Saturday, November 10, 2012: U.S. / Winnipeg, Canada
Arrive in Winnipeg, in the province of Manitoba. Meet your naturalists and fellow travelers for dinner and an orientation. Fort Garry Hotel (D)
Sunday, November 11: Winnipeg / Churchill
Fly to Churchill on an included charter flight. The hospitable outpost town with a population of just 900 residents is your base for the expedition. The port stands on an estuary of the Churchill River and at the junction of three ecosystems: boreal forest, tundra and the Hudson Bay.
Of all of the wildlife species inhabiting these ecosystems, the polar bear is perhaps the most fitting icon. The bear’s amazing adaptation to life in the harsh environment and its dependence on sea ice make it impressive yet vulnerable. WWF researchers and other scientists study polar bears to gain an understanding of what is happening throughout the Arctic and adjoining eco-regions, as a polar bear at risk is often a sign of something wrong.
A science-based presentation by WWF experts introduces you to the theme of climate change – what it is, how it’s measured, and what are the controversies surrounding it. We’ll look at how it’s observed to be affecting the region’s ecosystems and explore why large carnivores are such sensitive indicators of an ecosystem’s health. Hotel TBA (B,L,D)
Monday, November 12: Polar Bear Viewing
During the summer, sea ice melts in all or part of the range of most polar bear populations. The bears are forced to spend several months on land, waiting for a freeze-up in the fall. That’s what the bears you’ll observe outside of Churchill are doing: waiting patiently for the bay ice to solidify so that they can start hunting their primary prey: ringed and bearded seals. Spend today on the tundra, traveling via private polar rovers. This specially outfitted transport provides a highly mobile and safe means to be among the polar bears. This is the only time of year that the bears tolerate each other’s presence, and their interactions are intriguing.
Participants on last year’s trip observed two pairs of young males sparring; although it looks ferocious, this play activity actually helps prepare the young bears for the hostile environment of the pack ice. They also observed a mother nursing a cub and a different juvenile trying to mimic its mother in play-charging a larger male.
An adult male may turn his attention towards us, sometimes approaching within feet, or even lift his massive paws on the side of the vehicle. During one point last year, nine bears were within sight of the vehicle! Hotel TBA (B,L,D)
Tuesday, November 13: Evening on the Tundra
Polar bears aren’t the only beings affected by climate change. Arctic foxes, caribou, Arctic hares and even humans have had to make changes in response to warming trends. As you explore Churchill, learn how life is different now for locals who make their living there. If time permits, take an optional helicopter journey over prime bear-viewing territory, observing how changes in bear habitat serve as another important indicator of climate change. Then spend the evening and have dinner on the tundra aboard the rovers, for nighttime observations of polar bears. If the skies are clear, you could steal a peek at the flickering glow of the Northern Lights. Hotel TBA (B,L,D)
Wednesday, November 14: Polar Bear Viewing
Travel onto the tundra again for another day viewing polar bears from the specially outfitted rovers. As you watch the bears interact, learn more about them. How have warming trends forced the bears to alter their behavior? How much longer must they wait for the ice to freeze? How do they survive an increasingly shortening hunting season? Discuss these advanced themes and the days’ observations during an evening presentation and lecture. Hotel TBA (B,L,D)
Thursday, November 15: Churchill / Winnipeg
Return flights are scheduled to depart in the mid-to-late afternoon, to offer as much time as possible to explore Churchill. Depending on the flight departure, have lunch or dinner together as a group. Fort Garry Hotel (B,L or D)
Friday, November 16: Return Home
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for flights home. (B)