An Arctic Cruise – One of the Best Ways to See Polar Bears in the Summer

The Arctic is synonymous with inaccessibility. Distances are vast. People, towns and cities are few. No roads to speak of. But the wildlife is abundant and the viewing opportunities are unmatched. That is, if you can get there!

Perhaps the best choice for any nature and wildlife enthusiast to go deep into this vast region is to take an Arctic cruise. Ships offer the ultimate in convenience: first off, you are never very far from your hotel. The food is great, so no worries about losing weight. Your fellow passengers are interested in the same things you are (or you wouldn’t be on the boat together!), and you will likely end up best friends with a few of them before the cruise is over.

When choosing a ship for your Arctic cruise, look for one that holds 50 to 100 passengers and is around 75 to 100 meters (250 to 300 feet) in length, and has an ice-strengthened hull. Choose a company that has a reputation for its excellent guides, because not only is your safety in their hands but a good guide can mean all the difference between having lots of shore excursions and chances for great wildlife sightings. In the evening, you can relax with fellow passengers over drinks and listen to fascinating lectures by the ship’s lecture staff.

Avoid if possible larger vessels because such ships will have trouble getting into some coves and must anchor further offshore in deeper water, meaning your ship-to-shore distance will be greater. Also, larger vessels mean more passengers to offload and to contend with when you are ashore.

One excellent expedition-grade vessel for an Arctic cruise is the M/V Plancius, which holds approximately 114 passengers plus crew. The Plancius operates several itineraries in Spitsbergen and Iceland/Greenland during the northern summer and in Antarctica during the southern summer. Spitsbergen is especially known for its large population of polar bears, as well as huge seabird colonies. International Wildlife Adventures offers both Spitsbergen cruises and Greenland cruises aboard the Plancius.

Below is a stunning high-definition video of the Plancius’ Antarctic cruises (Part I) and Arctic cruise (Part II) program. Be sure to click on the full-screen option in the lower right corner of the YouTube video, and check to make sure the resolution is at its highest (720p)!

Churchill Polar Bears and Dogs Playing

Video of Polar Bears and Dogs Playing




Despite their fearsome reputation as “Lords of the Arctic”, killing and eating everything in sight, polar bears have their kinder, gentler side.

A Churchill resident, Brian Ladoon, discovered an aspect of polar bear whimsy when bears began visiting his sled dogs, which are staked out on a lake shore outside of town. Ladoon is working to save the Canadian sled dog breed from extinction, raising and feeding them outdoors to ensure their ruggedness as working dogs in the Arctic.

He feeds them caribou and seal, irresistible morsels for polar bears too. So it was no surprise when bears began showing up to pick over the scraps left by the dogs. But what happened next confounded almost anyone who had ever lived and traveled in the Arctic, always needing to be wary of wandering polar bears.

Polar Bears and Dogs Playing?

One day a bear wandered across the frozen lake to one of Ladoon’s dogs. Instead of threatening the bear or barking, the dog wagged his tail, then dog and bear and touched noses. Another large bear wandered over to another nearby dog and they began to roughhouse like puppies.

Interspecies play is relatively rare, though not unknown. Dogs are well-known social animals, and, until relatively recently, polar bears were thought to be solitary, coming together in maturity only to mate. Anyone who has been to Churchill to view the polar bears can tell you of the playing and sparring that is commonly seen in the fall as the bears wait for Hudson Bay to freeze. But it’s astounding to see polar bears and dogs playing, their mutual rivalries and animosities parked, at least on a small frozen lake near Churchill.

Here are some other articles you may enjoy (will open in new window):

A Tourist Guide to Churchill Manitoba – Polar Bear Capital of the World

Churchill Manitoba, located 970 kilometers north of Winnipeg on the sub-arctic tundra, bills itself both as “the polar bear” and “beluga whale” capital of the world.

The province’s northern region, location of its initial inhabitants, had provided land for indigenous nomadic tribes who had hunted, fished seals and whales, and tracked the caribou herd migrations for thousands of years, using the interconnected waterways as their transportation means. Although the Europeans, such as Sir Thomas Button, had sailed to the mouth of the Churchill River as early as 1613 in search of the elusive Northwest Passage to China, it had been the secondary discovery, of fur-abundant animals, which had caused them to stay to satisfy the demand created by the cold-soaked European continent. In 1670, the Company of Adventures Trading into Hudson’s Bay had therefore been formed, the first such collaborative venture with the existing Aboriginals who, intimately familiar with their territory, had provided orientation and guidance, along with labor and sustenance. Animals were trapped and hided and their furs were transported over the rivers of the north by canoes and York boats to Hudson Bay, an extension of the Arctic Ocean, for transfer to trans-Atlantic, Europe-bound ships. Supplies, conversely, had been offloaded from arriving ships and were transported inland to the Hudson’s Bay Company’s (HBC) increasing number of outposts.

