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What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”


A polar bear seeks shelter from an impending blizzard outside the town of Churchill, Manitoba.

There is no road leading to the small Canadian town of Churchill, which lies near the northeastern tip of Manitoba.

But that doesn’t stop thousands of tourists from taking the train or plane and going there every fall.

In fact, in this region, near the shores of Hudson Bay, you can go on an excursion and see the largest terrestrial carnivore in the world: the polar bear.

Polar bears playfully fight with each other outside Churchill.

What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
Two people watch the sunset as the Churchill River empties into Hudson Bay.

The Churchill area is one of the most southerly places where you will find polar bears. These bears spend most of the year on the ice of Hudson Bay hunting seals. But when the ice melts in summer, they have to disembark for a few months.

Sometimes bears roam near the city.

“During bear season (locals) say it’s pretty common,” said photographer Carlos Osorio, who visited Churchill earlier this month. “I also asked people this question a lot, because I was very interested, ‘Hey, are bears common in town? I asked the taxi driver who drove me from the airport to my hotel and he said, “Oh, we just had a bear in town last night. He was like right there on the corner. “


What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
A polar bear rests as a blizzard moves through the area outside of Churchill.

What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
A sign calls for caution in Churchill. There is a 24/7 hotline that people can call to report bear sightings.

In Churchill, there is always the possibility of an encounter with a polar bear; it literally comes with the territory.

But the city has taken steps to reduce the risks.

There is a “bear patrol” with staff members guarding the area. There is a 24/7 hotline that people can call to report a sighting: 675-BEAR. The city has also started testing a new radar system, or “barard”, to warn of approaching bears.

Attacks were rare. The last dates back to 2013, according to the Reuters news agency, and there has been no fatal attack since the early 1980s.

What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”

Windswept spruce trees are illuminated by vehicle light during a blizzard in Churchill.

What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”

This aerial photo shows ice around Churchill. Hudson Bay, however, was not yet frozen.


What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
A mural of a polar bear is visible on a building in Churchill.

Only about 900 people live in Churchill, but those in the know should be aware and be prepared at all times. There is also a custom of leaving car doors unlocked, just in case someone is outside and needs to find bear protection quickly.

“You just have to be careful,” Osorio said. “You can’t be anywhere on your own. You must have a vehicle or someone with you or a way to scare a bear.

“Some people carry shotguns and shoot in the air with whatever guns they have. But if you don’t have a gun license, you can just shoot bear bangers, which are basically like really loud hooded guns with a little flare on them. That’s how you scare away the bear if you find yourself in a situation like this.


What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
Local resident Simon Barbour loads his starter pistol just in case he needs to use the noise to scare the bears away.

What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
A former aircraft hangar serves as a polar bear “prison” where bears are held after venturing too close to town. They are finally released into the wild.

Driving away the bear is the first tactic the Bear Patrol will use if they see a bear approaching town. If that doesn’t work, they’ll use rubber bullets or a paintball gun to persuade the bear to move on.

If the bear persists, they will try to use live bait to trap the bear or shoot it with a tranquilizer gun. Then it’s to the “bear prison” or the polar bear detention facility.

There, inside an old aircraft hangar, the bear is given a health check and a tracker before being finally released back into the wild.


What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
Snow is falling along Kelsey Boulevard in Churchill.

What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
Polar bears play together in the wilderness outside Churchill.

Bear season peaks in October and November, just before the Hudson Bay freeze-up. This is when the bears begin to migrate north and congregate near the shore. It is also the time when tourists are most likely to see bears.

But in recent decades, the bear season has lasted longer and longer due to climate change. Ice melts earlier and freezes later, keeping bears on land for weeks longer.

Osorio noted on his trip this month that “all the businesses, all the gift shops, everything is starting to shut down because technically bear season is over. But since the ice did not freeze, the bears are still there.


What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
Churchill resident Jason Desroches poses for a portrait outside a Churchill grocery store. Only around 900 people live in the city.

What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
Polar bears head north in October and November as Hudson Bay begins to freeze over.

A longer bear season means a shorter hunting season – whereas on land bears live off their fat stores – and this has had a dramatic effect on the bear population over the years.

According to conservation group Polar Bears International, the hunting season for the local bear population is three to five weeks shorter than it was in the early 1980s, and the population has declined by 30%. Research has also shown that bears are smaller than before.


What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
The sun is setting in Churchill earlier this month. “The feeling I had from the people who lived there is that they appreciate the nature and the natural beauty of what Churchill is,” Osorio said.

While in Churchill, Osorio hired a tour guide to lead him around the area and look for polar bears to photograph.

They were about 20 minutes outside of town when they came across two bears fighting or fighting each other.

“When I saw these guys play and lay down and roll around it reminded me so much of my dog, and it was awesome,” said Osorio, who spent hours watching the two bears fight before the wind does not begin to pick up. When Osorio left, the bears had decided to lie on the ground, crouch down and wait for a storm to come.


What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
Spruce trees are seen near Churchill.

What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
A polar bear rolls around in the snow outside Churchill.

Osorio said he enjoyed his trip to Churchill despite a blizzard and wind chill temperatures that dropped to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit).

He encourages people to visit – and not just during bear season.

“There is so much more to do in Churchill than just seeing polar bears,” he said. “The people are super nice, everyone in town is super nice. But there are also the belugas that congregate in the bay. It is one of the best places for bird watching. You can see the Northern Lights like almost every night of the year.

“There is so much wilderness and different times of the year offer different things for different people. “


What is life like in the “polar bear capital of the world”
A polar bear crossing sign is illuminated by a vehicle during a snowstorm.



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