CHURCHILL MANITOBA – POLAR BEARS

To continue the theme in previous posts – as many travelers know through experience, it is best to keep expectations on seeing wildlife in their natural habitats at a low level. Nature is not bound by our desires and sometimes it does feel that it is actually preventing our wishes being granted so we understand fully what a miracle it is that our world has such bounty and diversity. Nature keeps us humble – we are not in charge.

In addition, it was summertime when I traveled to Manitoba and even in that sub-arctic territory, temperatures can briefly get quite high – into the upper 80’s.  For an animal with a thick fur coat and fat to protect him against the frigid below zero winters, it seems unlikely that many polar bears would be sighted – more probable that they would be hiding in the shade somewhere waiting for the temperatures to drop and the ice to reform so they could resume hunting for seals.

Given all this preamble, I must have secured a lot of bonus points with nature, for this time I was overwhelmed by what I got to see – up close and personal –  a number of these giant  fascinating animals.  First, let me provide a bit of info on the polar bear:

  • Polar Bears are not really white – their skin is black and their fur is hollow and colorless.  The fur reflects the light so it appears white
  • They are fast on land and in the water – up to 25mph on land and 6mph in the water
  • Their sense of smell is so acute is that they can smell a seal under 3 feet of ice
  • Humans are  polar bears’ only predators

The Latin name for the polar bear is Ursus maritimus which means “sea bear’ so it was very fitting that my first sighting of the polar bear was IN the still frigid waters of Hudson’s Bay – and it was a most thrilling moment. Here are a few photos as well as some awesome video from my friend Lenore:

Having two bears swimming in the bay afforded an opportunity to be really close without danger as we were in a large boat with no way for a bear to get access, even if he was interested.  However, given the heat, the bears were more interested in a cooling swim  – and then perhaps finding a meal in the rocks after giving us a pose, for which we were most grateful:

The bears climbed  onto the rocks and browsed around, looking for tidbits.

The bears remained very aware of our presence and every once in awhile would glance our way – in fact at times it seemed they were posing:

They also indulged in some back scratching and play:

While the polar bears have no predators other than humans, they are not without being attacked,  The bears had gone beyond our sight for a few minutes, but then came running back. It appears they stumbled upon an area where many birds – maybe gulls, it was hard to see, who felt their territory was being invaded and summarily mounted a diving attack on the bears, who beat a hasty retreat.

Though we couldn’t see the attack – others have photographed this occurrence – from the internet:

 

It appears that even a polar bear, which at adulthood can weigh between 775 to 1200 lbs, can be swayed by a featherweight bird with a pretty sharp beak.

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