11/3/2010 12:41:49 PM

Halloween on the Tundra (1)

After an hour and a half of a jolting ride on a Tundra Buggy, I arrived at the Tundra Buggy® Lodge well after dark on Halloween Sunday and immediately wondered what the Polar Bears International (PBI) folks had roped me into! A raucous combination Halloween/birthday party for one of the lodge staff was well underway. (Actually "lodge" is a rather loose term - the camp is composed of tundra buggies attached end-to-end in a train with individual cars for sleeping quarters, a lounge, kitchen, etc.)

But it was immediately obvious that all the people far out here on the tundra are wonderfully friendly and very happy to be here. A quick check outside with a head lamp revealed numerous sets of polar bear tracks in the snow all around the lodge, and it was now obvious why these buggies were built so high off the ground.

People on Tundra Buggy with bear outside

I've long heard about Churchill and the famous Tundra Buggy excursions out to the shores of Hudson Bay where aggregates of polar bears patiently wait four to five months for the return of the winter sea ice. Polar bears are almost completely dependent on seals for food and polar bears can only effectively hunt seals from the expanse of sea ice.

Along with three other biologists, I was invited to Churchill to participate in a collaborative Tundra Connections educational outreach project between PBI and Frontiers North (the company that operates the Tundra Buggy tours). We're here for a week to provide scheduled satellite conferences to school and zoo groups about polar bear research and climate change issues. Such programs go throughout the peak polar bear viewing season - and next week we hand off conferencing responsibilities to a different group of biologists and climate experts.

Bear lounging in kelp

Although technical difficulties precluded our connections with two scheduled college classes today, the value of this program was abundantly clear when daylight today revealed numerous polar bears going about their business and displaying activities and behavior perhaps more viewable here than anywhere else on earth.

Two bears in the kelp

What better way to address ongoing research studies and conservation issues but to tie the biologists together with live video feeds of these extraordinary, spectacular animals - at the very front line of where climate change is most profoundly impacting this species? What an incredible place this is. Humankind can ill afford to lose such a precious resource.

Photo credits: ©Mike Lockhart.

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