10/28/2011 1:10:36 PM
A Different View of Polar Bears
By Kevin Middel
I arrived in Churchill for the first time just five days ago with wide eyes and an open mind. I was excited about the opportunity to work with PBI and to take a trip out to Tundra Buggy® Lodge, spending an entire week on Tundra Buggy One. Not knowing exactly what to expect I came loaded with winter gear, warm clothes, camera equipment, and my computer. With the exception of my computer, camera, and some clean undies I've hardly needed anything. The weather here has been much warmer than I anticipated and it's been clear and sunny everyday; certainly unusual weather for this time of the year around here. The people at PBI are fantastic, and the staff, the accommodations and food at the Lodge are great. I just needed to show up ready and willing to talk about polar bears with some great kids from around the world.
I've been very fortunate to have been able to work in the field tagging and radio-collaring polar bears in Southern Hudson Bay, and most recently spent many, many hours flying the coast to complete an aerial survey in Ontario. I've seen many bears from the air and a quite a few while working with them on the ground. When we're working with them or counting them though, they're usually not too happy to see us. From the deck of Tundra Buggy One, they don't really care about us at all. They might be curious and stop by for a look and a sniff, or they might just walk on by, but regardless, they are just bears being bears. Being able to see them here just going about their regular routine of sleeping, stretching, rolling around and munching on kelp has been wonderful.
We haven't seen many bears around here each day, usually only two- four and likely that has much to do with the unseasonably warm weather here this week. We have seen some other great wildlife as the other scientists here have mentioned in their blogs though. Today was particularly exciting as we had a wolverine (Gulo gulo) run by our buggy, which is an incredibly rare experience around here. The wolverine continued along the kelp beds until it surprised itself by waking up a sleeping bear. The interaction was short and wise: the wolverine changed course and kept running.
Last night was also quite special. The sky was clear and cold and just before bed the sky started to show some colour. About half an hour later the sky was alive with a green glow that stretched from horizon to horizon. It provided me with an opportunity to learn some techniques of night photography from a new friend that was here from Mumbai, India, who was almost as excited to see this show as he would have been to see his first wild polar bear.
Unfortunately my journey here is almost to an end, but with any luck I'll be back again soon. In the meantime I'll be checking out the Polar Bear Cam to keep track of the bears around the buggy as they wait for the ice to return to the bay.