11/6/2010 2:22:46 PM

Two Bears, One Seal

Arctic winds have blasted the Tundra Buggy® Lodge for the past two days, filling the air with a deafening roar and rocking us to sleep. Airborne debris has pelted bears and bushes alike, forcing bears into the dense willows for protection. Fortunately we had a full schedule of video-conferences intermixed with bear viewing so all was good. It was heartening to talk with youth from across the continent who showed a sincere interest in the plight of the polar bear and ways in which they might help to save them.

Polar bear in the willows

Between interviews we were able to observe a variety of polar bear situations. While sitting in Tundra Buggy One parked along an expanse of beach, we watched a glaucous winged gull pecking at something in the intertidal zone, its bill bloodied. In the distance a small polar bear steadily walked toward the gull and when 100 yards distant broke into a gallop. Within seconds the bear arrived, hazed the gull off and picked up what now was clearly a small seal carcass. What a score for a bear at this time of year!

Young polar bear with seal

The bear voraciously fed on the seal, its muzzle and paws painted with blood. We were amazed at how fast it ate, clearly a strategy for downing as much meat as possible before other bears arrived. Sure enough, a larger bear quickly approached the feeding bear which took one look and abandoned its good fortune when the challenger was mere feet away. The usurper dove in, gulping down flesh nearly as fast as the first bear. The smaller bear circled, then in apparent surge of courage, attacked his opponent. After a few swapped neck bites and paw swats the younger bear gave up for good, relegated to cleaning up whatever tidbits were left once the larger bear left.

Bear with face bloodied from eating a seal

Such scenes played out before our eyes while here east of Churchill time and again. Even though I research polar bears in northern Alaska I never get the opportunity to observe these kinds of behaviors, hence my time in Churchill is most prized. I'm very grateful to PBI and Frontiers North Adventures for inviting me to come and be a part of this great experience. Like so many other visitors to Churchill, one cannot remain unchanged after experiencing nature at its fullest and wildest.

Photo Credits: Top, ©Andrew Fore; middle and bottom, Dr. Tom Smith

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