Seasonal activity patterns of female polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in the Canadian Arctic as revealed by satellite telemetry



We examined seasonal variations in activity level and mobility of female polar bears inhabiting the Canadian Arctic archipelago. The sea-ice habitat consisted primarily of landfast, multi-year ice except from July through October when loose pack-ice predominated. The proportion of the day during which bears were active, and the distance travelled, were documented for 18 bears during 20 months with the aid of satellite telemetry. A peak of activity and mobility occurred in May-July regardless of the reproductive status of tracked bears. The period of elevated activity coincided with a period when seals were especially vulnerable to bear predation. Winter months were characterized by low activity levels and mobility, a response probably related to a reduced access to seals and to inclement weather. During the period preceding den entry (May through September), pregnant females tended to be more mobile in May-June, and less active in August September, compared to non-pregnant, solitary females. Early den entry by pregnant females and facultative use of dens by other members of the population are viewed as a means to conserve energy for individuals with adequate fat reserves but experiencing conditions unfavourable for hunting seals. We conclude that seasonal variations in activity and mobility of polar bears seem closely linked to the temporal dynamics of bear-seal interactions.