Every October and November, polar bears roam the far northern reaches of Manitoba, Canada, while migrating to the Hudson Bay. Longhorn Susan Mobley, ’71, recently got to spend six days watching them from up close.
Mobley reached out to Flying Longhorns staffer Janice Garcia to arrange her trip. Although the Flying Longhorns did not offer the trip this year, Garcia made special arrangements for Mobley to join another alumni group. (The program will offer a group trip in 2015.)
The travelers flew into Winnipeg before a quick turnaround to Churchill, also known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World. Churchill is a tiny town with just over 800 residents nestled on a peninsula between the Hudson Bay and Churchill River in Manitoba. Each fall, tourists from all over the world flock to the city to see the bears as they migrate from the tundra to the newly iced-over Hudson Bay to start seal hunting. Churchill just so happens to lie directly in the bears’ path between the two.
This might be nice for tourism, but it can cause some serious safety hazards for the townspeople. During the day the town employs people to patrol the streets and handle any stray bear incidents, but after 10 p.m. the bear handling crew goes home and a sort of curfew goes into effect. During Mobley’s visit, guards were on hand to protect children as they went door-to-door for Halloween trick-or-treating.
“It’s amazing to walk down the street and know that a polar bear could be around any corner,” Mobley says. “All cars must be unlocked so that if a polar bear is on the street, people can jump into a car for safety.”
Aside from watching the migrating bears, the group learned about the culture and history of the region through presentation and museum visits, and rode on Husky-powered dog sleds.
Below, Mobley shares some of her photos and experiences:
“Once I was on the back porch having four to five polar bears bounding at me!”
“The bears are enormous—about 1,000 to 1,500 pounds. They’re total predators. When they stand up they’re about 5 feet tall, and when you look into their eyes you know they want to eat you.”
“When you’re driving around the in tundra it’s a rough ride. Side to side, up and down. It’s definitely off-roading in a huge vehicle and the drivers were very talented.”
“The dog sled is amazingly fast. You’re sliding around, because everything is icy, and there is fierce wind in your face. The handler gives loud, firm commands to the dogs every few seconds.”
“We saw two arctic foxes, a really lucky occurrence. They are incredibly white, graceful, and fast.“
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