Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Polar Bears in the Wild!!

I have always wanted to see polar bears in the wild.  In recent years, with fear of increased global warming and changing ice patterns, there is growing concern about how long the polar bear can survive.  This has made polar bear trips even more popular, and most of the ones I was interested in book up a year to two years in advance.  So, back in 2007, I decided to plan a 2009 trip to see the bears.

I researched all the available trips and determined that most of them take place in either Churchill, Canada or Spitsbergen, Norway.  It's cheaper for me to travel to Canada than Europe and takes less time, and I prefer to see the bears from land vs. sea.  Also, I wanted to have as much access to wildlife as possible and as little non-wildlife as possible - no shopping, looking at totem poles, cultural presentations, etc.  And, I always aim for a small group (teeny tiny if possible) and a company that is environmentally responsible and supports eco-tourism and animal conservation.

In the end, I chose a trip to Churchill, Canada with Natural Habitat Adventures, called the Tundra Lodge Adventure.  Of all the Churchill trips, it had the most time on the tundra out with the bears.  Instead of staying in a hotel in town, you get to stay in a lodge out on the tundra - where bears can be viewed of course.  The company is endorsed by World Wildlife Fund, and very eco-minded.  I felt it was the best value and experience.  The challenge was to find the funds and get a good time slot - it was not a trip I wanted to take on a shoulder season and risk not seeing bears or only seeing a couple.

The timing is tricky.  Bears gather at the Hudson Bay near Churchill waiting for the sea ice to form over the Bay so they can go hunt seals.  Come too early, and there may be no bears yet.  Come too late, and all the bears may be gone already.  The bears typically go out on the ice within 24 hours - so you could see them all or see none.  Time it right, and you will have lots of waiting bears with nothing to do but pose for photos (unknowingly of course) as they wait for the ice to form.  We went Oct 28th - Nov 2, mid-season.  It turned out to be perfect timing - we saw about a dozen or so bears a day and the ice was just beginning to form as we left (still a couple weeks to go I would guess).  The ice changes each year and since we booked a year in advance, we were very lucky.

I LOVED the trip and got some good photos, a few of which I will share in the coming days.

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