As a guide and logistics coordinator, I worked in Churchill close to 15 years. Some of that work experience with Natural Habitat Adventures was on the job training. Some of that training was life or death related and could not be prepared for anywhere else.
Whenever risks are involved in an endeavor, being prepared as much as possible helps one make a right decision whenever a situation becomes dire. In Churchill one thing anyone, either a resident or visitor, needs to learn quickly is how to deal with a polar bear encounter. Or, better yet, prevent possible polar bear encounters.
However, even if you are well aware of the risks, sometimes polar bears can sneak up on you when you lose track of their movements.
Here are three times in Churchill when I felt a bit unnerved by being in the vicinity of a polar bear:
1. I described this incident in an earlier post. I was in a photographer’s van at a popular polar bear photo location in Churchill and a polar bear tried to get at us through an open driver side window. The photographer reached from the backseat where we were all backed into, unsure if the polar bear would climb through the window or not, and turned the key in the ignition to scare the bear away from the vehicle. It worked and to my amazement he kept his arm attached to the rest of his body.
2. On a delivery of food and beverages out to the polar rover launch site, Darcy Callaghan and myself were pressed for time. We arrived at the loading ramp and began unloading the van full of supplies and handing them over the railing to the rover driver. We were about halfway finished when something made me look just to the right of the van and I looked straight into the eyes of a large male polar bear about 12 feet away trying to unload some of the food for himself. Some shouting from fear and the bear was on his way. Close call.
3. The third scare was clearly my most tenuous “near” polar bear interaction. I was leading a Churchill summer group and we were on a half – day rover trip to the coast for a barbecue and walk around the coastline. I had a strange feeling before we even left the Great White Bear launch. The fog was rolling in and the hair on the back of my neck was standing up. When we got out to Halfway Point, we took off for a walk with the group of 12 heading down the trail to the beach. The rover driver, John Sinclair, was walking next to me and I was carrying a shotgun. As we moved along, the group spread out on the wide trail. We were talking and John suddenly said, ” I’m going back to the rover”. At least that’s what I thought he said. He actually said, ” I think we should all go back to the rover.” As he calmly pointed into the fog ahead, we looked to see a huge polar bear sauntering right towards us at about 300 feet away. We turned and slowly though methodically, walked swiftly to the rover and out of harms way. It could have been bad had we not seen the bear in time.
Sometimes a little bit of luck can save your life in Churchill. I’ve had my share for sure.