Find the best places to hunt Polar Bear in Canada and discover the Polar Bear's Physical Description, Range, Habitat, Food Source, Breeding Habits, and Status.

 

Provinces with Polar Bear Hunting

Nunavut Resident and Non-Resident
Northwest Territories Resident and Non-Resident 

Selecting a Calibre for Polar Bear

 Vital Shot Placement for Polar Bear
 Vital Shot Placement for Polar Bear

Original Photo by: Pixabay

Modified by: Canada-Hunts.ca

It was difficult to find information for this section. So, I reached out to Shane Black of Canada North Outfitting for advice on what calibre to use. Canada North Outfitting is an outfitting service for Polar Bear, Muskox, Walrus, and Central Barren Ground Caribou Hunts and his advice was as follows. "always a 300 win mag . 30-06 is sufficient"

I read some threads that stated not to use a scope because of the cold. Pictures on the internet always showed the hunter's rife to have a scope. So, I imagine that a good quality scope would not frost up in the cold. I would contact both your scope's manufacturer for a recommendation and your hunting provider for additional information as he/she would have the experience. 

Range - Distribution and Habitat of Polar Bears

 Polar Bear Range Map Of Canada

 Polar Bear Range Map Of Canada

 

Original map of canada: By Nzeemin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Modified By: Canada-Hunts.ca

The Polar Bears' native range lies largely within the Arctic Circle, encompassing the Arctic Ocean, its surrounding seas and the surrounding land masses.

Polar Bears like to use the pack ice as a hunting platform and to provide protective cover from which they can hunt their prey.

This habitat of snow-drifted pressure ridges, refrozen cracks, and unfrozen sea within the ice pack has preference because it is closely linked to the presence of their favourite food of bearded seals and ringed seals. Their scientific name means "maritime bear", and is derived from these facts. 

They hunt from the edge of sea ice, often living off fat reserves when no sea ice is present. Polar Bears have webbed paws and with their dependence on sea ice, polar bears are classified as marine mammals.

Approximately 935 polar bears live in the western Hudson Bay area, an area extending from the Manitoba-Ontario boundary through to Chesterfield Inlet in the Northwest Territories. The majority of the polar bear population spends the time from mid-November to mid-July on the ice of Hudson Bay. Pregnant females are an exception to this, spending from mid-November through to March in maternity dens on land, and then moving to the sea ice with their cubs. 

In its' southern range of areas like eastern Baffin Island and Hudson Bay. Most or all of the pack ice melts by mid- to late summer This melting forces the bear population ashore for two to four months of the summer and early fall. The greatest concentrations during this time period occur between the Nelson River and the town of Churchill. Here they will wait for the ice to re -freeze again. 

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

Description of Polar Bears

Polar Bear Boars Sows
Life Span 15-18 years average
Shoulder Height 3.5 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters)
Overall Length 2.4–3 meters (7 ft 10 in–9 ft 10 in)
Weight 1700 lbs (771 kg) 850 kg (385 lb)
Weight at Birth 454 to 680 g(16-24 oz.)
Antlers Not applicable Not applicable
Hearing Not much is known, however, data suggests that polar bears are much more sensitive to sound than humans
Eyes  
Dental Formula I3/3, C1/1, PM 2-4/2-4, M 2/3 = 34-42)
Body Temperature 37°C (98.6°F)
Feet Large foot with 5 toes and claws.
Can Travel 25 m/hr, 40 km/hr.
Diet Main diet is ringed and bearded seals. They also eat harp and hooded seals and scavenge on carcasses of beluga whales, walruses, narwhals, and bowhead whales. On occasion, polar bears kill beluga whales and young walruses.
Sexual Maturity 6 years. 4-5 Years
Breeding Time Sows mate every third year in the late spring to early summer
Gestation N/A 195-265 days
Birthing N/A November / December
# in Litter N/A 1-4 cubs; generally 2
Weaning 20 months of age
Communication  

What colour is a Polar Bear? This is not a trick question. It is BLACK. The hide or skin of the polar bear is black and the hair is translucent like that of a strand of fibre optic cable. Just like the fibre optic cable that has no colour. It reflects the light of its surroundings. It appears to be white, because its hair is reflecting all the light (white light).

