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A Guide’s Notes – Now you see us…

October 22, 2015 | Heather Chrystie

There is one reason why Churchill is the Polar Bear Capital of the World: polar bears gather here waiting for the sea-ice to form on Hudson Bay, because this is one of the places on the Bay where the ice first gets thick enough to hunt for seals. The bears we see have been on land for the summer months, where their opportunities to hunt and eat are limited, and they are now just biding their time until they can head out to sea again and feed properly.

This means that when the sea-ice finally forms, it is the end of our bear season. Guiding a polar bear tour when the polar bears are all heading out on the ice is much harder than guiding a polar bear tour when the bears are nearby on the land! You can imagine therefore, that the date of freeze-up is of critical importance. Polar bear guides as a rule care deeply for this charismatic mega-fauna that makes our jobs possible. When the bears are able to go out on the ice, it fills us with joy, and yet we fervently hope that it doesn’t happen until after the end of bear season because we also care deeply about the experience we are able to offer to our guests.

So today was a day of bated breath, since a few days ago when I was out on the tundra it looked like the ice was forming already, very early in the season. It’s an amazing process as the living, dynamic ocean begins to be sluggish with ‘grease’ ice, slushy ice-crystals that form because of the salinity. A strong north wind can blow these soft rafts of unconsolidated ice particles against the shoreline, and before you know it the hard white expanse of ice stretches all the way to the horizon.

Today everyone hoped against hope that rolling ocean swell would be waiting to greet our eyes as we set out for our first tundra excursion, and this time nature was smiling on guides not bears. Since my last trip up here a southern wind has blown the ice of last week out far into the bay, and the polar bears are still waiting on land after this mini tease of a freeze.

So, although I must apologize to the bears for being glad about this, it looks like being another amazing trip!