Polar bears appear quite often in the Summer months on the rocky point that juts out into the Hudson Bay just north of Fort prince of Wales. Eskimo Point is a rocky outcropping that used to be under water hundreds of years ago though now has risen out of the sea thanks to that ever continuous process of isostatic rebound.
With regularity bears have been spotted both inland and along the rocky outcroppings on Eskimo Point. Although a bonus for travelers seeking to get a look at the king of the Arctic, conservation officers need to keep on their toes for the sake of the town’s safety. Summer, in my opinion is a more dangerous time with respect to polar bear encounters than actual “bear season” in October and November. For many reasons bears are more dangerous in Summer…the main one being the element of surprise. Summer is a time when people tend to let their guard down. Many visitors to Churchill have been conditioned to believe that the Fall is the only time polar bears are in the area…not true. As ice melts, bears come on land. With temperature escalation decreasing time polar bears are able to hunt seals on ice, they tend to head for the next most bountiful habitat….Churchill. Not many visitors expect to come upon a polar bear while birding or observing wildflowers. It’s these distractions that can cause one to be at risk.
In the old days the Churchill dump was the “ideal location” for bears to gather and feast on the leftovers from the town. It was also a prime location for photographers, videographers, townsfolk and tourists to get up close looks. The dump and incinerator were shut down a few years back but before they were I was inclined..ok..more like pressured to guide a family a younger couple and their two pre-teen daughters on a family trip. It was the last day of our fantastic, adventurous five – day trip and we hadn’t seen polar bears yet not for lack of trying. Maybe we tried too hard..although we did have fantastic wildlife viewing and whale encounters..the bears just weren’t revealing themselves to us. Before going to the airport we spent about an hour and a half looking at dirty bears scavenging scraps amidst smouldering fires…doesn’t get any better than that in wildlife encounters. Anyway, toward the end of our time there one bear became intrigued with our minivan. Plastering his face against the passenger side window, he left saliva and snot all over the glass. We, on the other hand, all most likely needed an underwear change. Off to the airport.
Rumors are that the dump will be reopened in wake of the closure of the failed recycling plant out at an old military storage facility by the airport. If this happens the bears will be back to there old stomping grounds. You’ve probably seen the National Geographic videos of bears with spray-painted numbers on their sides for researchers and conservation officers to keep track of them. The “Churchill football team” as they were known.
So, whether you view Summer bears on the coast or in civilized areas around town or the airport or possibly the new, future dump…be cautious. Bears in this season can be temperamental and..er..hungry. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, don’t wander too far from town on your own, unarmed and definitely don’t spill seal oil on your clothes when out on a hike.