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How Churchill Canada, the Polar Bear Capital of the World Is Handling Climate Change

How Churchill Canada, the Polar Bear Capital of the World Is Handling Climate Change

Inuksuk on snow. northern lights

Late fall sees hundreds of polar bears congregate on the western shore of the lake. Canada’s Hudson Bay. The hungry bears will wait for sea ice to form over the cold waters for weeks, laying their eggs along the snowy shoreline. When it does, they’ll head out onto the frozen floes for the rest of winter to hunt their main food source: ringed seals.

The annual migration has made Churchill in Manitoba, Canada, a great destination for thousands who wish to see these bears close up. Signs leading into the town proclaim it to be “The Polar Bear Capital of the World.” In October and November, conservation officers patrol the streets day and night, scaring wayward bears out of neighborhoods with loud cracker shells. Bruins that return are often hauled off to the Polar Bear Holding Facility in an old military hangar on the edge of town—known by locals as the “polar bear jail”—until they can be released onto the sea ice. 

An Inuksuk stone landmark in Churchill, Manitoba

Court Whelan

When the moment comes for the bears to hit the ice, many visitors will traverse this portion of the Canadian Shield—exposed pre-Cambrian rock that forms the geological core of North America—by polar rover. These large all-terrain vehicles, which can hold up to 40 people, are basically the cold-weather equivalent for a safari Jeep.

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Churchill’s southerly location in the sub-Arctic makes it the most convenient place to see polar bears in the world, with an entire industry dedicated to bear-viewing. Svalbard, Norway,And AlaskaThere are two other polar bear areas that can be reached by humans. cruise ship—or a whole lot of luck—for successful spottings. But Churchill’s location also means that the polar bears here are among the most vulnerable to global warming. 

University of Toronto, Biologists Polar Bears International(PBI), a non profit conservation organization, has recently been established reportedPolar bears living in the Western Hudson Bay are likely to suffer reproductive failure by 2060, as the sea ice melts. By 2100—without dramatic intervention—it’s inevitable that the population will collapse. Already, the number bears in Western Hudson Bay has dropped by approximately 5%. 30 percentSince the late 1980s. Churchill is still alive today. often counted among Australia’s bleaching Great Barrier Reef and flooding Venice as a “last-chance” tourism destination imperiled by climate change. The region may not look the same as it did in the past 50 years, and the possibility of climate change has raised many questions about a town that relies on polar bear tourism.

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