In 1912, the northern region became the last edition to the province of Manitoba.

Ore deposits, located below the forests, replaced fur trading as the modern-day resource, resulting in a multitude of mining camps, outgrowths of which were towns with swelling populations, while hydro-electric dams harnessed power in the region’s rivers.

Churchill itself, located just below the province line between Nunavut and Manitoba at the confluence of the Churchill River and Hudson Bay and boasting a population of little more than 1,000, only encompassed a few blocks, but attracted an increasing number of visitors in search of eco-tourism. The area itself had been inhabited for some 3,500 years, but the first permanent structure had been the Prince of Wales Fort constructed in 1732 across the river. In 1769, Britain’s Royal Society had observed the Venetian eclipse of the sun there, but it had not been until 1929, with completion of the Hudson Bay Railway, that the town site had been relocated to the current side and, in conjunction with the railroad, developed into a grain port. During World War II, the United States built a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base there and during the Cold War with the Soviet Union the Churchill Research Range, now the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, had been erected. The modern, 22,300-square-meter Churchill Town Centre Complex, the town’s latest construction project, contained an indoor playground, a daycare facility, a curling rink, an arena, a bowling alley, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, a library, a pizza parlor, a 300-seat theater, and a school for grades kindergarten to 12, and overlooked the too-cold-for-use beach on Hudson Bay.

Travel to Churchill Manitoba can be circuitous at best. There are no roads in or out. Star Alliance partner Air Canada offers- multiple non-stop flights from Toronto and Montreal to Winnipeg, from where VIA Rail Canada offers thrice-weekly rail service on its appropriately-named Hudson Bay, which takes some 36 hours to cover the 1,700 ground kilometers, traversing three distinct topographical zones: farmland, boreal forest, and the austerely beautiful tundra. In order to reduce costs, many drive to Thompson, where the paved road terminates, or Gillam, where the dirt road ends, and transfer to the train. Calm Air offers twice-daily turboprop Saab 340 service from Winnipeg, which reduces to once per day on weekends.

Of the half-dozen or so motels, inclusive of the Seaport Hotel, the Churchill Motel, the Aurora Inn, the Iceberg Inn, the Tundra Inn, and the Lazy Bear Lodge, all average about 25 rooms and vary in rating by a half to a full star, but the latter, hand-crafted from fire-killed logs in the fur trade era style, is the largest log building in all of Manitoba. Although all fare is available, indigenous northern cuisine, such as arctic char, muskox, and caribou steak, can be ordered in most of the restaurants belonging to the motels.

Sights depend upon season: aurora borealis (northern lights) from January to March, seals from April to August, bird watching from May to June, wild flowers from June to August,, beluga whale watching from July to August, and polar bears from October to November.

On my first day in Churchill, I elected to take a half-day tundra buggy adventure. Following the main, paved road from town, the van crossed over its dirt extension, driving past the former Strategic Air Command Base and the current Churchill Northern Studies Centre, and arrived at the Tundra Buggy Depot, comprised of two rows of five vehicles backed into an elevated wooden boarding platform. The buggy itself, converted in Churchill, had featured a truck-cannibalized aluminum chassis, four massive, tubeless tires, and a diesel 466 engine, and contained school bus-like padded, bench seats, a furnace and a toilet in the rear, and an outdoor observation platform for wildlife viewing.

Negotiating gravel, dirt, rock, mud, muskeg, and stream, and traversing barren, treeless tundra, tundra buggy 11 lurched past the military observation tower and purple, fireweed wild flowers and green, velvet-like moss to the banks of Hudson Bay, encountering tundra swans, woodland caribou, and snow geese along the way to a polar bear siting. Drinks and snacks had been served while a lone bear, fasting on the tundra until autumn’s temperatures would once again permit the formation of ice sheets and the continuation of his daily seal hunt, moved round the pond and investigated the very high tundra buggy, animatedly maneuvering on both two and four paws, sniffing, looking, and cautiously approaching until he had come within only feet of the observation platform.

