Global warming is bringing unwanted changes to this community on the shores of Hudson Bay. Although Churchill, Manitoba is known as the polar bear capitol of the world, gradual temperature increases of 0.3 to 0.4 degrees per decade since 1950 are causing significant changes in the Bay’s environment.
Polar bears hunt on sea-ice, capturing seals as they surface for air at ice breaks. When the bay freezes later and breaks up earlier, polar bears are left waiting for access to their traditional hunting grounds and food sources. Scientists monitoring sea-ice at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center believe that ice could be withdrawing at a rate of up to 9% per decade. Due to the changing environment, the World Conservation Union listed the polar bear as a vulnerable species in 2006.
But polar bears are not the only wildlife impacted by climate change. Churchill also hosts tens of thousands of migratory birds in the spring, including Canada Geese, Pacific and Red-throated Loons, Hudsonian Godwits, Snowy Owls, Arctic Terns, Golden Plovers and Ross’ Gulls. Migratory birds expect their food source to be ready and waiting for them upon arrival. But warming temperatures are sending geese to Hudson Bay several weeks early. When they arrive, the marsh plants they feed on – which grow according to day length rather then temperature – are just beginning to sprout.
WHEN TO VISIT:
For polar bears: October – early December. (But check status of ice.)
For birdwatching: May through September.
For Beluga whales in Hudson Bay and the Churchill River estuary: Late June to early August.