The first grizzly bear possibly ever seen in Churchill was spotted just outside the Churchill Northern Studies Center last Thursday in the late evening. A group of residents entered the center and alerted the staff that they just saw a grizzly bear outside. A group of high school students staying at the center from Sisler High in Winnipeg and some staff rushed out to a second floor observation deck and shot this video. Assistant director of the center Heidi den Haan snapped a few photos of the bear before he wandered off.
“There’s very, very few sightings in the park. But to actually have one here? And to have everybody see it? That’s very, very rare for sure,” den Haan said. “We have polar bears coming around the centre all the time. We’re right on Hudson Bay. But grizzlies? There’s just this one. Oh yeah, this is definitely singular. The kids are extremely lucky to have witnessed it,” den Haan said.
Barren ground grizzly spotted near the Churchill Northern Studies Center. Heidi den Haan / CSNC photo.
The sighting comes just weeks after researchers in Wapusk National Park, known for its polar bear denning area, circulated photographs of grizzly and black bears roaming the tundra. The park is 100 kilometers southeast of Churchill. The researchers believe the bear spotted in Churchill and brown bears out in the park are barren ground grizzlies. These grizzly bears are a little smaller then Rocky Mountain grizzlies. They are also considered more aggressive. Omnivorous in their feeding habits these bears hunt caribou, ground squirrels, eat berries and scavenge carrion.
Grizzly bear outside the Churchill Northern Studies Center. Heidi den Haan/ CSNC photo.
There have been reports of barren ground grizzlies mating with polar bears. Offspring from this hybrid match are called grolar or pizzly bears and sightings are extremely rare with the only reported sightings coming from the western high Arctic.
Stephen Atkinson, a biologist working with Nunuvut and Northwest Territory governments speaks to the unique overlap of boreal forest and tundra terrain in the Churchill region. This incredible blending of ecosystems allows one the possibility of seeing grizzly, polar and black bears all in one day or at least one visit to Churchill. ” There’s nowhere else in the world you can see that, it’s an opportunity to see all three species of bear,” said Atkinson.
The Inuit meaning of inukshuk is “in the likeness of a human”. Used as a communication beacon in traditional times, these unworked stones compiled in rough human form signaled to others that someone had been there or that followers were on the right path. These landmarks also were built to mark a place of respect or as memorials for loved ones. Churchill has some impressive inukshuks around the area that travelers gravitate to and often photograph in daytime or with dynamic northern lights in the sky over the Hudson Bay.
Northern lights over the Hudson Bay behind the Inukshuk in Churchill. Sean Beckett photo.
Hunters utilize them by marking migration paths or near water where fish are plentiful. Sometimes in these cases, inuksuit are arranged in sequences over short or long distances to better signify the trail. Spiritual meanings have also been associated with these stone sculptures by Inuit peoples. These rock forms are of the oldest and most iconic objects bonding the Arctic with the Inuit people and culture of the north. Inuit tradition does not allow the destruction of inuksuit as they are often thought of as symbolizing ancestors that learned the ways of surviving on the land.
In a land of vast emptiness and barren landscape, a familiar inukshuk is a welcome sight to a traveler on a featureless and forbidding landscape.
An inukshuk can be small or large, a single rock, several rocks balanced on each other, round boulders or flat. Built from whatever stones are at hand, each one is unique. The arrangement of stones indicates the purpose of the marker. The directions of arms or legs could indicate the direction of an open channel for navigation, or a valley for passage through the mountains. An inukshuk without arms, or with antlers affixed to it, would act as a marker for a cache of food.
The Inukshuk was the basis of the 2010 Winter Olympics logo designed by Vancouver artist Elena Rivera MacGregor. The form also is featured as the centerpiece of the colorful flag of Nunuvut, the homeland of the Inuit.
Omnitrax Canada’s plan to ship over three million barrels of oil per year (3.3 to be exact) through the port of Churchill has come upon some opposition. Go figure. Why would anyone oppose shipping light “sweet” crude oil through potentially ice filled waters inhabited by thousands of polar bears, seals, whales and shorebirds…not to mention millions of fish, krill, capelin….ok I mentioned them….and various other marine-life. The only thing “sweet” about this are profits that will be reaped by Omnitrax and parties associated with the Alberta oil sands, the main producer of the product to be exported by tankers…through the pristine waters of the Hudson Bay!
Until further serious study of the process is carried out not one drop of crude oil should leave port. Yes, we all know that Nunuvut communities have been supplied via small tankers filled from the tank farm up the hill toward Cape Merry out of Churchill for many years..but that has been out of necessity for pure survival of northern peoples. This venture is for profit and not all the logistics, especially emergency related, have been carefully studied.
Polar bear on the Hudson Bay coast
If a spill occurred, the pristine Hudson Bay would be critically damaged indefinitely. Due to the remoteness, cold weather, frigid water and rough weather, spill clean-up would be impossible at best. And since the currents in the bay flow in a counter-clockwise rotation around the bay, the oil would spread all along the coastline. Rivers and tributaries would also be affected as the tides cause water flow in and out of them. The repercussions on animal life would be devastating and thus humans would be severely affected as well. People whose existence depends on hunting from the Hudson Bay would be in grave danger in places north that offer very few alternatives for making a living in economies that support very few. People in places like Churchill would possibly lose their livelihoods from the tourism niche there. Oily polar bears, birds, whales don’t attract people with cameras and dreams of the beautiful Arctic
Please do not allow this to happen….be active in the cause to prevent oil in the Hudson Bay.