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Churchill, Manitboa - Polar Bear Capital

The sub-arctic village of Manitoba, situated at 58 degrees north, on the western shores of Canada's Hudson Bay is home to the southernmost population of polar bears in the world, and thus one of the easiest, safest and most reliable places for humans to observe these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. The bears around Churchill outnumber its small resident population of about 1,000 people. Yet, every fall, polar bears migrate through the tundra regions around Churchill, waiting for the bay to freeze over, attracting photographers, nature lovers and adventure-seekers alike to witness the largest concentration of polar bears in the world. Once the bay freezes over, the bears disperse to their winter feeding grounds.

Thus it is a narrow window of opportunity - just about four-six weeks from mid-October through mid-November to visit Churchill for prime polar bear viewing. Frontiers suggests a minimum of four days in Churchill to maximize your bear sightings and also to enjoy the myriad of activities (such as dog sledding, helicopter flight-seeing to observe bears already out on the ice, and learning about the native culture and history of Churchill) and other wildlife such as arctic fox, snowy owl, and ptarmigan. Polar bears are mainly solitary creatures so usually sightings are single animals. You may see several bears in one day or just a few; but the fascination of the experience is more in the quality of the sightings - not the quantity. Excursions are made in specially-designed "tundra buggies" which are raised safely above the height of the bears. They accommodate 20-30 passengers and are fully heated with toilet facilities. The windows all open and there is an open platform off the back, allowing for incredibly close and intimate sightings with the world's largest carnivore.

Churchill is accessed by air from Winnipeg and usually a night in Winnipeg is required in and outbound. Accommodations are in simple, motel-style inns or for the more adventurous, there are some "tundra-buggy lodges" with dormitory style bunks.

Contact Mollie Fitzgerald for details; she's been there and loved it!!

Fun Facts About Polar Bears:

Polar Bears inhabit a 5,000,000 sq mile region of the Arctic north - in the 1950s, due to unregulated hunting, the polar bear population reduced to as low as 5,000; since the International Polar Bear Convention in 1973, and various conservation efforts, the population now numbers well over 20,000.

• Polar bears rarely venture very far from ice when it is available because they need it as a hunting platform for hunting their chief prey: ringed seals and bearded seals. When it is necessary for them to travel between ice floes or to dry land, they are adept at long distance swimming - up to 60 miles at a time at an average speed of 6 miles per hour.
• The polar bear's stomach is very large, with a capacity for more than 150 pounds of food in one "sitting". To maintain its body weight, a polar
• Polar bears are born with their eyes closed and weighing only one to one and a half pounds (about the size of a squirrel). They grow very rapidly in their first few months of nursing on the mother's milk, which is very high in fat.
• Polar bears are the largest of all terrestrial carnivores - adult males can reach 8-11 ft tall and average 1400 lbs; adult females are smaller, weighing about 660 lbs.
• The fur of polar bears (which is actually colorless and appears white only by reflecting sunlight) is 95% efficient in converting ultraviolet sunrays into usable heat and provides water repellent insulation from cold air and water.
• They actually have black skin which helps them absorb large amounts of the energy.
• The polar bear's hairy soles of its feet are unique among other bears and allow it to grip the ice. It can run up to 25 miles per hour, although they quickly over-heat because of its heavily insulating fur.
• Polar bears have excellent eyesight and hearing at least equal to a human's. Its sense of smell is so keen it can detect a seal more than 20 miles away!

Photos Courtesy of: Linblad, Silversea, Arctic Kingdom (Francoise), Arctic Norway Tourism Board, The Thief and The Storfjord Hotel.

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