Here are the recent bear statistics for Churchill over the last week/month published by Manitoba Conservation. It’s pretty clear that polar bear numbers in summer months have increased over the last decade as sea ice melts faster in the spring. When I guided Churchill Arctic summer trips 10 years ago, we rarely saw polar bears in the region before August. Polar bears are now arriving in July. Good for tourism but challenging for residents and conservation officers.
Summer polar bear on the tundra. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.
Polar bear roaming the tundra. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.
Sergey Ananov a Russian pilot attempting to circumnavigate the Arctic Circle in a two-seater Robinson R22 helicopter went down in the Arctic Ocean after his helicopter lost altitude for nearly three minutes. A gear belt broke midway through his flight to Greenland from Iqualuit and Ananov ditched the aircraft in the Davis Strait in frigid, ice strewn waters.
Pilot Sergei Ananov was flying to Nuuk, Greenland from Iqualuit when his helicopter faltered and crashed. Sergei Ananov photo.
Ananvov had time only to secure a life raft before the helicopter sunk out of sight in the ocean. He was rescued off an ice floe 30 hours after his helicopter crashed. At that point Ananov had to fight two enemies; frigid cold and polar bears!
Ananov, a sociologist and journalist, has had no experience with polar bears and had to try anything to fend off a few.
“I was trembling from the very first minute of my stay on the ice,” said Ananov. His clothes were soaking wet.
Shivering in wet clothes, the first of three polar bears arrived, a moment Ananov describes as “terrifying.”
“I had my strategy,” he says. “I was hiding under my life raft (and) when they were very, very close I just jumped out of my raft.”
“I (understood) I must do something very angry and frightening,” he says, “so I roared at them, I put up my hands and I chased them.”
As he managed to stay somewhat warm with the life raft as cover and his success in scaring the polar bears away gave him some hope, Ananov quickly faced another obstacle…fog.
“At some point I was losing hope because I thought this fog will never disappear,” he says.
Late Sunday night, the fog cleared and Ananov heard a helicopter above him and saw a distant light.
“Here I said, ‘Okay this is my last chance and the last flare,’” he added. “They noticed the very last seconds of the flare.”
Canadian Coast Guard ship Pierre Radisson, was the safe haven for Ananov after his rescue. On board he was warmed up, medically treated and ate a “brilliant supper.
Ananov thanked the coast guard fervently for “a tremendous job.”
These two underwater photos of male beluga whales in the Churchill River are pretty spectacular. Ellen Cuylaerts snapped these two along with some video at the end of a rather uneventful whale snorkel. These photos more than make up for an otherwise image-less excursion. There’s always something new when it comes to Churchill!
A pod of male beluga whales in the Churchill River. Ellen Cuylaerts photo.
Male beluga whales interacting with snorkelers in Churchill. Ellen Cuylaerts photo.