by Andy MacPherson
The start of a new fall polar bear season!
The Turbo Beaver being busy down south, our first group of guests arrived in style in a helicopter, landing right at our front door. After settling into their rooms and taking in a brief safety orientation, we had them out viewing polar bears Churchill Wild style before lunch.
There were three bears in the immediate vicinity and all were accommodating. We were able to get close and view all three without disturbing them from their day beds. At this time of year the polar bears are focused on conserving as much energy as possible in anticipation of freeze up and the availability of their favourite meal, ringed seals, which will help them replenish their waning fat reserves.
On our way back to the lodge for lunch we discovered that the first bear we’d stopped to view earlier had ambled into the bay north of us. He was now comfortably bedded down in a bed of kelp lying on his back; stretching and playing with a piece of kelp, pulling it gently threw his teeth as if he were flossing.
After lunch we hiked out towards the west, to Swan Lake and back. We were met by a subadult bear on our way back, walking towards us up the path. He stopped when we asked him to, looking a little confused as to why we were blocking ‘His’ way. We moved off to one side, giving him the right of way – a smart thing to do when questioned by a polar bear. He passed by at a safe distance as our hearts pounded, pausing to get a good scent of us and posing for a few great photos along the way.
We are often approached by polar bears while we are out on hikes and away from the safety and comfort of the lodge. These are always exciting moments, and important times to be very observant of bear behaviour. Every bear that approaches us acts differently based on life experiences past and present. Negative or positive, these experiences will influence the way a bear reacts to us. This initial communication will determine our response to each approaching bear. While polar bears aren’t usually vocal, they do communicate very well through subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) body language and behaviour.
We watched the bear as he moved away from us and continued down the path towards Swan Lake, our excitement at his approach subsiding slightly as we moved back on to the path. Some of the guests asked where the bear was going and what he was thinking; how old he was and how much he weighed. Others marveled at what had just happened.
The largest land carnivore on the planet, a Churchill polar bear, had just walked by us and gone about his business, whatever that might be. It just wasn’t us…
at the moment.
Churchill Wild has been the premier eco-outfitter in Northern Manitoba for over 40 years, but we’re always excited when polar bear watching season begins at our Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, the only tourist camp along a 100-mile stretch of Hudson Bay coastline in Northern Manitoba, Canada.
One of the most pristine wilderness areas left in the world, it hasn’t changed in thousands of years. And we promise that you won’t find a better place, anywhere in the world, for close encounters with polar bears.
When the ice breaks up in June, the polar bears move ashore. During the summer months they socialize and prowl the shoreline, restlessly waiting for the ice to return. Many of these bears spend their summers within a few miles of our Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. During an average season up to 400 bears pass by the Lodge.
What makes this population of polar bears so unique is the high concentration of mother bears and cubs. At Nanuk, our guests will encounter polar bears, and often these will be mothers with their offspring. Many of these bears have never seen a person before, and they have the calm demeanor of bears that have not learned to fear people.
Guests who visit Nanuk count themselves among a small group of lucky individuals who have seen these majestic animals up close, undisturbed. These are not habituated “Park bears” or hunted bears that run at the sight of humans.
“We have already been in many nature places in this world. We have seen the lions in Africa; the tigers in India; the grizzlies in Alaska; orangutans in Borneo; the penguins in the Antarctic; but one of the most beautiful places is Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge with their many polar bears. We were overwhelmed to experience so many, so close. We thank the entire staff who made these special days a wonderful experience.” – Marlies & Hartmut Thierfelder and Marlies & Siegfried Neubüser, Hamburg, Germany
These are pure, wild polar bears living the way they have lived since time began.
Stay tuned for more blog posts about this year’s trip to Nanuk. If you would like more information about Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge please call us at: 1.204.377.5090 or Toll Free at:1.866.846.9453. You can also e-mail us at: email@example.com.
We would love to hear from you and…
Wish you were here!
When Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer’s daughters Kate and Emily invited U.S. President Barack Obama’s daughters Sasha and Malia to visit the polar bears in Churchill a few years ago it got us thinking. They probably considered visiting Churchill, but it’s unlikely they knew they could actually walk on the tundra with polar bears, or swim in Hudson Bay with beluga whales.
Churchill Wild eco-lodge owners Mike and Jeanne Reimer say the Obama and Doer families would be more than welcome to do just that at their Seal River Heritage Lodge 40 miles north of Churchill on the Hudson Bay coast.
“It’s the only place in Canada where you can actually go out and walk with the polar bears in their natural environment,” said Mike Reimer, who has been stomping the terra with the polar bears for over 30 years. “We would absolutely love to have the Obama and Doer families visit our polar bear eco-lodges and take part in all the activities we have to offer.”
That of course, would include walking with polar bears on the coast of Hudson Bay and snorkeling with beluga whales in Hudson Bay, not to mention eating gourmet meals straight from the award-winning cookbook series Blueberries and Polar Bears, which were co-written by Jeanne Reimer’s mother Helen Webber of Webber’s Lodges.
Helen is married to Webber’s Lodges owner and former Churchill mayor Doug Webber. She is certainly no stranger to hosting dignitaries at the Webber’s home in Churchill and preparing spectacular feasts for them, including Ambassador Doer when he was Premier of Manitoba,
Helen’s dinner parties in Churchill are legendary, the last of which was held for the top international executives of the Canadian Tourism Commission, who later flew out to see the polar bears at Seal River Lodge. The dinner, and the trip to Seal River Lodge, received rave reviews.
