Glimpsing polar bears at the edge of the Arctic

Polar bear close up

Awe and excitement filled our Polar Rover the first day we ventured out on the partially frozen Hudson Bay. Just over a dozen of us had traveled to Churchill, Manitoba, on the southern edge of the Arctic to witness one of nature’s greatest spectacles: hundreds of wild polar bears congregating as they wait for the bay’s water to freeze before crossing to their winter hunting grounds.

Blanketed in snow and ice, this remote wilderness provides ideal habitat for the iconic bears. It’s also home to arctic foxes, arctic hares, willow ptarmigans, and snowy owls—to name more of the species we saw—that are equally adapted to life on the tundra. Some of these animals are so well camouflaged that only the sharpest eyes can spot them.

As we traveled through Churchill’s Wildlife Management Area, it wasn’t long before we encountered a pair of sparring male bears. The two put on a show, switching between playful wrestling and bursts of mock fighting on their hind legs. Other bears padded across the terrain, pausing occasionally to sniff the air or rub against piles of seaweed. Perhaps most captivating was the sight of a mother and her two cubs resting on a slope of fresh snow, embraced by the afternoon’s golden light.

Observing these mammals inspired us to reflect on the realities of a changing climate. Polar bears depend on sea ice to travel, hunt, rest, and mate. As the Arctic warms, the animals’ future is becoming increasingly uncertain. But for those of us privileged to see them up close, one thing is clear: We must advocate on behalf of all arctic species living on the front lines of climate change.

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