How many people can say, in all honesty, that they’ve seen a real, live polar bear in the wild? Having seen penguins on our trip to the Antarctic in 2006, we wanted to go to the opposite end of the earth to see the King of the Arctic, the Polar Bear.
Nothing can prepare you for seeing one of these magnificent, majestic animals face to face. It is a breathtaking experience. They appear so white and furry and cuddly… yet they are the largest and most ferocious of the land carnivores.
We stayed at the Lazy Bear Lodge in Churchill, Manitoba, on the edge of the subarctic tundra. Here I am pictured with Wally Daudrich, owner of the Lazy Bear, driver and polar bear ranger.
Carrying the gun was a precaution against the very real risk of meeting a polar bear! Even though Churchill is well below the arctic circle at 58° 46′ north, its proximity to the Hudson Bay and the prevailing winds coming down from the North Pole guarantee very cold temperatures in autumn and winter. We were there in October 2011, but the temperature was never above zero degrees Celsius.
This female polar bear had been swimming in the Hudson Bay before emerging from behind some rocks, sniffing the air and making her way towards our tundra buggy. It was a mesmerising sight; brings a real lump to the throat. The Churchill subarctic tundra is permanently frozen all year round; polar bears get stranded in the spring/summer when the ice in the Hudson Bay thaws. They then gather in late autumn (mid-October to mid-November) waiting for the Hudson Bay to freeze over again, so they can get across to their hunting ground to hunt ringed seals.
This photo was taken with my Nokia phone, leaning out of the window of our tundra vehicle. She was looking straight at me before standing up on her hind legs – an immense sight! The females are about 8′ tall on their hind legs and males are much bigger at over 10′ tall.
This polar bear is poised ready to jump up at the side of our vehicle. Over a three day period, we spotted nine polar bears and four arctic foxes. Most of the animals were too far away to get a good photograph, but we were immensely lucky to see two of the bears really closely, as these photos testify. You can read the full story of our polar bear adventures, including husky dog sledding, in my blog.