Churchill Polar Bear Safari, Helicopters & Huskies

Jessica Tiffin

20 Nov 2014

spotting polar bears from the air

Wow yesterday was the most incredible day in Churchill. We couldn't have wished for more perfect weather conditions for a helicopter ride and dog mushing experience. The sky was crystal clear and calm which meant we could fly out over the frozen bay and follow the polar bears on their hungry pilgrimage over the ice. Having had no expectations due to the last day's absent bears, I was thoroughly flabbergasted when polar bears started popping up all over the place!

Just a few kilometres further out than where we were driving in the polar rovers, the bears had evidently only just left the area, and we could see them happily trotting along, surveying the newly provided frozen buffet table for unsuspecting seals. 

We saw the mother and her rather large cub that obviously not quite ready to leave the nest and deal with the big wide cold world by himself!

There was a marked ex-convict polar bear which we got to fly really close to as he needed surveying. When bears repeatedly get too close to town and scaring them off doesn't work, the bear patrol team put them in a holding facility (polar bear jail) before flying them north as far away as possible. This guy apparently kept returning so they had marked him with a green dye and were trying to make sure he kept travelling north and had curbed his enthusiasm for human dwellings! Normally the helicopters don't like to get too close to the bears but this was a tactic to keep him in check, so it did mean we got a special proximity to him, and the most amazing view of his big round fluffy bum shaking madly as he galloped away. Running polar bears are quite a sight; not the most graceful or athletic looking creatures, but certainly amusing to watch!

Other bears were dotted about within respectful distances from each other. 

We saw ten or so in total and couldn't wipe the smile off our faces.

It was so rewarding not only to be able to witness them in their natural habitat, but to know how happy and healthy these magnificent animals were, roaming around in their element, doing what nature intended and evolution had dictated so efficiently well.

After one exhilarating experience it was swiftly off to the next. The bus picked us up and we drove into the other prevalent eco-system of boreal forest. The fresh sparkling snow had a different effect here, gently blanketing the increasingly thick spruce woodland and creating a calm silence as we entered the Narnia like world of of the huskies and their mushing playground.

mushing through the magical scenery

Kelly, the dog master and mushing enthusiast, introduced us to his team, explaining the different characters and subtle nuances of communication with the dogs, how he rears and trains them, and stories of past adventures and epic expeditions. The dogs were overflowing with excitement, jumping up and down and yelping with enthusiasm to get out there running. They were harnessed up in a neat line, then, two at a time we snuggled down into the sled and shot off through the trees. Now the dogs were silent, heads down with focused concentration and trotting along in sync with the rest of the team. 

It was all so magical, with the sun shining brightly through the trees, dappling our woodland path with glitter, and only sound of the sled whooshing over the snow, or a spruce grouse darting out from the shadows.

What a way to end the trip. Churchill is certainly an enchanting place.

Inhospitably cold it may be, but there's something about the exhilaration you get simply from standing in the midst of it, acutely aware that without the many layers of thermal clothing you wouldn't last a second. A humble witness to a world so impressively adjusted to extremes, where the people, fauna and flora are rare but hardy; stubbornly carving out an existence despite all odds, rendering it all the more beautiful as a result of this. I'm now on the way back to my own existence in a temperate world of comfortable commutes, easy access, moderate temperatures and general ease of being and predictability, and I can't help but dream of being a polar bear frolicking in the diamond-like wilderness, with nothing but seal blubber on my mind and the Aurora Borealis dancing magically overhead

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Comments

Jessica

16/12/2014 10:37 AM

Hi Michael, that is fabulous news indeed! I'm am so glad you will get to share the amazing experience I had out there. I look forward to your email and we'll have you venturing to the 'dreamy' Arctic in search of polar bears in no time!!

Michael S

16/12/2014 12:59 AM

Hiya Jess - We will surprise you by saying we have decided to go to Churchill after all!! Have sent you more detailed email. Your trip sounded absolutely "dream time"!! Michael S

Carolyn Turner

26/11/2014 11:45 AM

If given a choice between a warm sunny climate and -20 I would opt for the sun but the way this trip was described I would invest in thermal undies and sign up. Sounds amazing.

Will

21/11/2014 11:45 AM

A lovely write up and great views of polar bears from the air!

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