Up Close and Personal: Polar Bear Research in Hudson Bay


Submitted by Brandon Laforest, a W. Garfield Weston Fellow working with WCS Canada

5 August 2020

I remember the first time I saw a wild polar bear. It was July 2007 and I was a second year undergraduate student on a field course in Churchill Manitoba, offered through the University of Guelph. The course was billed as a subarctic biodiversity based expedition, but there was no denying that the greatest draw for the 20 students on the course was the chance to see a polar bear on the tundra (in between plankton tows and insect net swings, of course). Each day we didn’t see a bear our tension grew, along with the quiet murmurings of students contemplating the worst case scenario: that we had traveled all the way to the polar bear capital of the world only to return home with nothing but a deep appreciation of the ostracod and butterwort diversity of the region.

Finally, when sampling near the rocky shoreline bluffs halfway through the course, one of our bear guards signaled for everyone to return to our (should-have-long-been-retired) school bus. A bear had been spotted in the distance and we needed to leave the area to avoid disturbing her. As you can imagine, this announcement had anything but the desired effect on the group of eager young ecologists who defiantly clambered for their binoculars to catch a glimpse of this emblematic Canadian species. The bear kept her distance, remaining not much more than a speck on the horizon to the naked eye. Still, I was captivated not only by my own reaction to being in her presence, but the excitement and awe she generated in my fellow students, my professors, and even our seasoned bear guards.

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