Polar bear life cycles revolve round seasonality. The 1,300 polar bears on Hudson Bay, the world’s largest land carnivores and the only “marine” bears, spend most of their time stalking seals from frozen seas, seeking breathing holes or hunting from the edges of ice sheets. When the ice breaks up in spring, they are forced on to land, where they fast for several months. Adult males, varying in length from 240 to 260 cm, can weigh between 400 and 600 kg, while females, at half these lengths, weigh between 150 and 250 kg.

A morning excursion to the Prince of Wales Fort and the whale-watching area of the Churchill River had been planned for the second day. The fort itself, accessed by a zodiac crossing of the river, is a National Historic Site of Canada and had been built by the British at the mouth of the Churchill River, at Eskimo Point, during the 40-year period between 1732 and 1772 for three primary reasons:
1.To establish a trade center with the Aboriginals-namely, the Cree, the Dene, and the Inuit.
2.To create a war-time refuge for Hudson’s Bay Company’s ships.
3.To construct a base from which northern exploration could be conducted.

The star-shaped fort, featuring 12-meter-thick walls and an upper bastion supporting 40 surrounding cannons, had featured, upon entrance, the men’s dual-level quarters on the left and the shops and services, including the carpenter, the tailor, the blacksmith, and the bakery, on the right.

In 1782, when the French Navy had sailed into Hudson Bay, the Prince of Wales Fort, which would have proved a paltry match to its opponent with a small, beleaguered crew and insufficient ammunition, had been surrendered to French Admiral Jean-Francois Galaup, although a treaty later returned it to British control.

The morning’s excursion, continuing by zodiac across the Churchill River, approached a 3- to 5-meter deep area at a slow pace, moving within the circle of beluga whales, which periodically arced skyward, sometimes four abreast, in order to inhale air. So high had two surfaced that they dove nose-first back toward the water, their fins momentarily poised vertically until they had disappeared. Babies, identifiable by their white skins, swam with their mothers, which sported darker gray coverings. The warmer waters of the Churchill River, now no longer ice bound, had been the source of abundant sea life, and the whales, targeting prey, surrounded it, tightening their circumference until they had moved in for their attacks.

Beluga whales, whose brains are larger than those of humans with greater surface areas, think with their upper, oily lobe and use sound as their principle sense, which enters through their jaws. Because water provides a more effective medium than air, sound waves travel five times faster. Beluga whales are among the few types which can move their necks. Typical food pursuit entails holding the breath, using depth perception to dive as low as 1,000 meters, and attacking the fish before returning to the surface.

The afternoon had been spent poking into Churchill’s Visitor Center, museums, gift shops, and restaurants, and by the following morning, separated from the previous day’s dusk by only four hours of darkness, it had already been time for the all-too-soon return journey to Winnipeg. Conducted by air, had been completed in under two-and-a-half hours by turboprop aircraft.

Winnipeg, hardly comparable to my native Manhattan, had nevertheless been a skyscraper metropolis with a growing population and traffic congestion, but my thoughts quickly returned to the clear, crisp air of Churchill Manitoba; the tiny town; the warm people who seemed to know everyone living there; its surrounding barren, but somehow beautiful sub-arctic tundra; and its abundant wildlife, which lived in harmony with nature’s laws, not man’s. I had somehow already missed it.

I may go back there some day…

Read more about Churchill polar bears!

By Robert Waldvogel

A graduate of Long Island University-C.W. Post Campus with a summa-cum-laude BA Degree in Comparative Languages and Journalism, I have subsequently earned the Continuing Community Education Teaching Certificate from the Nassau Association for Continuing Community Education (NACCE) at Molloy College, the Travel Career Development Certificate from the Institute of Certified Travel Agents (ICTA) at LIU, and the AAS Degree in Aerospace Technology at the State University of New York – College of Technology at Farmingdale.

Having amassed almost three decades in the airline industry, I managed the New York-JFK and Washington-Dulles stations at Austrian Airlines, created the North American Station Training Program, served as an Aviation Advisor to Farmingdale State University of New York, and devised and taught the Airline Management Certificate Program at the Long Island Educational Opportunity Center.

A freelance author, I have written some 70 books of the short story, novel, nonfiction, essay, poetry, article, log, curriculum, training manual, and textbook genre in English, German, and Spanish, having principally focused on aviation and travel, and I have been published in book, magazine, newsletter, and electronic Web site form. I am a writer for Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in New York. I have made some 350 lifetime trips by air, sea, rail, and road.

