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We’re pumped about polar bears after spending a week at Churchill Wild’s Seal River Heritage Lodge in Churchill, Manitoba. The tour was called: Birds, Bears and Belugas – but everyone’s main objective was to get up close and personal with the majestic, white, bears that call Northern Manitoba and the Arctic Circle home.

Polar Bear in Churchill (photo Colin Rankin)

We flew in to Winnipeg, Manitoba, my home town. It had been 30 years since I last visited. (Stay tuned for my post on “The Peg”) After a dinner getting acquainted with our fellow travellers and an overnight stay, we took a CALM AIR flight up to Churchill Manitoba (Pop. ~ 800). From there, we took a 8 seater propeller plane up to the lodge. We could see pods of belugas swimming in the Hudson’s Bay from the air!

Our little propeller plane for the 20 minute ride to the lodge.

There were 12 of us in the first group in 18 months to be welcomed at Seal River Lodge. Everyone was thrilled to be anywhere after the social distancing that the COVID pandemic had demanded from all of us. There were guests from Alberta, BC and Colorado.

We were greeted by the resident “Sik-Sik” – or Arctic Squirrel. The largest and most northern of all the ground squirrels, they are numerous around the lodge and happy to pose for a pic!

Arctic Squirrel “Sik-Sik” Churchill, MB (Photo: Colin Rankin)
Churchill tundra.

Churchill Wild’s Seal River Lodge is a facility that has individual rooms for guests as well as a great room with a grand stone fireplace and an upper level with floor to ceiling windows for optimal wildlife viewing. The bears are free to roam wherever they choose. Sometimes we went to find them – other times the came to see us. 

Heading out in our “safari” vehicles.

The group actually goes out on walking safaris. That’s right, you are up close and personal with the bears. Our guides had magical ways of talking and dissuading the bears from coming to close!

Hello, handsome! Churchill, MB (Photo: Colin Rankin)

During our second day, after trekking out all morning looking for bears only to be disappointed, we arrived back at the lodge to find a mother and her two “cubs” (they were about 2 years old) foraging on the grounds just outside our lodge. There they remained for the next 8 hours – playing, napping, exploring and nosing around for berries. It was a delightful time!

In addition to the magnificent ursine sightings, we enjoyed watching the many shorebirds as the tide came in and out.

Arctic Tern in Churchill, MB (Photo: Colin Rankin)

We also went out on zodiac boats on the Hudson Bay to cavort with some of the 20,000 beluga whales that are native to the area. These playful creatures were literally “dolphin leaping” alongside our vessels as we sped along.

Baby Beluga (Photo: Colin Rankin)
Beluga in Hudson’s Bay (Photo: Colin Rankin)
Coming back to our lodge on the zodiac. (Photo: Colin Rankin)

The bears were also having a great time in the water with their heads bobbing up and down as the swam from one land mass to the next. 

Polar Bears in Hudson’t Bay (Photo: Colin Rankin)

The meals were “tundra inspired” and delicious. Fresh baked breads every day were a wonderful accompaniment to each meal along with delectable salads, meats, veggies and desserts.

Delicious “cloud berries” Churchill, MB

We even had jelly made from the cloud berries found outside in the tundra! Meals were taken in a large room with great views of the bears right outside the windows. 

One dinner time we were entertained by the antics of a young male who wanted a mom to adopt him. Unfortunately, she had a cub of her own and wasn’t interested in adopting another!

The moment when a mother had to ask this unwanted junior to leave. (Photo: Colin Rankin) Churchill Manitoba

This was definitely one of our “trips of a lifetime” – right up there with the Galapagos, Rwanda Gorillas and safari in Africa. Highly recommended.

What did we learn? Heaps and heaps about polar bears thanks to our intrepid guides, Andy and Boomer! Let’s have a little quiz so we can show off our new knowledge.

Check your polar bear IQ!

  1. How big can a polar bear actual get?

Answer: the largest polar bear weighed in at 2300 lbs!

Polar Bear in Churchill, MB (Photo: Colin Rankin)
  • Where can you find polar bears?

Answer: There are 5 countries on the planet which have polar bears. They include Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Russia, Norway and The USA (Alaska). Almost two-thirds of the polar bear population of the planet resides in Canada.

Mom with yearling. Churchill MB
  • How many populations of polar bears are recognized around the planet?

Answer: There are 19 unique populations of polar bears.

  • What colour is a polar bear’s skin? 

Answer: Black

  • What is the main food source for a polar bear?

Answer: Seal pups.  50% of seal pups wind up as polar bear food.

  • Two-thirds of polar bear births result in how many cubs?

Answer: 2 .  Very young moms and very old moms usually have just one. Polar bears have been known to have 3 or 4 cubs but this is rare. 

Mom & cub, Churchill, MB
  • Approximately how many polar bears are estimated to be left on the planet?

Answer: Between 25,000 and 30,0000

Mom & cubs just outside our dining room window. Churchill, MB
  • What time of year do polar bears mate?

Answer: Springtime

  • When do polar bears give birth?

Answer: Winter (Dec/Jan)

  1. Where is the best place to see Polar Bears?

Answer: Churchill Manitoba!

A few cautions: this trip is very expensive and the location is very remote. You will have minimum internet service and no cell phone service, so be prepared.

You will have to pack light with minimal luggage (due to the small planes getting you up to the lodge.)

Dress in layers. You will be cold. . . .and too warm. You will be supplied with outerwear – coats, rain gear, rubber boats. Remember to bring a pair of gloves and a hat.

A walk in the tundra – with 80 km/hr winds!

Be prepared for bugs!

One further warning: Churchill Wild will NOT refund your deposit if you have to cancel for ANY reason. Keep that in mind. (Our ‘deposit” was $6000)

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