Polar Bear Mums & Cubs Trip Report

Adeline E Heiderscheid

13 Jul 2016

Churchill Manitoba Polar Bear Mothers and Newborn Cubs in March 2016

After arriving in Winnipeg a day early and hearing that flights to Churchill had been cancelled due to a blizzard, I decided to visit the local zoo to see a polar bear just in case. The zoo is home to two young polar bear cubs, which lost their mother and some adult bears, which got into trouble in Churchill. The attraction of the zoo is a glass-covered tunnel under the pool in the polar bear compound. Seeing the bears moving gracefully in the water confirms their scientific name URSUS MARITIMUS. In my opinion zoos perform an important educational task for people who cannot travel to remote places to see the animals in their natural habitat.

In the evening we met Françoise, our Arctic Kingdom guide, who briefed us on the details of our trip, polar bear safety and told us a bit about her adventurous life.

The  next morning it was raining when we boarded the 737 which was meant to bring us to Churchill. However, because of the runway condition in Churchill and the 737 not equipped with turbine protection for landings on sanded runways, we continued on to Rankin Inlet. This was a nice introduction to Nunavut and a reminder that in the polar regions weather influences and changes all plans. In the afternoon we were flown to Churchill with a propeller equipped plane.

The initial program had foreseen dog sledding in Churchill on the first day. The road conditions after the blizzard of the previous days made it impossible to reach the dogs.

After some last minute shopping  we boarded the evening train to Churchill. A couple of hours later we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, lots of snow and temperatures well below freezing. The people from the lodge were waiting for us and after loading all of our luggage we headed to the lodge through the tundra. 

The lodge, a former naval base, has all the comfort needed in such a remote place. There is plenty of good food and the folks running the lodge are very friendly. There are no showers and the toilet took some getting used to after my Japanese experience with “gadget toilets”.

For the next couple of days the routine was getting up at 6am to be ready for a scheduled 9am departure with the special vehicles. The scouts were on the tundra before us trying to find polar bears. We had two lucky days with two families, mom and two cubs. The cubs of the first bear were so tiny that we wondered how they were going to survive the first year of their life. 

The experience of seeing the little ones exploring the world for the first time is unforgettable and a once in a lifetime experience.

The second bear was wearing a GPS device and it was sad to hear some “seasoned” photographers say that they refused to take photos of tagged bears.

We spent several hours outside the vehicles, cameras on the tripods ready to capture the unique image we hoped for. With temperatures around minus 30°C , taking into consideration the wind chill factor, the four layers of clothing were a must to keep warm and alive. The same was true for the cameras, and the latest gadget a mini parka was doing its job. We had no technical camera problems except for one lens which refused to work in the cold.

We were lucky to have clear skies at night with two shows of northern lights.

On the days without bear sightings, we cruised the tundra hoping to find some other wildlife (which we did) and taking landscape photographs. 

The day of farewells arrived all too soon and we boarded the train back to Churchill. 

Back in Churchill we visited all the sights, museums, shops and even the dogs. The visit of the Parks Canada Visitors Center proved to be a mine of information about the settlement of the area, the wildlife and the changes to the environment caused by global warming which endanger the polar bear moms and their cubs.

All in all it was a wonderful trip with new friendships, a lot of images and beautiful memories. The professionalism of Natural World Safaris and Arctic Kingdom made this trip possible.

For more details, see the Polar Bear Mothers & Newborn Cubs itinerary, or click the button below to get in touch.

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