Article Source: EzineArticles

Climate Change: The Next Generation: “The (Polar) Bear Facts,” Checked: Right wing New York Post attempting to smear Charles Monnett's polar bear paper with its usual lies

The (Polar) Bear Facts,” Checked by Shauna Theel, Media Matters, August 15, 2011

[Editor's Note: This is a related article to a news item reported on this site: Scientist May Be Endangered for Publishing Wrong Polar Bear Facts

In response to the suspension of federal scientist Charles Monnett, author of a 2006 article documenting polar bear deaths, conservative media have tried to dismiss the threat posed to polar bears by global warming. On Sunday, a New York Post editorial claimed Monnett's paper “led directly to the 2008 classification of the bears as a 'threatened' species, whose survival is allegedly at risk due to global warming.” The editorial, titled “The (polar) bear facts,” concluded that there is “no need to weep for 'threatened' polar bears just yet – nor, especially, for the planet.”

In fact, the Fish and Wildlife Service's determination that “the polar bear is threatened throughout its entire range by ongoing and projected changes in sea ice habitat” was based on a comprehensive evaluation of “the best available scientific and commercial information on polar bear habitat and projected effects of various factors (including climate change) on the quantity and distribution of polar bear habitat.”

Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity stated in response to Sen. James Inhofe's claim that Monnett's paper provided “the foundation” for the FWS determination: “That paper was one of literally hundreds of scientific articles cited in the listing.”

Indeed, the determination cites many studies documenting how the “observed declines in the extent of Arctic sea ice” has and will affect polar bears, for instance:

Many researchers over the past 40 years have predicted an array of impacts to polar bears from climatic change that include adverse effects on denning, food chain disruption, and prey availability (Budyko 1966, p. 20; Lentfer 1972, p. 169; Tynan and DeMaster 1997, p. 315; Stirling and Derocher 1993, pp. 241-244).

Stirling and Derocher (1993, p. 240) first noted changes, such as declining body condition, lowered reproductive rates, and reduced cub survival, in polar bears in western Hudson Bay; they attributed these changes to a changing ice environment. Subsequently, Stirling et al. (1999, p. 303) established a statistically significant link between climate change in western Hudson Bay, reduced ice presence, and observed declines in polar bear physical and reproductive parameters, including body condition (weight) and natality. More recently Stirling and Parkinson (2006, p. 266) established a statistically significant decline in weights of lone and suspected pregnant adult female polar bears in western Hudson Bay between 1988 and 2004. Reduced body weights of adult females during fall have been correlated with subsequent declines in cub survival (Atkinson and Ramsay 1995, p. 559; Derocher and Stirling 1996, p. 1,250; Derocher and Wiig 2002, p. 347).

The Post editorial also falsely suggested that a recent study raises doubt about the basic fact that “carbon-dioxide emissions trap heat in the atmosphere” and falsely claimed that “climategate” showed scientists “fudg[ing] the facts.”

Current Arctic Sea Ice Resumes Decline

two polar bears

©2011 Randy Green

After slowing in July, the current Arctic sea ice melt-rate has increased, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Current Arctic sea ice levels has profound implications for polar bear habitat.

The NSIDC reports that though the melt-rate is increasing dramatically as of mid-August, the sea ice extent has not reached the record low of 2007. However, the southern route of the Northwest Passage seems to be open and free of ice.

In other measurements, the Arctic se ice volume is estimated to be below 2007 levels, and possibly at record lows. Sea ice volume is estimated using computer models combining sea ice thickness with the area, or extent of  the sea ice.

One reason volume is important is that the thinner the ice cap, the more susceptible the sea ice is to disappearing, should melt rates again be above normal in future summers.

As Arctic sea ice shrinks, it exposes more of the sea surface to solar radiation. Since open water is darker and absorbs the sunlight that would normally reflect from the white ice surface, sea temperatures will rise, further melting the ice. The disappearance of sea ice is thought by many scientists to be a significant factor in increased global warming.

And, when the extent of sea ice diminishes, it removes much of the habitat used by polar bear populations that spend much of their time in the High Arctic. In addition, Arctic sea ice extent affects the entire Arctic ecosystem, including the seal populations upon which the polar bears depend as their main food source.

