Last week, I breathed straight into the huge face of a 12-foot-tall polar bear in the wild. Its eyes were small and docile, but below its slightly curled black upper lips were a couple of three-inch white shiny incisors, able to rip a ringed seal apart in a flash!
Fortunately, I was standing on the back platform of a Polar Rover in Churchill, Manitoba – protected by a thick steel floor and rail – but to be so close to this King of the Arctic was absolutely exhilarating. Its head was deliberately wagging, its breath steaming out of its mouth and it totally ignored the shutter noises coming from the cameras of us humans. Finally, it gracefully got down on all fours and lumbered away. It had more important business to deal with; it needed to get ready for the first ice to form on the southern shores of Hudson Bay. Then, with 900 other bears of this southern population of Ursus Maritimus they could begin hunting their traditional prey, the ringed seal.
This encounter put in perspective my many great expeditions to the polar regions as an Natural Habitat Expeditions Guide – always looking nervously for the bear, having the gun ready on the kayak deck in Greenland (to scare, not to kill), meticulously putting polar bear alarms up around beach camps in Spitsbergen. And yet, I’ve only seen a bear a few times, off in the distance. In contrast, Churchill was truly Polar Bear Central Station!
Although it was great to meet The King in such a safe manner – seeing him from five feet off the ground in a bear mobile – I personally get antsy if I don’t touch mother earth and can’t move around. That is why at Natural Habitat Expeditions we don’t shy away from getting out there and possibly encountering a bear on the ground while taking proper safety precautions…Some people call it being “one with nature,” but I call it alertness and exhilaration, a feeling that makes us realize how vulnerable we can be in the face of raw nature.
This past summer, our kayakers on the Seal River in Manitoba saw a polar bear from the distance. In 2008 we had several polar bear sightings in Spitsbergen. And in 2010 we expect to see many bears on our new kayaking expeditions to the Forbidden Coast in Eastern Greenland. I invite you to get out there with us and feel that Bear Power!
Chief Exploratory Officer