Polar bear producing a fecal sample (Photo: SRSLYGUYS)

‘Polar Bear Capitol of the World’

First off, happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

Day 2 began bright and early with our flight out of Winnipeg to Churchill. Once we arrived in Churchill, we loaded everything including ourselves onto a charter bus. We made a few stops during that time, the first being at Cape Mary. All campers got individual photos along with our group photo next to the Hudson Bay shore.  Next we got to see Eskimo dogs, which live outside on the outskirts of town all year long. They are used as sled dogs and some for protection from polar bears. Our next stop was the Prince of Wales Fort where we spotted one or two beluga whales, probably some of the last few still around the bay this season. Our final stop in the charter bus was at the Polar Bear Holding Facility. Churchill used to have the Polar Bear Control Program which started in the 1960’s and they basically shot any bears that caused a nuisance. Today, it is now called the Polar Bear Alert Program and it ensures the safety of the town, people’s property, and the polar bears. If anyone in town sights a wondering bear, they call 675-BEAR to report it. The rangers from the holding facility then come and try to scare the bear away with an assortment of loud noises, and this usually does the trick. Of course there are the trouble bears that have several offenses, and you can tell because they have a green mark on their shoulder blade. In this case, trouble bears spend time in the holding facility or “bear jail” and then later released in a different location. This same process is used for the bears that are caught in bear traps. Our group got a demo of the guns used to scare off the bears, and also how the bear traps are triggered.

The charter then took us to our Tundra Buggy! After moving all our supply to the buggies, we set out for the Tundra Buggy Lodge.  On the way to the lodge, the first animal spotted was a beautiful silver fox. He apparently had found food we think he buried himself, and he wasn’t going to give whatever it was up because he hung out right next to the buggies. Following the fox we saw tundra swans and multiple types of birds, but then we finally caught a glimpse of our first polar bear. I can’t fully explain what I felt; I was just in shock because out of nowhere there was this magnificent bear. The group got emotional when we found the next two bears, right next to the lodge. They were a lot closer than the first one and the sun was setting, leaving gorgeous streaks of reds, yellows, pinks, and oranges through the sky. This was also a no cameras allowed moment; all we did was watch and take it all in. I was so happy, but the feeling was sobered when I thought of the possibility of losing such an animal as the polar bear.  As we going on living our lives, they are living theirs. They don’t know what is happening to the ice, but we do and we can help. That’s what camp is for, learning how to do our part and being inspired. I can’t wait to see what is in store for the week. The day ended with a delicious Thanksgiving dinner!