The white coat usually yellows with age. Males have significantly longer hairs on their forelegs, which increase in length until the bear reaches 14 years of age. The male bear has longer foreleg hair, it is thought that it is much like a lion’s mane in that it is strictly ornamental and is used to attract females.

The polar bear is a carnivorous bear that has evolved to occupy a narrow ecological niche, with many characteristics that are adapted for cold temperatures, for moving across snow, ice, and open water, and for hunting seals, which makes up most of its diet.

Its carnivorous diet is highly supported by the configuration of its 42 teeth. The cheek teeth are smaller and more jagged than in the brown bears, and the canines are larger and sharper.

Slightly smaller than its sister species the brown bear, this is a large bear, approximately the same size as the omnivorous Kodiak bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi). A boar (adult male) will weigh around 350–700 kg (772–1,543 lb), measures 2.4–3 metres (7 ft 10 in–9 ft 10 in) in total length, and a shoulder height of 133 cm (4 ft 4 in). While a sows' (adult female) weight and size is about half of that of the male. All all bears have short-tails but the polar bear's tail is the shortest amongst living bears, ranging from 7 to 13 cm (2.8 to 5.1 in) in length.

Comparison of Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, and Polar Bear
 Bear Comparisons
 

Bear Comparsions by - US National Park Service

Around the Beaufort Sea, mature males average 450 kg (992 lb). Half the size of males, adult females normally weigh 150–250 kg (331–551 lb) and measure 1.8–2.4 meters (5 ft 11 in–7 ft 10 in) in length. The weight of sows in other areas is slightly larger with an estimated average weight of 260 kg (573 lb).

The largest reported polar bear on record was a male shot at Kotzebue Sound in North Western Alaska in 1960 and weighed 1,002 kg (2,209 lb), This specimen, when mounted, stood 3.39 m (11 ft 1 in) tall on its hind legs. 

Compared to the brown bear, the polar bear has a more elongated body, a longer skull, longer nose, and flatter face.  principle Holding to the principle that in a warm-blooded animal species having distinct geographic populations, the limbs, ears, and other appendages of the animals living in cold climates tend to be shorter than in animals of the same species living in warm climates (known as Allen's Rule). The Polar Bears' the legs are stocky, the ears are short and its tail are small. However, evolution has developed very large feet to distribute its load when walking on snow or thin ice and to provide propulsion when swimming. The paws of an adult bear can measure 30 cm (12 in) across. In order to provide traction on the ice the pads of its paws are covered with small, soft papillae (dermal bumps). Compared to the brown bear, the polar bear's claws are short, stocky, and deeply scooped on the underside. These features are adaptations to aid the polar bears need to grip heavy prey and to assist in digging in the ice of the natural habitat. It is thought that the polar bear is right handed. This comes from a study of polar bear forelimbs injury patterns that found injuries to the right forelimb to be more frequent than those to the left.

 
 Polar Bears Playing
 Photo By: Alan D. Wilson (naturespicsonline.com ()) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Polar bears are superbly insulated by up to 10 cm (4 in) of adipose tissue, their hide, and their fur; they overheat at temperatures above 10 °C (50 °F), and are nearly invisible under infrared photography. 

The coat of a polar bear consists of an inner layer of dense fine fur under a layer of long coarse transparent hair, this combination of hair and fur provides the bear the warmth and waterproofing that it needs.

The coarse hair that forms the bear's outer fur is 5–15 cm (2–6 in) over most of the body. Polar bears gradually molt from May to August, but, possibly because of their translucent fur, they do not shed their coat in order to camouflage themselves in summer conditions.

The polar bears best sense is probably the sense of smell as it is able to detect a seal at nearly 1.6 km (1 mi) away and seals that are buried under 1 m (3 ft) of snow. Studies show that this bear has an audible range of 11.2 to 22.5 kHz and when it comes to vision.

There are actually 3 aspects to consider:
  1. In the daytime, it is thought that the eyesight of a bear is comparable to our eyesight.
  2. Bears have night vision.
  3. Polar bear possesses the adaptation of a clear inner “eyelid” that protect their eyes and serves as a second lens to help them see underwater.

