Photos from a Polar Bear Travel Season

Candice Gaukel Andrews October 9, 2014 24
Polar bear reflection

Every fall, hundreds of polar bears gather near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, on Hudson Bay to wait for the sea ice to form. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

If, like me, you like to travel, there’s probably one, particular place away from home that just seems to stick in your heart and head; the one spot where your wanderlust was first awakened.

Perhaps as a child your family took you on a summer road trip to Grand Canyon National Park; or as a college student, you backpacked around Europe for a while. My particular place is Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. It was there that I first traveled outside of the United States, and it was there where I saw my first polar bear in the wild. After that, I knew my life would never be the same.

Since the first time I traveled to Churchill in the fall of 2002, it has become my Comeback Country. I visited it again in February 2008 to see its winter northern lights; returned in summer 2008 to view its beluga whales; and in fall of 2012, I made a 10-year anniversary trip to again spend time with its polar bears.

On October 11, 2014, Natural Habitat Adventures will be kicking off another new, polar bear tour season in Churchill. I hope you’re fortunate enough to be on one of those trips this year. But if you’ll be sitting this one out, please join me on this seasonal journey below, through some of my polar bear and Churchill photos.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

Churchill tundra

In the subarctic climate around Churchill, vegetation is of low diversity, since only hardy species can survive the long winters and make use of the short summers. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Polar bear stretch

Polar bears spend their summers on land, fasting, conserving their energy and living off their fat reserves. When autumn chills the air, they begin migrating north along the Hudson Bay coast to Churchill in anticipation of freeze-up and a return to their seal-hunting grounds. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Polar bear sits

Biologists estimate that there are currently about 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears. About 60 percent of those live in Canada. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Walking polar bear

In addition to Churchill, polar bears are also found in Greenland, in Svalbard in Norway, Russia and in Alaska in the United States. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Polar bear and big tire

Because of ongoing and potential loss of their sea-ice habitat resulting from climate change, in May 2008 polar bears were listed as a threatened species in the United States, under the Endangered Species Act. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Polar bear at tundra vehicle

Although Churchill’s polar bear migration is part of an age-old pattern, climate change has caused Hudson Bay to melt earlier each summer and to freeze later, greatly shortening the polar bear’s hunting season and straining the animal’s fat reserves. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Close-up of standing polar bear

Scientists predict that unless we take action to stop climate change, we could lose two-thirds of all polar bears by the middle of the century and all of them by the end of the century. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Two polar bears meeting

Polar bears communicate by using a broad variety of vocalizations, such as braying, chuffing, growling, hissing, lip-smacking, panting, snorting and whimpering. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Polar bears generally lead solitary lives, with the exception of mothers raising cubs and breeding pairs. However, some adult and subadult males do form friendships which can last weeks or even years. They may travel, feed, and play-fight together. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Polar bears generally lead solitary lives, with the exception of mothers raising cubs and breeding pairs. However, some adult and subadult males do form friendships that can last weeks or even years. They may travel, feed and play-fight together. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Polar bears playing

A male polar bear initiates play-fighting by approaching another male with its head down and its mouth closed, avoiding eye contact. One bear will gently touch the face and neck of the other bear with its nose or mouth. Once play-fighting has begun, both bears stand on their hind legs and try to push each other over with their paws. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Polar bears standing and play-fighting

While polar bears are attractive and charismatic, it is wise to remember that they are powerful predators that do not typically fear humans, which can make them dangerous. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Musher Dave and dog

The relationship between mushers and their dogs is a close one. A musher must know every member of his or her canine team like family and earn each dog’s trust. Shown here is Churchill musher Dave Daley with a family member. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Snowy owl in Churchill

While a snowy owl’s main food sources are lemmings and mice, they will also opportunistically take fish, rabbits and seabirds. Although they weigh only about three pounds, they are powerful hunters and can catch and kill a 12-pound Arctic hare. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Sunset in Churchill, Canada

I think Churchill’s wide, open spaces are some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. This is my “particular place”; my Comeback Country. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

24 Comments »

  1. Anne-Marie Roussy December 9, 2014 at 8:03 am - Reply

    Beautiful pictures, very inspiring.

  2. Beverly Burmeier November 23, 2014 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    Awesome pictures. I’ll be in Churchill in a couple of weeks and hope to get similarly wonderful photos. Thanks for increasing my excitement.

