Three adolescents saunter along the shoreline, seemingly just killing time. They are playfully wrestling one another as they explore, watched by a quizzical red fox. These are, of course, not teenagers, but polar bears, seen through the lens of the Tundra Buggy Cam.
Polar Bears International (PBI), a conservation non-profit is currently tracking and filming these polar bears in Churchill, Canada while they wait for the sea ice to form on Hudson Bay. When the ice forms, they can go and hunt for seals.
The polar bear cam is an annual project which shows the bears’ migration from the arctic tundra to the sea ice during the winter months.
Churchill in Manitoba has long been associated with polar bears as they wander through the town during the autumn while they wait for the ice to form. It’s also a great place for scientists to witness the effects of climate change on the polar bears’ environment.
Shifting weather patterns mean that the sea ice is taking longer to form, leaving the polar bears hungry and forcing them to migrate further. They need to eat an abundance of the high-fat seal diet during winter just to survive the harsh conditions.
According to the PBI, these polar bears in North West Canada will be among the first groups of the 36,000 bears in the wild to be negatively affected by climate change. Since the 1980s their numbers have dwindled by around 30%.
Desperate bears with diminishing resources can fuel encounters with humans. As the bears struggle to find food, they end up resorting to hunting through the trash.
“The ice-free period is about three to four weeks longer than it used to be in the 1980s already. And what this translates to is less time hunting for polar bears and less nutrition for them,” Alysa McCall, a staff scientist and the director of conservation at PBI explains. She goes on to say that while encounters are extremely rare, in the worst-case scenario someone can get injured or killed.
For now though, the bears seem content to while away their time on the edge of the bay. You can watch the live streams of these magnificent creatures on the PBI website.