The polar bear can swim for days using its large forepaws and swimming in a motion that looks like a dog paddle. It is such a good swimmer that on the average it swims 10 km/h (6 mph) which is actually faster than its walking average of (5.6 km/h (3.5 mph). Don’t let these low looking speeds fool you, as this bear is able to sprint at speeds of 40 km/h (25 mph).

A microscopic nematode or roundworm that cannot be seen with the naked eye can cause trichinosis in bears. This parasite can be killed by cooking your meat well done. For this reason, hunters are cautioned that they can become infected from this disease and all bear meat should be cooked carefully before consumption. Hunters should also be aware that Polar Bear Liver is very high in Vitamin A and these high levels can lead to “hypervitaminosis A”. A condition that can kill you, so, don’t eat the liver of Polar Bear.

Diet and Foraging Strategy of Polar Bears

 Polar Bear

 

 Photo Source: polar bear USFWS - public domain

The Arctic is the home to millions of seals and they are the main food source of the polar bear, the most carnivorous member of the bear family. Ringed (Pusa hispida) and bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus) are hunted primarily by surprising them when they surface in breathing holes in the ice or when they haul out on the ice to rest. Polar bears don’t often catch seals on land nor in open water but they have developed a hunting strategy where they are able to catch seals in areas where ice, water, and air meet.

Still-hunting is the polar bear's most common hunting method. In this method, it uses its excellent sense of smell to locate a seals' breathing hole. The bear will then crouch nearby and wait (sometimes for several hours) in silence for a seal to appear. When the seal comes up the breathing hole and exhales, the bear smells the seals' breath, reaches into the hole with a forepaw, and drags it out onto the ice.

The polar bear then kills the seal by biting its head to crush its skull. The polar bear will also hunt seals that are resting on the ice. When the bear spots a seal, it will walk to within 90 m (100 yd), and then crouch. If the seal does not notice it, the bear will creep to within 9 to 12 m (30 to 40 ft) of the seal and then suddenly rush in for the kill. A third hunting method is to raid the birth lairs that female seal creates in the snow. Here the bear has the ability to smell the seal under the snow and is able to attack through the snow to get to the pup.

Mature bears tend to eat only the highly digestible calorie-rich skin and blubber of the seal. Whereas, younger bears tend to consume the protein-rich red meat. Polar bears have been seen scaling near-vertical cliffs to eat birds' chicks and eggs. For juvenile bears, which are independent of their mother but have not yet gained enough experience and body size to successfully hunt seals, scavenging the carcasses from another bears' kill is an important source of nutrition. Juveniles may also be forced to accept a half-eaten carcass even if they do kill a seal as they will not be able to defend it from larger polar bears. The bear has a habit of cleaning itself after feeding at a kill site, it will do this by either rolling on the ice and snow (especially in the winter time) or taking a dip in the water.

 

 Ringed Seal

 Ringed Seal
Photo By NOAA Seal Survey (NOAA Seal Survey) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The polar bear is an exceptionally powerful mammal. However, it's primary prey species. The ringed seal is born weighing only 5.4 kg (12 lb) and grows to an estimated average weight of only 60 kg (130 lb). is much smaller than itself. Of the many of the seals hunted by the bear. It is the seal pups that are taken rather than the adults. 

The bear will also prey heavily upon the harp seal (Pusa groenlandica) or the harbor seal when they are in their hunting zone. Adult bearded seals on the other hand, can weigh in at 350 to 500 kg (770 to 1,100 lb) and in comparison to a female bears weight of 270 kg (600 lbs). The taking of this seal must be left for mature male bears to handle.