  3. Pat Finnegan October 26, 2014 at 10:17 am - Reply

    Thanks for posting your photos Candice. They are fantastic! Some day (as soon as I win the lottery:)),I hope to get up there. I attended a presentation by Dr. Ian Stirling a couple of years ago and purchased his book about Polar Bear ecology. Absolutely fascinating!

  4. Louise (elle) Seager (GENIE) October 17, 2014 at 5:53 am - Reply

    wow

  5. Janine Spencer October 13, 2014 at 10:25 am - Reply

    I love the photos, and for me that is a better way to see them. It is ironic that we love to visit these places, leaving a big carbon footprint, and see them before climate change decimates them.

  6. Irene Butler October 12, 2014 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    Awesome Candice. Used to live in Manitoba, but never made it up to Churchill. You’ve inspired me to make the trip – maybe next polar bear season!

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews October 12, 2014 at 12:34 pm - Reply

      Hi, Irene,

      Thank you! I hope you make the trip; I highly recommend it.
      —C.G.A.

  7. Janet Lynn Bovitz-Sandefur October 12, 2014 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    Your photos are inspiring, and your words towards saving our world’s animals are beautiful.

  8. Matthew Sanchez October 12, 2014 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Polar bears are a particularly beautiful member of the animal kingdom. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Peter Prokosch October 12, 2014 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    Great story and good to profile the Churchill polar bear situation.

  10. Ellie Keenan October 11, 2014 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    Churchill is on the top of my bucket list. I would love to be one of the staff. Thank you for keeping me inspired
    Ellie

  11. olddawg Photography Olddawg October 10, 2014 at 5:56 pm - Reply

    Great images Candice -my favourite would have to be the white owl cheers Paul

  12. Lorraine Dumas October 10, 2014 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    Thanks again Candice, for allowing this armchair visitor a view into the lives of these beautiful animals.

  13. Thomas Sawyer October 10, 2014 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Great pictures once again!

  14. whitepine October 10, 2014 at 9:58 am - Reply

    Wonderful memories are awakened by your piece and pictures. If I had the wherewithall I would elect to go to Churchill every fall. It was a great pleasure to be with you on your very first trip. I was very interested to note from another Habitat blog that polar bears are now eating Snow Geese on land. Late ice formation in the fall and early melt in the spring is making for very hungry bears. Maybe they can adapt to the new miserable conditions they must live in. Let’s hope so.

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews October 10, 2014 at 6:11 pm - Reply

      Dear whitepine,

      You and the other members of our travel group on my very first trip to Churchill (which was my very first NatHab trip, as well) will always be with me in my heart! And, like you, if I could, I would go to Churchill every fall.

      Let’s hope we’re there together, sometime again soon.

      —C.G.A.

  15. Naomi Moriyama October 10, 2014 at 9:44 am - Reply

    What amazing animals that you have captured so well in your photos!

  16. Fiona Kealy October 10, 2014 at 5:59 am - Reply

    Thanks Candice. Beautiful photos and great commentary. The snowy owl is gorgeous.

  17. Conrad October 10, 2014 at 2:24 am - Reply

    How absolutely awesome..

  18. Bob Gettman October 9, 2014 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Candice, for taking me on this trip with you. Always great pictures and commentary!!

  19. Rose E. Bodette October 9, 2014 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    Like Candice, I, too have been drawn back to Churchill some seven times. The first time was in 1997 when the “Great White Bear Tours” were getting started. After a couple of more trips to see the bears, I did the whales, the Aurora and last year in October saw the same dirty bears and landscape as Candy is showing-BUT NO SNOWY OWL !! I do envy her that picture! Our super guide, Justin, did give me a stuffed snowy owl, so I do have one. I am 86 years old now, and made a big move this summer from my home to a villa in a senior home setting-so really do appreciate the pictures and commentary and feel so fortunate to have seen so many wonderful things over the past 20 years. Much of it with NatHab!

  20. louise seager October 9, 2014 at 8:46 am - Reply

    lovely

  21. Phillip Tureck - FRGS October 9, 2014 at 8:43 am - Reply

    I loved my trip to see the bears in Churchill a few years back. It was incredible to see them in their natural habitat, many bears and all waiting for the ice to freeze.

    Wonderful memories. http://yosemitephilip.com/the_bears_of_churchill_manitoba

  22. Phillip October 9, 2014 at 8:26 am - Reply

    Loved the bears Candy but the snowy owl was superb

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