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Welcome to the polar bear capital of the world

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Waiting for ice in ChurchillWaiting for ice in Churchill. © Geoff York

It’s November, which means one thing for polar bears in Churchill Manitoba – it’s time to get more active and start looking for sea ice.

Polar bears come ashore in Hudson Bay in July as the sea ice completely melts. Due to bay currents and the freshwater outflow from the Churchill River, the Bay starts freezing first in the Churchill area and polar bears have adapted to this cycle. Because of this, Churchill is one of the only places in the world that people can predictably experience polar bears in their natural environment.

For the next few days, I will be working from Churchill. I will be sharing the incredible experience of viewing this unique species and its environment with WWF partners, members, and colleagues. While on the ground, I will also be meeting with research partners like Manitoba Conservation and other leading polar bear scientists from across North America. I’ll also be engaged with our conservation partners at Polar Bears International through their Tundra Connections Program– reaching out to school and university class rooms across North America and around the world via live webcasts.

Churchill doubles from a town of 900 to easily twice that during peak season, and you never know whom you might meet. This week I’m staying out on the tundra doing webcasts during the day and interacting with visitors in the evening at the remote Tundra Buggy Lodge. Tonight our panel of visiting scientists gave an impromptu talk to a group of 26 executives and family from the country of Columbia- in the North for the first time, keenly interested in learning about the impacts of climate change, and what they could do to influence positive change.

While the town of Churchill is nearly the same latitude as London, England- the weather and climate are drastically different. This is where boreal forest gives way to arctic tundra and where land meets sea. Temperatures this time of year range from -20 to 0 C and the snow, while light, is here to stay. The Bay is only now showing the earliest signs of slush and small patches of ice. The last of the grain ships is being filled with wheat from the Canadian plains and soon bound for Europe and the town is filled with new faces.

In the coming days I hope to use my time here to speak with a variety of people from around the world, both in person and via other outreach. I will also have unique opportunities to meet with colleagues and discuss shared projects, concerns, and our hopes for the future. All the while, I will be in polar bear country and have an unparalleled opportunity to watch bears being bears while we wait with them for the return of the Bay ice. I hope you’ll join us!

« Svalbard polar bears – where are they now? | Talking on the tundra »

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