Polar Bears International

Two male polar bears indulge in a play session on the Tundra Buggy Lodge South Cam. Photo copyright Valerie Abbott.

10/26/2015 9:28:56 PM

(Northern) Lights, Cameras, Action!

This is my fifth year as a Polar Bear Cam operator and I can already tell it's going to be a great bear season. On my first shift of the first day what did I see? Two juvenile males going at it in a sparring dance!

People around the world are very fortunate that Polar Bears International, Explore.org, and Frontiers North Adventures are bringing us the polar bear migration again this year.

This is my favorite time of the year—the season when the polar bears gather near Churchill as they wait for the sea ice to form.

Most viewers, me included, have no idea of the complexities involved in bringing the Polar Bear Cams to you. I do know that several PBI people arrive early fall to begin the arduous task of setting them up. Imagine all the feeds, cables, hook-ups, computer equipment needed and then getting it to all work together. Truly an amazing feat! In one of the most remote areas on our planet, these folks get it done year after year just so we can sit at home (or in the office) and watch these magnificent bears. Let's all give a HUGE shout out to these very special people!

There are five cams again this year. We have a cam on a roving Tundra Buggy called Buggy One. You normally get the best views here. The Buggy goes out most each day looking for bears. This is also where you can see the Tundra Connections broadcasts. Each year PBI invites experts for Q & As. These are seen worldwide and an excellent learning opportunity. You can ask questions and have them answered on the spot. Even though I have been around polar bears for more than two decades, I always learn something while watching.

We also have two cams on the Tundra Buggy Lodge, one facing north and the other south. The Lodge is where the hearty visitors stay. They are surrounded by the possibility of a bear approaching in the middle of the night. They also get to see the northern lights when visible. Imagine the awe one must feel out on the tundra watching the lights dance about when suddenly a bear appears. Nothing but magic!

The last of our five cams are also the newest. We've had them the last couple years and they show the true beauty of this desolate area. They are mounted on a tower out on Cape Churchill. On a clear day it seems that you can see forever. I swear I actually thought I saw Santa Claus and his workshop one day! These are the cams where you get to see the bears from near and far. You may catch one meandering out to see if the ice has formed yet or you may see two huge males battling it out. Most of these battles are just for fun but occasionally they get a little tempestuous.

Okay, you have just pulled up one of cams. What should you expect to see? If lucky you will see a bear, maybe two or more hanging out, maybe one is sleeping in a huge puff ball. If you are REALLY lucky you will see two play-fighting, rolling around, or maybe lumbering across the screen. It is truly awe-inspiring to watch. There are times, especially during a snowstorm, when the bears will hunker down. It's not much fun ambling about in a driving snow so they will find a spot and wait it out. There are many more species of animals on the tundra that might be seen including arctic fox or ptarmigan. Before the snow blankets the area an amazing variation of flora can be seen, with colors ranging from purple to yellows and reds.

So how does all this work you ask? In the spring when the ice melts the bears start their yearly migration back on land, looking for food anywhere they can find it. New moms are still in dens with their cubs.

When the temperatures start to turn cooler it is a signal for them to head to their normal gathering place to wait for the return of the ice. While they are waiting there isn't a lot for them to do, unless you are a mother with COY's (Cubs of the Year). So they scrounge around, find an old friend to play with, or just relax and enjoy watching those slightly crazy humans.

When the ice starts to form, every living being gets excited, the humans know that the concentration of bears will increase and the bears know that a good seal meal is just around the corner. The largest males gather as they will be the first to go. This is one of the reasons for sparring, who gets to go first. Next out are the juvenile males followed by the females, lastly the mothers and their cubs.

Once all the bears are gone and the weather has turned bitter cold, the area falls quiet, too quiet in fact. It's a mix of emotions. Seems like one day there are bears everywhere and the next they are gone, just poof, gone! While it is sad for us as the bear watching season has ended for another year it is the best time to be a polar bear. For them it's like the buffet of life has just opened and the bell has rung to come and get it. All we can do at that point is wish them well and hope they return next year fat and happy.

Please join me, all the other cam ops, and the many other unseen warriors as we bring you a truly awe-inspiring facet of life on this rare planet we all share.

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