First Lady Michelle Obama, who is promoting healthy eating as her platform while in the White House, would likely enjoy herself immensely in Churchill Wild’s family-run tundra kitchen, which prides itself on utilizing the freshest ingredients available from the surrounding landscapes.
Mrs. Obama launched her Let’s Move initiative to battle childhood obesity and improve the quality of food in U.S. schools in February, 2010 and on March 16, 2011 she reached an agreement with Crown Publishing Group to author a cookbook in which she will talk about the garden she established on the South Lawn of the White House. Due out in 2012, Mrs. Obama’s new cookbook will also explore how improved access to fresh, locally grown food can promote healthier eating habits for families and communities. You can watch the video about the White House Garden here.
“Last year we built the new dining room,” said Reimer. “Right now we’re hauling in a new gourmet kitchen. It was designed by Len Friesen and it will be the first of its kind in the arctic. We’re planning on having a Celebrity Chef Contest at some point with a combination of original creations and recipes from the Blueberries and Polar Bears cookbooks that will feature seal, caribou, moose, goose, arctic char, northern pike, lake trout, local plant garnishes, wild blueberries, cranberries and strawberries. In between cooking sessions we’ll be out on the tundra with the polar bears or swimming with whales. We would love for Mrs. Obama to participate!”
But seriously, fabulous food and cooking contests aside, what about safety and secret service and fighter planes?
“We’ve never had a polar bear problem in the 30 years that we’ve operated our lodges,” said Reimer. “It’s a unique, once in a lifetime experience and our guests love being able to get up close and personal with the polar bears. It’s one of the few places on earth where you can actually go out and walk with the bears, and there are numerous safety measures in place. I’m not sure what the bears would think of secret service agents and jet fighters. They probably wouldn’t even notice.”
While he was Premier of Manitoba, Ambassador Doer persuaded numerous high-profile people to visit Churchill, including Janet Napolitano, who is now President Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security; David Wilkins, the former U.S. ambassador to Canada; and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Last fall, famous visitors to Churchill included George Stroumboulopoulos, Chantal Kreviazuk, Raine Maida and Martha Stewart.
Still, try to imagine the Turbo Beaver taking off from Churchill for Seal River Lodge accompanied by fighter jets. Or the curious looks on the polar bears’ faces when the secret service agents arrive with the Obama family. And what kind of boat would be required if the Obama and Doer families decided to go swimming with the beluga whales? Would the Zodiaks suffice?
“It would something very special for us,” said Reimer. “We would like to extend a heartfelt open invitation to both the Obama and the Doer families to visit Seal River Lodge any time. It would be an incredible honor.”
Not one to sit on the sidelines and simply observe, Margo was the first one in the water to swim and snorkel with the beluga whales. She also showed no fear of the polar bears (or the birds) while hiking over the tundra birdwatching and bear watching. Below follow a few short excerpts from her article: The Arctic warmth of Hudson Bay’s belugas, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times Travel Section.
“I am beluga bait. Bobbing at the end of a rope tied around my feet, I am being slowly towed in the wake of a Zodiac, a small, inflatable boat, through the icy waters of Hudson Bay. Clad in a partly inflated rubber dry suit, I look like a Michelin Tire Man who has sprouted a snorkel as I peer into the murky brown, tannin-stained cocktail of salt and freshwater. I have come all the way to far northern Manitoba, Canada, to snorkel with beluga whales that, if they do appear out of the gloom, will likely scare the daylights out of me. As my heart races…” Read full article in the Los Angeles Times Travel Section article
“The water teems with whales, and a steady stream of polar bears meanders past. In fall, it’s a bear traffic jam, and with longer nights, it’s a great time to see shimmering sheets of red and green northern lights. Here on the tundra, it’s people who live in an enclosure…” Read full article in the L.A. Times Travel Section article
“The birders on our trip — from Britain and Switzerland — spot eider ducks, a snowy owl and tall sandhill cranes emitting a strange musical rattle as they strut near the stone remains of an ancient Inuit campsite. In this corner of the world, you don’t walk outside without a weapon…” Read full article in the L.A. Times Travel Section article
“Just another day at Seal River,” said Mike Reimer, looking out over the tidal flats of Hudson Bay. “Seven big white polar bears hanging around.”
Two big bears sleeping 20 yards away from the compound, three in the North Bay, and two wandering around on the rocks south of the Seal River Lodge.
This is what our guests spent the early afternoon viewing from the windows and the compound of the Lodge. Running back and forth from window to window, going out into the compound to see which bear was at the fence for his close up – it was almost like you could hear the mega pixels being used in the cameras.
After about an hour of this we decided it was time to go for a hike. Only one problem – there were seven big polar bears about, and one had decided to take his afternoon nap 15 feet from the door of the Lodge, right on the road.
“We’re trapped by Bears!” is all that Andy could say walking back into the lodge shaking his head. “I don’t think this guy is going anywhere soon.”
Luckily, time could be spent in the compound, where two large male bears had made their way up to the fence. After another hour the guides decided that they had had enough, and that no polar bear, no matter what the size, was going to hold up the program any longer.
The guests were assembled and we made our way out of the compound. The two fearless guides led the way. The resting polar bear raised his head, decided that the group of eager photographers heading his way was enough…
And off he went!