Sunday, 20 November 2011

Churchill Polar Bears 14-15th November 2011: End of the Adventure

Train at The Pas

As I write this I’m about to board a plane back to the UK. I’ve just seen a last few flurries of snow out of the window, and have just a few last moments at the airport with three of my favourite people from the trip: Susan, Mark and Janet. I’ve already had to face the sadness of saying goodbye to the group travelling back to Montana, and the remainder of the Winnipeg travellers after a meal last night.

Goodbyes at The Pas

Catching up on the news whilst I was away, I found this article from the UK Guardian where The IEA, respected, cautious organisation reports that time is running out to avoid truly catastrophic global warming (a rise of 2 degrees Celsius, which would in itself be pretty disastrous, is now considered inevitable). Despite this depressing global outlook, we still all need to take personal responsibility for our own actions, as well as doing all we can to elect governments who take climate change seriously, and lobbying existing ones to change policy.

These guys need our help

The plight of the polar bears does appear desperate, but public involvement can have an effect, as it is ignorance and apathy that makes their demise possible. A friend’s blogpost about last year’s GBF Churchill trip sets out some of the things you can do yourself to take action. You may also want to take a look at this page I wrote after last year's trip.

Susan and Janet on the train

Previous post: Train journey home

My Churchill 2010 Blog: Introduction
Friend's blog of Churchill 2010: My Traveltales
My Anan 2011 blog: Black and brown bear photos

Index of this Churchill 2011 Blog:
November 6th: Return to the North
November 7th: Day 2 on the train
November 8th: Arrival in Churchill
November 9th: Exhilaration and sadness
November 10th: Mother and cubs
November 11th: Northern Lights
November 12th: Regrets, Additional photos
November 13th: Train journey home

Here are some pictures from our final meal together in Winnipeg:



Harris and Susan




Jim and Priscilla

Churchill Polar Bears 13th November 2011: Train Journey Home

Stop at Thompson

The train journey is a slower alternative to flying to Churchill, but less environmentally damaging, and infinitely more fun. This joy was heighted by seeing my favourite conductor from last year, and a veteran of these trips, on the return trip. Sadly he told me he’s retiring at the end of the year, which marks the end of an era. Another tradition on the train seems to be them running out of red wine on the way back on trips with the Great Bear foundation, and this year was no exception in this respect. I can’t possibility write about the contingency plans I’d put in place to deal with this situation, since consumption of alcohol not purchased on the train is prohibited.

A view from the train

By this stage, having spent over a week together, the group knew each other well, and there was opportunity for reflection and discussion about the trip, and much camaraderie. As I noted this year, the GBF’s ethos certainly aids bear conservation, but the positive effect it has on individuals is just as important.

Stop at a small community

Stop at Thompson

Next post: End of the Adventure
Previous post: Additional Photos

Churchill Polar Bears 12th November 2011: Additional Photos

Here are some additional photographs taken by me at Churchill's old dump site on 12th November 2011. Note that I hold the copyright for all the pictures on this blog. If you wish to print any, I'm happy to give permission (and send you higher resolution versions) in return for a donation to The Great Bear Foundation. Please contact me here first.

Next post: Train journey home
Previous post: Regrets

A bear amongst the grain tailings at the dump

Tragically, this bear is curious about a plastic coffee cup lid

The bear on the left has been fitted with a GPS collar for research purposes

Churchill Polar Bears 12th November 2011: Regrets

Today a small group of us took a private trip to the old dump, fuelled by antipathy to shopping and an obsession about photography. Our justification for this spur of the moment decision was to find out more about the situation there, and discover whether the chaos we had observed from the bus a couple of days earlier was typical. It’s important to note that this second visit was not sanctioned by The Great Bear Foundation, who always ensure that viewing is ethical and low impact (indeed this is the reason why you should use this organisation above all others if you decide to view polar bears).

The taxi driver who took us there, a long standing Churchill resident, did at least have concern for our safety, asking us to stay in car, and he didn’t harass any bears. However we saw a considerable number of tourists at the dump, many unguided, and witnessed one incident that we strongly suspected was bear bating (an animal approached a vehicle very closely after apparently being offered food).  I saw stress responses from bears, and some vehicles appeared to have no appreciation of the need to give the bears space, driving right up to them rather than giving the bears the choice of whether to approach.

Bear sat on a pile of grain

I regret this second visit to the dump deeply, and it would even have preferable to go out on tundra buggy trip, despite my reservations about that industry. There is no supervision or signage at the dump, and if this situation continues, it is only a matter of time until a tragedy occurs. Unfortunately it is in the economic interests of some in Churchill for even unethical polar bear tourism to continue, and so it is the responsibility of outsiders to urge the authorities to take action to control this sad situation. This may sound hypocritical advice, but if you go to Churchill yourself, do not support this unofficial tourist trade by going there yourself.

Tourist traffic at the dump (far too close to the bears)

Earlier today we saw bears waiting to get out on the ice, as Chuck put it ‘lined up like cigars in a box on the kelp bed dreaming about hunting seals’. There is still no ice, and instead of hunting, the bears were sleeping in willows, walking up and down the beach, or foraging for grain at the dump site. This year there have been reports of bating throughout town, including at Bird Cove, and there is much work still to be done to increase awareness and galvanise the Manitoba authorities into action.

As we left the Northern Studies Centre for the last time, and then boarded the train south, I felt deep sadness that the trip was ending, comforted only by the fact that the adventure with the Great Bear will not be my last.

Next Post: Additional Photos
Previous Post: Northern Lights

A bear we saw at the beech in the morning

A mother and cut from the bus in the afternoon





Leaving the Centre for the last time (until next year)