Large male bears also occasionally attempt to hunt and kill even larger prey items like an adult walrus (Odobenus rosmarus). Although this is rarely attempted, one of very first videos I saw during my research was exactly that. A bear taking and killing an adult walrus. At up to 2,000 kg (4,400 lb), a typical adult walrus weighs in at 600 to 1,500 kg (1,300 to 3,300 lb). This means that the walrus can be more than twice the bear's weight, and the walrus has up to 1-metre (3 ft)-long ivory tusks that can be used as formidable weapon to defend itself with. The goal of the polar bear in charging a group of walruses is to separate a calf, infirm, or injured walrus from the pod. Adult walrus will however be taken on when the walrus diving hole is a distance from the walrus or has become frozen over. Here, the bear tries to get between the diving hole and the walrus before making its attack. Unless it is injured or in some way incapacitated, a large male walrus is probably invulnerable. Since an attack on a walrus tends to be an extremely time consuming and exhausting venture. Bears have been known to back down from the attack after making the initial injury to the walrus, and will seldomly attack a full-grown adult walrus

 
 Bearded Seal
 Bearded Seal
 Photo By: Smudge 9000 - Flickr

Polar bears have also been seen to prey on beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) and narwhals (Monodon monoceros), by swiping at them while the whales are at breathing holes. Weighing in at 1,000 pounds or more, the whale is much larger than the bear. Because of their size and the fact that they are in the water it initially seems to be an impossible situation but this unlikely scenario will occur when the ice freezes over and the whale(s) are caught at a single breathing hole. You will find the bear will attack the whale(s) when it comes up for air. The bear sometimes gets successful in killing or pulling out a drowned whale.  

It will feed on the carcasses of a dead adult walruses or whale that washed ashore. The Polar Bear will readily devoure the blubber even if rotten.

Because polar bears overheat quickly, most land based animals in the Arctic can outrun the polar bear by out distancing them. And most marine animals can out swim it. The advantage the polar bear has over most marine mammals is: "You have to breath some time sucker, I'll wait."

Polar bears sometimes fish for Arctic Char or the fourhorn sculpin when they swim underwater. 

With the exception of pregnant females, polar bears are active year-round despite their natural hibernation induction trigger and do not "hibernate" at any time of the year. Unlike brown and black bears, polar bears are quite capable of fasting and living off of their fat reserves for months at a time. This is beneficial during the late summer and early fall, when they cannot hunt for seals because of open sea waters.

Breeding and Reproduction of Polar Bears

Sow (female) with cubs

 Female Polar Bear with Cubs
 Photo From: Pixabay

The differences in appearance between males and females of the same species, such as in colour, shape, size, and structure makes the polar bear one of the most sexually dimorphic mammals.

The Polar Bear marks its beginning sometime between November and February when as a cub it is born blind, covered with a light down fur, and weighs less than 0.9 kg (2.0 lb).

On average, it will belong to a litter of two cubs. The family (mother and cubs) will remain in the maternal den until mid-February to mid-April. During this time, the mother fasts but nurses her cubs on her fat-rich milk.

The cub weighs about 10 to 15 kilograms (22 to 33 lb) when the mother breaks open the entrance to the maternal den. Then for about 12 to 15 days, the family spends its' time in the vicinity of the den. The mother will graze on vegetation (if available) while the cubs strengthen their walking and playing skills in preparation for their long walk to the sea ice.

Once on the ice, the mother may have already fasted for up to eight months. Here, she can once again catch seals and the cubs may spend the rest of their life on the ice. The cubs will playfully imitate the mother's hunting methods in preparation for later life.

The female polar bear is like all other members of the bear family in that the females are noted for both their affection towards their offspring, and their valour in protecting them. Sows' will adopt stranded cubs and multiple cases of adoption of wild cubs have been confirmed through genetic testing. Adult male bears will occasionally hunt down, kill and eat polar bear cubs.

Generally the cubs are weaned at two and a half years but the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation is unusual in that its female polar bears sometimes wean their cubs at only one and a half years of age. At 30 months of the mother chases the cubs away or abandons them. Sibling cubs from this point may travel and hunt together for a few weeks or months but eventually separating and going their own way.

In most areas, female bears begin to breed at the age of four years, and five years in the area of the Beaufort Sea. Males usually reach sexual maturity at six years of age. But due to fierce competition for females by larger males, many males do not have the physical size to breed until the age of eight or ten.

A Hudson Bay study indicated that both the reproductive success and the maternal weight of a female will peak while in their mid-teens.

