Living with Polar Bears

Living with Polar Bears


(light piano music) – Churchill is a destination. We’re dubbed the polar
bear capital of the world, and making sure that we can coexist. The Province of Manitoba
has made it a regulation that there’s no polar
bear hunting in Manitoba, which we’re proud of that. The murals that were painted
on the various buildings throughout the community, they’re a description of, for instance, beluga whales, polar bears. There is Miss Piggy there, she’s an aircraft that went down in 1979. People of our community, I think I we’re all in respect to the importance of the environment. (upbeat instrumental music) I think there’s a lot of
pride in the community. You have the Polar Bear Marathon along the coastal shores
of the town of Churchill. We have the abundance of wildlife. Marathoners have seen bears along the way, so naturally we’ve got volunteers that are looking out for them. It’s another way to come to the community, marathon alongside the coast, alongside the polar bear habitat. It’s a lot of fun. (light instrumental music) (light piano music) – Well these buggies, we’re very proud to say, are made completely here in Churchill. We take the chassis from
a retired fire truck, we have a 466 diesel International motor, Allison transmission, and welded aluminum. There’s been many incarnations,
we’ve come a long ways. And what we have now, we’re very proud of. Let me tell you, when someone walks into
my buggy, buggy 17, and says, “Wow, luxurious,” my heart swells. Hi, my name’s Neil Mumby, and I’m a tundra buggy
driver for Frontiers North. I’ve been doing this for nine years. Well, driving can be very interesting, the terrain’s rather difficult. Expectations are always tough
to achieve with buggy rides, because we are dealing with wildlife. But I’ve had seven days
without bears in nine years. So it’s very rare to
be skunked, as we say. But there’s so many other things to see. Our arctic fox, our snowy
owls, our gyr falcon. Possibly ermine, we’ve
seen wolverine out here. I find people listen a little better when you have a little humor added in. And we’re here on vacation, we’re here to have a good
time, so let’s be part of it. The bears are incredible,
each one being so unique. They’re sleeping because
it’s stormy right now, but usually are on the leeward side of some snow drifts or some willows. Every day is different. We’re constantly working with polar bear experts from around the world who migrate here, much like the bears. And we can pick up a lot
of knowledge from them, our guides, and our personal experiences. – Today we were out on a tundra buggy in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area with Frontiers North on
their big tundra buggies. It was an absolutely
spectacular day today. We’re here for the
conservation of this species. We saw a mom with a yearling cub and she was nursing that cub, and that kind of brings
that message back home that this is a really
important conservation project for a species that’s in a lot of trouble right now with climate change. So today was a really good day for us, a really solid day, and it gives us great perspective as we move forward now to the Knife Delta. So we’re here on the coast
of Hudson Bay, Canada. Where we are right now is about 25 miles from the nearest town
of Churchill, Manitoba. To get out here, we flew
out in a helicopter, all the team was all transported
out along with their gear. And then the cabin
itself is about two miles from the spot where
we’re standing right now. (light instrumental music) So to get from the cabin out to here, we’re actually taking
an ATV with a trailer. It’s a bit of a fun ride,
it’s a little bit bouncy. But we get out here just fine to set up as close as possible to where
we want to study the bears. We’re right on the flow
edge shelf of the bay, answering a very important
conservation question. Right now, bears are hanging out on land and they’re waiting for the
ice to form deeper in the bay so they can go back out to their home and start hunting seals. What we’re seeing here
at Hudson Bay is a change in the ice dynamics related
to a warming climate. The ice is forming a lot
later than it used to, and that’s forcing bears
to stay on land for longer. So we really want to look at
this question in a fine detail, so that we can see when
the bears are leaving, and exactly what ice they need to understand what the prognosis is for this population as
we go into the future. – For me, nature is the
greatest show on Earth. And we’re collecting a lot of fantastic scientific information, but it’s also good to just
pause every now and then just to appreciate just what a beautiful and yet fragile landscape
that we’re operating in here. And the polar bear is just emblematic of just how this landscape’s changing, and how we all need to come together to conserve this iconic
species and this habitat. (upbeat instrumental music) – The Churchill Northern
Studies Center is located about 23 kilometers east
of the town of Churchill. And we’re located in the transition zone between the arctic tundra
and the boreal forest. We operate as a nonprofit
place for researchers to come and conduct their science. So we have lab facilities here. I’ve been working here
at the Studies Center for the last 15 years as
a Science Coordinator, and I really enjoy working
at the Studies Center. It’s a great place for
researchers to come, and also for the educational programs. We’re also pretty much a one-stop shop. So we have accommodations and meals here, and we have a great observation deck for people to get out and be able to safely see the environment around. We have a number of training opportunities available for our staff, going out into the field and conducting vegetation
data, for example. They’re also involved in interfacing with the educational programs, so giving talks to different groups visiting the Studies Center. But they also have to bear guard, or be trained as bear
monitors here in Churchill. – Bear guarding is mostly being good at observing your environment. Lots of hours standing in one spot, looking at the horizon for one of the largest terrestrial
predators in the world. It can be a pretty tedious job at times, but you also have to stay
on your toes and be awake. So usually polar bears
stick out pretty good in the landscape here summer and winter, they’re not entirely white
as most people think. They’re more of a yellowy tinge. Not necessarily hard to see them given that you have good visibility, and that’s usually also
a determining factor of where we go in the field,
if we go in the field, what time we’re out,
what the weather’s like. There’s more factors like
that that come into play than just being able to visibly spot them. – As a researcher working in the field, we’re often presented with this idea that we’re coexisting with
polar bears in their habitat. So we want to take care when
we’re out working in the field, or even when we’re out as an individual, that we are prepared and
that we don’t have to put the polar bears in any
risky situation while we’re out. Take a look around you and
assess what those risks are. Here it’s living close to wildlife, and I really enjoy working
in this kind of habitat. Not just for the polar bears, but for all the different
kinds of wildlife. (light piano music) – Don’t go places with poor visibility. Preferably, don’t leave your
car if you do see a bear. There’s safety in numbers
always with bears, and if you do see a bear, alert conservation officers immediately. – The conditions in
Churchill are really amazing. We go from bright, brilliant,
sunny, hot summer days, and hot is like 30 degrees Celsius, to days like today where it’s
cold and blustery outside. It might be as cold as minus-40 or maybe minus-50 degrees
Celsius with the wind chill. So it’s such a wide range and varied range of conditions that we encounter here. And it’s a really
interesting place to work and to live as well. Churchill is my home, Churchill is a great place
to be outside and play. Churchill is my work environment and I love being a scientist here. – Churchill is still a warm place, because of the people that live here and the great community. – Churchill is home. Bring your family, friends,
you’ll all be happy. Churchill continues to
coexist with polar bears and the abundance of
wildlife that we have. – For me, if we can’t save the polar bear, then we can’t save ourselves. – If we lose polar bears, it won’t only be a very different arctic, but it’ll be a very
different planet for us all. – It’s sad for all of
us if they go extinct. Because it’s just a
warning to the rest of us. (light piano music)

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