Discover Natural Wonders at the Polar Bear Capital of the World

Welcome to the Canadian town of Churchill, Manitoba: THE POLAR BEAR CAPITAL OF THE WORLD!

Every fall season, you can expect thousands of tourists to come to this place to see hundreds and hundreds of polar bears journeying to the tundra along the shores of Hudson Bay. There, these magnificent animals — the largest land carnivores in the world — wait for the water to freeze so they can go hunting for seals.

Photo: YouTube/National Geographic

Truly, the sight of so many polar bears in just one area on this side of the Arctic is awe-inspiring!

Filled with wonder and excitement, John Gunter of Frontiers North Adventures told National Geographic, “What blows my mind is how during the winter out on the ice, these bears cover literally hundreds of thousands of square kilometers. And they somehow make their way back to Churchill every autumn. You look at the facial markings or the scar patterns on a bear and you think, ‘I’ve seen that bear before. Where has that bear been since I saw it last?'”

True enough, bear tourism has become the backbone of Churchill’s economy. Around town, you’ll find images and murals of polar bears along with specially-designed buggies that take tourists to spots in the tundra where they can safely watch these bears.

Photo: YouTube/National Geographic

Yet, the reality is it’s not uncommon to catch sight of a polar bear within the town. Churchill is along these animals’ migration path, and so the bears either go around it or pass through the town.

Because of this, polar bears used to be hunted and killed in large numbers. It only changed in the 1970s, when those who came to Churchill to go birdwatching began inquiring about polar bears. Then, in the early 1980s, National Geographic released a captivating pictorial essay of Churchill and the polar bears who migrate through the small town every fall.

Decades later, the bear tourism is booming!

But people like Ian Van Nest need to be on guard to ensure that the residents of Churchill are always safe as they co-exist with these dangerous marine mammals. A polar bear can stand as high as nine feet on its hind legs and has a bite force that’s more powerful than the great white shark, African lion, and Bengal tiger.

Photo: YouTube/National Geographic

Conservation officers like Van Nest are a great help to Churchill and the bears since they are often able to prevent human-wildlife conflict. The town’s Polar Bear Alert Program has also been making a lot of difference in the lives of both people and bears.

“It’s a fine balance to manage polar bears coexisting with humans and the added pressure of tourism as well,” remarked Van Nest. “You want to protect bears and humans, while still allowing people to have a good experience with a polar bear. It’s about coexistence. We’re on their territory. This is their home too. Every time I deal with a bear, I think, ‘Hey, thank you — thank you for gracing us with your presence, and it really was a pleasure meeting you.'”

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