The last week of October we went to Churchill, Manitoba, to see the polar bears. Timing is everything, and we timed it right. The bears were gathering, testing the ice,
waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze over so they could hunt for seals, after not eating since the spring thaw.
I hoped to see the Northern Lights since we would be out away from any city lights. But the skies in Churchill are cloudy in October. Best aurora viewing is in January.
Churchill is a nice, friendly little town, but outside activity is limited when the bears are around.
The community has taken steps to avoid human-bear interaction: a bear patrol team fires off cracker shells to scare the bears, the town dump is enclosed in a building.
Errant bears are trapped and confined or relocated closer to the ice. Still, night life is limited and one doesn’t walk around town freely until the bears are gone (mid-November) and by then it’s too cold to walk outside anyway.We stayed at Great White Bear Company’s Tundra Lodge, and were happy that we did. The food was very good––perhaps the best food in Churchill. Plenty of soft drinks and wine and beer. Bring your own for anything stronger.A tundra vehicle carried us out for safari runs each day, but almost equal numbers of bears and other animals wander close to the lodge as well. We never set foot on land until we were back in Churchill, and then we walked only in the town center.
No food bits or even water is allowed to spill out onto the ground. A service vehicle brought fresh water and emptied our sewage tank every day. The bears were curious about the vehicles, but didn’t seem to consider them a food source.Our knowledgable guides explained the bears’ habits and the issues facing them with climate change.
We learned that about one week of ice is lost every decade, and ice time is feeding time. Less eating time means less fat. Females with less fat can support fewer cubs, so only one or two fertilized eggs will implant. The average litter size has fallen from 2.6 to 1.6, and triplets are never seen now. We saw only single cubs.
I enjoyed staring at the landscape and soaking up the peace.We saw a lot of bears, Arctic foxes, ptarmigan, and a big cross fox (variant of red fox).
But the very best treat was the last afternoon and evening, when two males sparred right next to the lodge. My video of the sparring males. The ice hadn’t formed yet, and the day was warm, too warm for so much activity. When the two became overheated, they retreated and wallowed in the snow to cool off. They came back hours later and started up again. Maybe it was cooler then.
This bear resting in the roadway held up our polar rover safari vehicle until she decided to move.
Overall, it was a great trip. I recommend it!
Date of travel: October, 2018
Accommodations: Safari vehicles and lodging provided by Great White Bear Company