Polar Record

Articles

Habitat preferences of polar bears in the western Canadian Arctic in late winter and spring

Ian Stirlinga1, Dennis Andriasheka1 and Wendy Calverta1

a1 Canadian Wildlife Service, 5320 122 Street, Edmonton, Alberta T6H 3S5, Canada

Abstract

Between late March and May, from 1971 through 1979, we surveyed 74,332 km2 of sea-ice habitatin the eastern Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf in the western Canadian Arctic. We defined seven sea-ice habitat types and recorded sightings of polar bears and their tracks in each to determine their habitat preferences. 791 bears (including cubs) and 6454 sets of tracks were recorded. 42.3%, 39.7%, and 15.6% of the bears were seen on floe-edge, moving ice, and drifted fast-ice habitats, respectively. Significant differences in habitat preferences were shown by bears of different sexes and age classes. Adult females accompanied by cubs of the year were the only group that showed a strong preference for fast ice with drifts, probably because they could feed adequately there while avoiding adult males that might prey upon their cubs. The highest densities of seals are found in floe-edge and moving ice habitats and this likely explains the predominance of bears there. Lone adult females and females with two-year-old cubs, adult males, and subadult males were found two and one-half to four times more frequently than predicted in floe-edge habitat. Since there are no data to suggest seals are more abundant along the floe edge than in moving ice habitat, the preference of these groups of adult polar bears for the floe edge in spring may be related to reproductive behavior.

(Received April 1992)