Polar Bear Cubs: Hello New World
Shot on my first visit to Wat'chee Lodge, 40 miles South of Hudson Bay, Churchill, Canada in March 2009 with the Canon 1Ds Mark III, 800mm f/4 and 1.4x TC II
This was my first visit to see polar bear babies emerging from their birth dens near Churchill, Manitoba. Polar bear Moms give birth in December - January. The families remain in their underground dens for 2 months while the tiny cubs develop and grow. Between mid-February and March, families emerge from these earth dens and stay nearby for a week or as the young cubs acclimate to their new environment and extreme above ground weather. A Mom only gives birth to the number of babies that her body reserves can support. Mother Nature miraculously has a way of telling embryos that Mom can only have one cub, twins, or in rare cases - triplets. Unlucky embryos are re-absorbed back into the body. Polar bear babies are curious when they peek out from their dens and seem thrilled with their first ventures out. They are seeing sunlight and white fluffy snow for the very first time. At this age, cubs have no fat on them to keep them warm and they mostly snuggle under Mom's arms and legs. Temperatures are typically minus 40 to 50F degrees with Arctic wind chill. In addition, there are many hungry predators around, so Moms are always on the alert and never let toddlers stray more than a few feet away.
Because of harsh conditions, Moms make temporary day dens on the side of snowbanks to shelter families as they slowly make the long trek to Hudson Bay, 40 miles away. If there aren't any nearby snowbanks, Moms hunker down into soft snowdrifts in order to protect her family from gusty winds while resting. Sometimes, families are totally covered in snow and barely visible. The family’s mission is to safety make the 40 plus mile trek to Hudson Bay so that Moms can hunt/eat their primary source of nourishment - seals. Moms haven't eaten in 6 - 8 months and are anxious to regain their strength and bulk.
This gallery features endearing polar bear family moments and includes a mom with one cub, a mom with twins; and, most notably, a mom with the first set of triplets that I ever had the joy and privilege of photographing.
All images © Christina J. Prestegard 2004 - 2021. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.