Joanna Sulich with Guests in the Polar Bears International House Interpretive Center

Photo: Kt Miller / Polar Bears International

Joanna Sulich talks with visitors in Polar Bears International House, our interpretive center in Churchill, Canada.

From Churchill to the World

By Joanna Sulich, Consulting Scientist



14 Dec 2022


The doorbell chimes. It’s the sound of a new group of visitors coming—carrying new conversations, new perspectives, new stories. It’s the feeling of a new book opening.

I’m a biologist based in the Norwegian High Arctic, on the far north archipelago of Svalbard, Norway. I spend most of my year working on field projects like Polar Bears International’s Maternal Den Study, but in the autumn of 2022, I had the pleasure of working in the organization’s interpretive center in Churchill, Canada, where I shared  the wonders of the Arctic Ocean ecosystem with those who want to learn more. So how does a researcher from another side of the polar region find herself talking to visitors in the Canadian Subarctic?

Joanna Sulich in the Polar Bears International House

Photo: Kieran McIver / Polar Bears International

Biologist Joanna Sulich answers questions in Polar Bears International House, our Churchill-based interpretive center.

Each year, Churchill attracts thousands of visitors motivated to see polar bears, which gather on shores of Hudson Bay waiting for the ice to form. During this period, we have a rare chance of encountering polar bears on land, and in significant numbers! But anyone admiring bears lingering along the shore will quickly notice that the bears are not doing much. They do not hunt seals, do not roam vast expanses, but stay close to the shore—conserving energy as they wait for the build-up of their true element, the sea ice.

The questions naturally roll:

  • What do polar bears do when they venture on the sea ice?

  • Why is the sea ice essential for polar bears (and the health of the Arctic ecosystem)?

  • How does the sea ice, the polar bears’ habitat, change across the Arctic? And what does it mean for the bears?

  • Finally, what can we do to build a better future for polar bears and ourselves?

And those are the questions that a researcher from Norway can certainly help with!

Joanna Sulich in the Polar Bears International House

Photo: Kieran McIver / Polar Bears International

The chance to talk with curious travelers about polar bears, sea ice, and climate change was inspiring and empowering for Joanna--and gave her hope.

As polar bears rely on sea ice for their hunting, traveling, and breeding, they serve as messengers between the Arctic Ocean and us, the land-based observers.

We might spot bears on the shore, yet their life history, their behavior, their body condition is tied to the ever-changing expanse of the frozen sea. Stories from the Arctic Norway are tightly connected to the changes which polar bears experience in Western Hudson Bay.

Polar Bears International House is an open educational space, providing a wonderful wealth of materials to help visitors dive deeper into the subject. It is a space where I, a researcher, have the unique privilege of meeting curious travelers from all over the world and sharing my expertise in an open, exchanging conversation. Yet I did not expect how inspiring, how motivating, and how empowering that would be.

As I walked with visitors through the space, sharing discussions, answering questions, and contributing ideas—I also received so much in return. I connected with enthusiasm and care for the natural world bringing us together. 

Inside the Polar Bears International House

Photo: Kt Miller / Polar Bears International

I felt the same thrill, too, when:

  • Interacting with visitors on a Tundra Buggy, sharing the wonder of seeing wild polar bears and talking with them about the sea ice ecosystem

  • Taking part in a Tundra Connections broadcast, where I had the chance to engage with people from around the world and answer their questions

  • Sharing polar bears with people around the globe through our live Polar Bear Cams in partnership with

  • Watching our team in action as they took part in press interviews, talking with media outlets from Good Morning America to Smithsonian and the BBC

  • Having the chance to meet scientists and other notable people working on projects in Churchill, from coexistence efforts to field studies

  • Connecting with Churchill residents to learn about their town and way of life—and comparing it with mine own in Svalbard

Polar Bears International’s amazing outreach during polar bear season was both inspiring and humbling to me. The response from a global audience to the polar bears’ plight gave me hope. It also underscored how we’re all connected: with polar bears, with sea ice, with the Arctic—and a livable future for all of us.