Courtship and mating takes place on the sea ice during the months of April and May. Polar bears have congregated in the best seal hunting areas and a male may follow the tracks of a breeding female for 100 km (60 mi) or more. After finding the receptive sow he will engage in intense fighting with other males over the right to mate with her, These fights amongst the boars often result in scars and broken teeth. The pair will stay together and mate repeatedly for an entire week. This mating ritual will induce ovulation in the sow. This not to say that the male will not be displaced by different male that arrives on the scene. The winner of the confrontation, gets the right to breed. So, it is safe to say that the bear is polygynous and there are recorded cases of litters in which cubs have different fathers.

After mating, the fertilized egg will remain in a suspended state until August or September. During these four months, the pregnant female eats vast amounts of food, gaining at least 200 kg (440 lb) and often more than doubling her body weight. A pregnant female can weigh as much as 500 kg (1,102 lb).

As the ice floes break up in the fall, ending the possibility of seal hunting, most pregnant females travel inland a few kilo meters and dig a maternity den consisting of a narrow entrance tunnel leading from one to three chambers. Most maternity dens are dug in snowdrifts, but may also be made underground in permafrost if it is not sufficiently cold yet for snow. Where sows do not den on land, they will make their maternal dens on the sea ice. Once in the maternal den, female polar bears will lapse into a state of what is called walking hibernation, a state where the bear generates body heat to maintain normal body temperature but she does slow her heart rate from 46 to 27 beats per minute. 

Status of Polar Bear In Canada

The current world polar bear population is probably around 25 000 to 30 000 animals with the Canadian population likely exceeding 15 000 indiviuals. With no natural enemies, its own kind and the human hunter are the only predators of the polar bear. In recent years, hunters throughout the world have killed fewer than 1 000 yearly. Between 500 and 600 of these are taken by Inuit and Amerindian hunters in Canada under a system of annual quotas that is reviewed annually in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The status of the polar bear for this writer is realy questionable. Some sites claim that global climate change is putting the polar bear in danger while others claim that the bear is actually increasing its territory and population.

There is one thing for certain, the annual economic value of the guided sport hunting and trade in bear hides for Canada is about $1 million. In the case of the polar bear this economic value may have a silver lining in that depending on the size and quality of an untanned polar bear pelt. The pelt sells anywhere from $500 to $3 000, which would normally make up a significant portion of an Inuk hunter’s cash income. However, the practise of guiding non-resident sport hunters on a polar bear hunt is normally in the range of $18 000 to $20 000 per hunt. Thus it is far more benificial to the Inuk Hunter to guide and kill one polar bear instead of six to make the same income.  

Annual quotas are assigned to each coastal village in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Here Inuk hunters are allowed to allocate a number of tags for sport hunting. This become an extremely important source of cash income for these small settlements of northern Canada. .

It should also be noted, that tags from unsuccessful guided sport hunt cannot be reallocated to a different hunter. This practice results in fewer polar bears being harvested in total than would be the case if all the tags were allocated for subsistence hunting. Because most sport hunters are out looking to harvest a large male, fewer adult females are harvested in the process. Because one male will mate with several sows this process aids to help protect the reproductive component of the population.

Polar bears appear to be less affected by infectious diseases and parasites than most terrestrial mammals. Polar bears are especially susceptible to Trichinella, a parasitic roundworm they contract through cannibalism, although infections are usually not fatal. Only one case of a polar bear with rabies has been documented, even though polar bears frequently interact with Arctic foxes, which often carry rabies. Bacterialleptospirosis which can lead to kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, respiratory distress, and even death. While Morbillivirus (a virus) have also been recorded. Polar bears sometimes have problems with various skin diseases that may be caused by mites or other parasites.

At present, the polar bear is one of the best managed of the large arctic mammals. If all the arctic nations continue to abide by the terms and intent of the Polar Bear Agreement, the future of this magnificent species should be secure.

References

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polar_bear
  • Species At Risk - Polar Bear Fact Sheet
  • Canada's Biodiversity - https://www.cbd.int/doc/world/ca/ca-nr-05-en.pdf
  • Hinterland Who's Who - http://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/polar-bear.html

Photo Credits - Background

Polar Bear on Floating Ice - Lain Glennie - Flickr

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