If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to visit the polar bears at Seal River Heritage Lodge or Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, you’ll want to make sure to watch the world premiere of Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey on Sunday, April 8 at 7 p.m. on CBC TV’s The Nature of Things with David Suzuki. You’ll see some of our Churchill Wild polar bears!
The wildlife documentary, much of which was filmed over a 12-month period in the vicinity of Churchill Wild’s polar bear lodges, tells the story of a young male polar bear who must survive his first summer alone on land without his mother, after the ice breaks up early on Western Hudson Bay and prevents him from hunting seals. The youngster’s struggle to survive is back-grounded and influenced by one of the most important environmental stories in history: climate change.
Directed by Adam Ravetch of Arctic Bear Productions and produced by Arcadia Content in association with CBC’s Science and Natural History Documentary Unit, Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey features stunning images shot with eight different types of cameras including: a polar bear collar-cam; a remote control truck-cam; a mini heli-cam and several underwater cameras.
“Filming in 3D was much more work,” said Ravetch. “But we wanted immersive images so the audience could experience what it’s really like to be up close at ground level with polar bears. It required multiple cameras operating at the same time to produce the special 3D effects and three of us including Stereographer Indy Saini and Camera Engineering Specialist Stewart Meyer to get the distances between the objects and between the lenses just right. Stewart also developed a smaller mobile camera system that could produce some very rare images.”
“It’s a huge challenge to film in 3D in the arctic,” said Ravetch. “The guides have to have experience specifically with polar bears. They concentrate on safety so we can focus on camera angles and getting the shots we need. Being up close with the bears is quite spectacular for a filmmaker, but safety is paramount. The last thing we want is for a person or a bear to get hurt. You’re not in a cage or a vehicle, you’re at ground level with the polar bears. I’ve always worked at ground level, but there are very few places where you can photograph polar bears like this. Seal River and Nanuk are among the best places on the planet for this type of wildlife photography.”
Ravetch is no stranger the arctic. He and Sarah Robertson co-directed Arctic Tale for National Geographic. Ravetch also directed some amazing in-field sequences swimming with polar bears and walruses for the IMAX production To The Arctic and was cinematographer for one of the segments on the BBC series Frozen Planet, to name just a few of his many illustrious wildlife and nature film credits.
Ravetch sometimes camps out for 4-6 weeks at a time while making his films in the arctic, which makes for a very serious and sometimes dangerous adventure (see full interview here), but Churchill Wild was lucky to have him and his crew as guests at Seal River Heritage Lodge and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge during various segments of the filming process in 2010 and 2011.
“I woke up to Jeanne’s (Reimer) omelettes every morning,” said Ravetch. “Churchill Wild offers people the very unique experience of getting up close on the ground with the polar bears. Within a day of a arriving at the Lodge people can see polar bears on the tundra. But they still have a warm safe bed at the Lodge to come back to, and of course the delicious food.”
Thanks Adam! And just to clarify for future guests, Churchill Wild doesn’t actually “own” any polar bears.
They simply get close to them.
by Tara Ryan
A few good things to know:
- Polar bears have about 20 vocalizations – one of which is a hiss.
- In Churchill, Manitoba the trick or treating set are accompanied by gun-toting bear patrol enforcers.
- Wearing any white costumes (ghosts, brides… polar bears) is generally frowned upon (see gun toting bear patrol enforcers for rationale).
- Did I mention polar bears hiss when they are angry?
“Halloweening” in Churchill takes on a paramilitary edge as kids out trick or treating are shadowed by gun-wielding bear patrol officers. This is not unexpected.
Kids are used to the bear patrol presence year around but these patrols are especially heightened during the months of October and November, when the bears are starting to gather around the edges of the Bay in greater numbers awaiting the freeze up. There are other restrictions local kids must endure at this sugar-laden time of year – most importantly: “Thou shalt not dress in white; ghosts, brides and especially no polar bear costumes.” This is polar bear central after all.
