Great Canadian Parks / Manitoba

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The Parks / Manitoba / Wapusk National Park

Animal behaviourist Jane Waterman is an annual visitor to Cape Churchill, compiling research on the play behaviour of the young males along the coast awaiting freeze-up. This display of sparring and wrestling is the premier attraction for serious wildlife photographers and tourists to the Churchill area. Viewing is done from the safety of Tundra Buggies - large buses mounted on crop-duster tires - placing the spectators well above the frozen arena. Waterman has collected extensive data on the relative dominance of different bears, which may be indicative of their mating success. But she has also noted some interesting behaviour in their play. Rubbing, rolling and sliding on the snow may be an effort to cool hot spots on their body as revealed by infrared cameras.


A widely held belief that the hair of polar bears is hollow, allowing light to penetrate to their black skin and transmit heat to their bodies has not been supported by Waterman's research. So far, she reports, the hair shaft does not appear to transmit light.

There are roughly 10,000 Beluga Whales living in Hudson Bay. About 3,500 are considered part of the Churchill population. They move into the river estuaries shortly after the ice breaks up, probably looking for warmer environments for their newborn calves. A baby beluga is dark brown at birth, gradually lightening to a bluish grey. The white coloration of adult whales occurs around six years of age. The whales here grow to between 3 and 4 m in length with an average weight around 400 kg, somewhat smaller than the belugas found in more northerly waters. They have up to 40 fully developed teeth and feed on capelin, crab, shrimp and Arctic char. The fact that they are minus a dorsal fin is possibly an adaptation to their northern environment, facilitating their movement under ice. They also differ from most cetaceans in their spinal structure. The seven upper vertebrae are not fused, giving them an articulated neck.

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