It is estimated that the polar bear population of the western Hudson Bay area, an area extending from the Manitoba-Ontario boundary through to Chesterfield Inlet in Nunavut, is approximately 935.
The majority of the population spends most of the year, 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. From mid-July through to mid-November the entire population is forced onto adjacent coastal lands as the ice disappears. The greatest concentrations during this time period occur between the Nelson River and the town of Churchill.
High demand is seen for tourism operations in the Churchill area for access to world-class polar bear viewing opportunities. The number of commercial tour operators and the number of vehicles permitted on the high-use areas east of the townsite continues to be restricted. Measures are also taken to restrict travel to existing trails, designate some areas as off-limits, and more actively enforce the prohibition on baiting.
Bear condition and productivity has declined steadily over the last decade. Fall weight of all age classes for both sexes declined, and a steady decline was seen in spring weight of adult females leaving the denning area with cubs. The reproductive rate of females also declined, as did the survival rate of cubs. Researchers from the Canadian Wildlife Service continue to investigate this trend and its possible causes.
Manitoba lists the polar bear as threatened under The Endangered Species Act, and as protected under The Wildlife Act. Provincial staff participate on the Canadian Polar Bear Technical Committee and on the Advisory Committee which meet yearly to discuss polar bear management issues.
Enhanced protection of Manitoba polar bears and their habitat has also been achieved through:
Manitoba does not permit the harvesting of polar bears in the province for either recreational or commercial purposes. In order to protect people and property at the Churchill townsite, Manitoba must unfortunately destroy some problem bears. The number killed or removed remains small and does not affect the population.
In December 2009, Manitoba announced a $31 million investment towards the creation of an International Polar Bear Conservation Centre at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.
More detailed information on polar bears can be obtained through the Manitoba Conservation Data Centre's species database.