When you think of polar bears, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the cold. Images of deep snow, freezing temperatures and endless expanses of sea ice are all commonly attributed to these lumbering giants of the North. While these aspects are quite true for most of the year, did you know that polar bears also experience warmth in the summer? For polar bears living in the more southern portions of their range e.g. the Southern Hudson and Western Hudson Bay populations of Canada, polar bears are forced onto land as the sea ice melts and disappears on an annual basis. Temperatures in these areas can get as high as 30 degrees Celsius in the height of the summer! For the wild bears experiencing these temperatures, the best thing they can do is rest, to conserve energy and reduce their likelihood of overheating. Spending time in the cool coastal water and digging day beds in the sand are also excellent ways for a polar bear to cool off.
Photo credit: Lazy Bear Expeditions
It is important to note that, as a result of human-caused climate change, arctic summers are getting longer. This means that polar bears are forced on-land earlier, enduring higher heat and longer periods of fasting. While summer in the arctic is natural, it is quickly becoming an evermore challenging environment for polar bears to survive in.
Geographically, The Habitat is only approximately 250kms away from southern tip of the James Bay, which is home to the Southern Hudson Bay population of polar bears. The bears in our care experience summer temperatures that closely resemble that of their wild counterparts, and their behaviour mimics that of the wild bears as well. They are much less active and choose to spend more time in the water, with the choice of three different pools or a lake. Inukshuk especially likes to float in the shallow water at the shore of the lake, with his nose sticking out to allow him to breath. The bears caloric intake is reduced in the summer to help them lose weight, as a thick fat layer does not allow for effective heat dissipation. Their thick winter coat is also shed in the spring, leaving them with a shorter, lighter coat. The biggest difference for our bears is that they are provided with free access to air-conditioned indoor rooms for them to use as they choose. These rooms are quiet and temperature controlled, providing the perfect space for them to cool off and relax on a hot summer day.
For guests hoping to visit The Habitat during the summer, we recommend considering the weather in your trip-planning. Try not to choose a hot day and aim to arrive in the morning, as the bears are typically more active at this time. We encourage you to allow a couple of hours to stroll around the grounds, learn about polar bears in the Viewers Building, speak with our animal care staff during their daily interactions with the bears and maybe pick up a few keep-sakes from the gift shop.