Read more about current Arctic sea ice conditions at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Scientist May be Endangered for Publishing Wrong Polar Bear Facts

Polar bear swimming with sea ice

Polar bear swimming in sea ice in Russia's Chukchi Sea --Photo ©Randy Green

Was a U.S. government scientist suspended recently for publishing allegedly wrong polar bear facts?

According to a recent article posted on Live Science, Charles Monnet, a biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, (BOEMRE), was suspended in July pending the outcome of an investigation over “integrity issues”. He had been questioned in February by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General regarding an article he published in 2006 in the scientific publication Polar Biology. In that article he reported a spate of sightings of drowned polar bears in the Beaufort Sea. The finding was subsequently included in Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”.

BOEMRE was formerly called the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which gained notoriety recently during the BP oil spill in the Gulf as the regulatory agency overseeing offshore drilling.

“Listen, we, we work for an agency that is, especially then, extremely hostile to the concept of climate change, that’s hostile to the idea that there’s any effects of anything we do on anything.”

While a spokeswoman for BOEMRE denied that Monnet’s suspension was due to his publishing the account of the drowned polar bears, a number of individuals and organizations have questioned the motive behind the suspension. Live Science reports Monnet as saying “Listen, we, we work for an agency that is, especially then, extremely hostile to the concept of climate change, that’s hostile to the idea that there’s any effects of anything we do on anything.”, in large measure because they are responsible for permitting oil and gas drilling.

The Public Employees for Environmental Resonsibility (PEER), a non-profit advocacy group for public employees in resource management agencies, has complained about Monnet’s suspension, but though BOEMRE has denied it had anything to do with his Polar Biology paper, they have refused to even notify Monnet why he was being suspended.

Read more of this article in Live Science: Polar Bear Researcher Suspended, Spurring Alarm






Knut the Polar Bear Leaves Behind a $140 Million Business

So Knut the polar bear, recently deceased denizen at the Berlin Zoo, supposedly leaves behind a $140 million business.

And I’ll bet he never went to business school.

Knut was born at the zoo in December 2006 and was hand-raised by zookeepers when his mother abandoned him. He quickly became a media star, the public falling in love with his overwhelming cuteness as a cub. He died just this last March from what turned out to be viral encephalitis, or an infection of the brain. He was only four years old (polar bears often live 30 years in captivity).

The 167 year-old Berlin Zoo, listed on the German stock exchange, is a for-profit business and during the few short years that Knut was a star attraction, the zoo took in some $30 million in tickets and other revenue. In fact, Gerald Uhlich, former chief executive of the zoo who helped create the Brand of Knut, judges that Knut the polar bear generated more than $140 million in worldwide business.

The zoo tried to license the Knut brand only to environmentally-sensitive organizations and to help promote awareness of global warming, but Uhlich encouraged the zoo to do more to profit from the home-grown bear. The zoo is reportedly reluctant to do so and Knut the brand may follow Knut the polar bear into the hereafter.

Aside from profiting from a live (or dead, for that matter) bear, the controversy brings up the role of zoos in modern society. Should the Berlin zoo be profiting from Knut the polar bear in death or life? Certainly profits from the brand help the zoo become less dependent on funding from the city of Berlin, its chief benefactor. But does such huge profitability potentially corrupt a zoo’s mission of conservation and education?

What do you think? Should Knut the polar bear be promoted in the afterlife? Leave your comments below.

Funny Bears Have Fun with Camera

 Funny bears have fun with camera

Despite their reputation as dangerous predators to be avoided while on your morning tundra stroll, polar bears can be hilarious when their curiosity is aroused.

The folks at the BBC found this out when they tried to disguise a spy camera to photograph two bears in the wilds of Spitsbergen (Svalbard). The funny bears made short work of the high-tech camera on this You Tube clip.

Putin Bans Polar Bear Hunt in Russia

Longtime polar bear advocate and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has banned polar bear hunting in that country for this year, due to concern over declining numbers of bears.

A joint agreement between the US and Russia over polar bear hunt quotas allocated 29 bears per year to be taken in both Russia and the United States by native peoples of both countries, but this has been waived in Russia for this year. the joint agreement has been praised by environmental groups as a positive step to give the polar bears “breathing room” to recover their numbers.

Last year, Putin took part in a polar bear study program with a team of scientists and has also participated in a study of gray whales in the Pacific waters off the coast of the Russian Far East.

For more on this topic, visit the Seattle PI’s Russia bans endangered polar bear hunt this year.