The Polar Bear Capital of the World
On October 9th, we got the unique opportunity to spend the day observing a few sleepy and hungry polar bears in their natural habitat; just patiently waiting for water to freeze so they can hunt again. We woke up bright and early, took a shuttle out in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area and hopped on our “Polar Rover”. This giant, beastly all-terrain vehicle brought us (slowly – at less than 30km/hr) out on carefully managed roads through the untouched tundra. These vehicles are designed specifically to protect the land that they drive on as well as the passengers inside them.
With almost 50 pairs of eyes scanning the landscape from all windows, it didn’t take long to spot the first polar bear sniffing around the Great White Bear Tours Lodge (This lodge is where people wealthier than us can pay to actually sleep out on the tundra in a giant Polar Rover to get the ultimate polar bear viewing experience). The second bear was just beyond the lodge, resting by a small pond of water. We pulled up close enough to get a good look, hoping not to get too close to disturb them. We just parked and watched; it was magical. For the most part, the bears did not pay much attention to us. Bear #1 started out curious but ended up moving from shrub to shrub seemingly to hide from our sights. We referred to Bear #2 affectionately as “Lazy Bear” since he/she (most likely a he) spent most of our visit snoozing by the pond. After spending some time admiring these two big beauties, we moved on to make way for another Rover of enthused tourists and set out to find another sleeping giant.
After a long, slow, but fascinating drive over the tundra and through freezing ponds, we found Bear #3. This bear was much smaller than the first two (who our tour guide estimated to be over 1000lbs!); he or she was also much cleaner looking. Bear #3 seemed relaxed and sleepy but he/she kept a really close eye on us while we were parked nearby. It was pretty amazing to see that the polar bears are already hanging out at the shoreline waiting for the ice to freeze when there isn’t even snow on the ground and the ponds are just starting to get a thin layer of ice. These massive mammals are so incredibly patient. We noticed that a few of them would just chew on the grass and shrubs but it seemed to be mostly for something to do since the plants wouldn’t provide much substance to a 1000lb polar bear whose diet consists primarily of mammal fat. We felt a little guilty eating our bowls of stew as we watched this hungry bear who will be waiting almost 2 more months for his/her next meal.
The next stop on our tour ended up being our first – back to Bear #1 and 2 where we spent the rest of our afternoon. Having gone out in early October, the temperatures had not dropped low enough for a large gathering of bears to be anxiously waiting along the shoreline. But, even though we didn’t see a large number of bears, we could not have been more thrilled by our experience cruising around in their natural habitat. It was such a special experience and most definitely our favourite day of the whole trip!
Aaaaaaand to top it off, we got a small glimpse of the Northern Lights at the end of the night! (it wasn’t quite as spectacular as the first night but we managed to capture a little bit in a photo!)
Adam & Amanda