Being a polar bear guide working away from the bright lights of the ‘big city’ of Churchill (about 60 miles north) in the remote Churchill Wild Polar Bear Lodge at Seal River, my fellow guide (Andrew MacPherson) decided to try his luck at bucking this long-standing no-white for Halloween northern tradition.
For October 31 we came as “problem bears” – me as a garbage addicted grizzly bear and Andy as a bear from the old ‘polar bear jail’ days (when they used to dart the bears and then spray paint numbers on them to keep track of repeat offenders). While putting the finishing touches on our costumes, we began to hear a shushing/hissing noise from outside – not unlike the air being forced out of a tire with a puncture.
Andy was silhouetted in one of the many bedroom windows looking out over the tundra. He was stunning in his white long johns appropriately padded with pillows for a fat bottom, a white fuzzy hat with ears, and matching gloves and claws.
The fall light had dimmed the immediate surroundings outside to near black. A ghostly movement accompanied by continued agitated hissing – and a nose print on the window – finally clued us in. There was a very annoyed polar bear outside our window that was letting the ‘polar bear’ on the inside know in no uncertain terms – that his presence was not welcome.
Andy hissed back.
Only at Churchill Wild!
by Allison Reimer
Instead of “bring your kid to work day” we had one of our guides bring his parents in for a week of arctic life experience.
It didn’t matter what Andy (the guide) had told his parents (Al and Sherron) about his work experiences at Churchill Wild. It couldn’t possibly have readied them for what they were about to encounter. Hearing stories and looking at trip photos is nothing like experiencing the wonders of the arctic in real life.
Conversing with Andy’s mom Sherron in the lounge at Seal River Heritage Lodge, just to get her take on the overall Churchill Wild experience, she didn’t have too much to say, but when we parted company an hour later I got the feeling that what we are doing here is a truly wondrous thing.
“Paradise in the Wild,” Sherron dubbed us, adding that she was thrilled to see “a true family-operated business that shares the wonders of the Hudson Bay.”
I think what really made Al and Sherron’s stay so terrific though, were the people. Yes, they had an amazing time swimming with beluga whales and viewing polar bears, including one that even tried testing the strength of our fence despite getting yelled at, but there was never a thought towards being unsafe. No, what really made the trip special was the fact that all the guests became like one big family during their visit.
The way the guests bonded became the cherry on top of their arctic adventure sundae. With such a a wide variety of age and ethnicity, you might have expected something less, but everyone had come for one or two reasons – to see polar bears and swim with beluga whales, or to have a new travel experience unique in its own.
“I immediately felt welcome when I arrived and the time went far too quickly,” said Sherron. “The world doesn’t intrude here. No cars, no trains, and the only planes we saw were the ones that delivered us and the ones that took us home.”
From what Sherron said, and from what I gathered from everyone else in the group, it was a trip full of memories; of hearts speeding up with excitement; and of comfortable relaxation between the day to day adventures.
The group saw hundreds of whales when they went out on to the water, and the curious creatures just kept coming towards them for the full 45 minutes that Sherron and the other guests were swimming with them.
And nobody seemed to mind that almost every dinner time was interrupted by a polar bear showing up to check out the smells, which also resulted in dessert being constantly postponed. And our new open kitchen at Seal River Heritage Lodge was a huge hit!
It was a fun week that the group promised never to forget. We certainly won’t forget them… and their warm and wonderful personalities!
Polar Bears and Climate Change – CNN Video interviews polar bear veterans at Seal River Heritage Lodge
Is climate change reducing the world’s polar bear population? There’s no question the polar bear’s favored environment – the arctic sea ice – is melting, yet the polar bear population on Canada’s Hudson Bay seems to be thriving right now. Why?
CNN producer Jessica Ellis took a film crew to Churchill Wild’s Seal River Heritage Lodge to get the answers from some veteran polar bear men including Churchill Wild co-owner Mike Reimer, wildlife guide Andy MacPherson and professional photographer Dennis Fast.
We think you’ll find their answers both interesting and informative. Click the image above to watch the recent CNN Video Feature about Polar Bears and Climate Change.