Sunday, October 11, 2009

Polar Bear Splendour (Churchill, Canada)

Even in the relative safety of a large vehicle, a polar bear is a chilling, awe-inspiring animal. When only a pane of reinforced glass separates you from the world’s largest land-based carnivore, a strange mix of fear and excitement sets in.

Every year around mid-October, migrating polar bears congregate in their hundreds for a handful of weeks in the northerly Canadian town of Churchill, awaiting Hudson Bay to freeze over. Purpose built tundra buggies, a kind of bus perched on a high-clearance, all-terrain truck chassis, ferry snap-happy tourists out onto the shores of the bay to witness these endangered arctic giants.

Some bears sniff around the buggy hoping for a tasty treat while others content themselves sleeping lazily on the crusty snow-laden ground. The occasional athletic bear leaps onto its hind legs, lifting itself to window level, the scratching on the metallic sides echoing uneasily through the buggy.

Mothers shepherd their cubs cautiously while younger adults stage mock fights, these solitary animals bought so close together waiting for the biting northerly cold to freeze the bay. The young cubs are a scream, their boundless energy and uncertain footing on the icy ground creating plenty of entertainment to those on the buggy. Once the bay is frozen, the polar bears can leave the shores and hunt for their favoured ring seals, the rich fresh meat rebuilding their fat reserves lost over the summer months.

Shallow lakes have already frozen, a mothers showing her cubs technique for walking on thin ice, cautiously spreading her weight over a wide area by widely stretching her legs in an exaggerated sliding walk like an oversized spider climbing a window. The bumbling cubs eagerly stroll behind like cotton balls blowing in the wind seemingly oblivious to the threats of the barely formed ice layer and paying scant attention to their mother’s lessons.

There are good chances that you’ll spot other creatures that inhabit this desolate, chilly environment. With all dressed in a standard uniform of white to camouflage into the surroundings, arctic foxes compete with arctic owls and flocks of ptarmigan exploring the desert-like tundra for food.

Read more about Churchill and the polar bears.

Photo Source: Tundra Buggy


Heather on her travels said...

It's amazing and somewhat scary to see these wild creatures so close up.

Footsteps said...

I've always wanted to travel to see the polar bears (while safely enclosed, of course!).

Cate said...

This would have been a neat experience and one you wouldn't forget for a while. I'd love to see these bears in the wild, and get up close as possible!

BarbaraW said...

I'd love to see the polar bears and the grizzlies during the Salmon run. But I am seriously allergic to the cold, so I'll have to settle for your review and fabulous photos. I love the one of the two bears standing on hind legs, fighting. Now what makes you think it was a mock fight?

eunice said...

These bears remind me of our tropical bears in Singapore lol The white owl looks like Harry Potter's Hedwig :D

Sherry said...

Would love to go see these sometime and photograph them! Thanks for making me aware of it!

Mark H said...

@heather: The truck brings enough security but their size is surprising when they rear up onto their hind legs.

@footsteps: They are majestic animals.

@cate: Very neat indeed.

@barbara: The guide said it was a mock fight. It looked pretty serious to me too.

@eunice: The owl does look Harry Potteresque

@sherry: Amazing animals indeed.

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