The number of polar bear sightings in Churchill, known as the polar bear capital of the world, has dropped.

There were 229 polar bear sightings in 2013, 202 in 2014, 351 in 2015 and 390 in 2016. But then in 2017, there was a sharp decrease to 150.

According to provincial officials, this decrease can be attributed to the ice on Hudson Bay, where polar bears go to eat seal in the winter. In 2017 the feeding period lasted longer than in past years.

“The ice on the bay was frozen a little bit longer than usual, so the bears were able to stay out on the ice later and didn’t need to come into land,” said Vicki Trim, the acting wildlife manager.

Churchill also has a polar bear alert program that monitors and prevents bears from entering Churchill and ushers bears out of town if need be. The patrol consists of seven full-time staff, including two conservation officers, who do patrols and respond to calls.

If bears do need to be handled by one of the staff, they are immobilized before they are released. These instances also dropped in 2017, from 55 to 22.

But Churchill resident Judd Jones, who is a nature guide, said at least one bear snuck in and made it to the centre of town.

“So he walked right through town and nobody spotted him, ten o’clock in the morning until he was right out on the main drag, so he had wandered through back alleys and people’s backyards,” he said 

With files from Jeff Keele.