  / WWF-Canon

Polar bear dens are hard to find, as they are covered by an entire winter’s worth of snow. Usually there is no indication of a den location until the female bear pops her head out for her first look in the spring. In some regions, polar bears den in concentrated areas but in much of their Canadian range polar bear den individually. Much of our knowledge about polar bear dens has resulted from studies in concentrated denning areas, like those near Churchill, Manitoba, the Beaufort Sea coastline, and Svalbard.  To help improve our understanding about polar bear den habitat, WWF is funding a polar bear denning project to compile and map all the existing traditional and scientific knowledge in Nunavut.

“I used geospatial software to digitize all of the traditional ecological knowledge regarding polar bear denning that Elders, hunters, and other Inuit community members provided during interviews.  This made it relatively easy to visualize and analyze all of the information,” explained Maha Ghazal, who led the research.

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© Pete Ewins/ WWF-Canada

“This is an important project that will – for the first time – provide an accessible summary of polar bear denning information to Nunavummiut and Canadians,” said Vicki Sahanatien of WWF’s Arctic program, who is based in Iqaluit, Nunavut. “The combination of traditional knowledge and scientific information will give us a more complete picture of polar bear denning behavior and habitat requirements.”

This information can help inform decisions about land and water use in the Canadian Arctic.

“Combining all the knowledge that is available, be that Tradition Ecological Knowledge, Government grey literature, or published studies is an important first step to understand polar bear denning requirements,” said Dr. Stephen Petersen, the project lead and Head of Conservation and Research, Assiniboine Park Zoo. “From this foundation, we hope to work with northern communities and organizations to develop community based monitoring systems so northerners can play an even bigger role in local polar bear management. Ideally monitoring would draw on traditional skills and scientific methods to find and monitor dens and denning habitat over the long term. There is so much variability in the Arctic that long term monitoring is critical to managing polar bears.”

This project is one of several funded by Arctic Home donations from engaged Canadians, which were generously matched by Coca-Cola.  This year’s Arctic Home campaign ends March 15 – please donate today!