The polar bear season has finally kicked off and seemingly with a bang. Since my start with Nathab in March, I've heard the lore from multiple colleagues about the massive operation we pull off during the October/November bear viewing season. With great anticipation and a few days travel, I'm finally here in the polar bear capital if the world - Churchill, Manitoba.
I started my journey a few days ago and after two nights in Winnipeg, we touched down in the tiny outpost town of Churchill. With about 900 locals that call Churchill home, this spot on the map packs huge character as a polar bear mega hub and for good reason. The west Hudson Bay bear population in Churchill reaches nearly 1000 bears during the October/November timeframe. No other town on the planet can boast these numbers. The trophy belongs to Churchill, and Churchill alone.
Upon entrance into Churchill, the regular images conjured up by most outpost towns smacks you square in the chin. Vehicles on blocks, dilapidated buildings, wilting porches and a generally somber mood. Supplies are expensive and hard to get, industry never began bourgeoning on a large scale and it's so goddamn cold most of the year that people don't want to go outside to tidy up their lawns. The locals are friendly and welcoming, although they can be a bit quirky and colorful to say the least. But you might be too, if your winters went down to -50 below, polar bears regularly wandered through town and sporadically mauled a neighbor from time to time, and the only way out of town is by a fairly expensive flight.
After a night of exploring, settling in and getting caught up on some sleep, we woke the following day and headed out onto the tundra in the polar rovers. An hour of rolling over the frozen dirt and the burnt colored tundra, brought us to a huge cream colored mound nestled snugly in the willows. Before long, he shook his back side and rose to his feet and wandered past our vehicle.
He sauntered into the path of another bear behind our rover that had just made himself known, where they began sniffing nose to nose. With careful positioning and measured movement, they then both reared onto their hind legs and slammed their paws into each other's chests. With mouths wide open bearing teeth, they sparred for more than 10 straight minutes, rolling, playfully biting, shoving and putting on a spectacular show right before our eyes. My jaw hung agape, fully amazed at the scene playing out before my eyes. It was a moment of true beauty - wild and fully visceral.
These bears were getting ready to hunt by honing their self defense skills and my camera was reaping the benefits.