Every fall, hundreds of polar bears gather near Churchill, Manitoba on Canada’s 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 few months. My particular place is Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. It was there that I first traveled outside 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 I first traveled to Churchill in the fall of 2002, it has become my Comeback Country. I visited again in February 2008 to see the northern lights in winter, returned that summer to view its beluga whales, and in fall of 2012, I made a 10-year anniversary trip to again spend time with Churchill’s polar bears.
Each October, Natural Habitat Adventures kicks off another 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, via some of my polar bear and Churchill photos.
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 sun’s energy during the short summers. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
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
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
In addition to Churchill, polar bears are also found in Greenland, in Svalbard (Norway), Russia, and in Alaska in the United States. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
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
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
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 21st century, and they could be extinct by the century’s end. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
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 that can last weeks or even years. They may travel, feed and play-fight together. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
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 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
While polar bears are charming and charismatic, it is wise to remember they are powerful predators that do not typically fear humans, which can make them dangerous. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
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
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
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