Visions of Churchill - Jacquie Labatt Photography

Visions of Churchill

As first published by World Wildlife Fund Canada in November 2011

In November 2011, I travelled to Churchill, Manitoba, the self-proclaimed “polar bear capital of the world,” where I witnessed first-hand the effects of climate change: warmer-than-normal temperatures, little-to-no sea ice formation, and bears moving into communities in search of food.
I resist the urge to send this photo home with caption: "We just landed in Churchill!" Our tireless guide, Hailey, reminds us to explore the long-ago-downed-plane with caution as we are "smack in the middle of bear country."

With early morning starts the norm, the long shadow of our unstoppable Tundra Buggie introduces us to the vast beauty of the sub-Arctic and "polar bear capital of the world."

Despite the late arrival of ice this year, the bears we saw were generally in excellent condition.

A COY (Cub Of Year - less than one year old) snuggles against his mother after feeding on kelp. Cubs are born in Churchill every year near the end of December.

A polar bear watches the winter ice form, eager to begin his trip north for seal meat after months of fasting.

Greeting the morning light, Churchill's cemetery is a reminder of the balancing of interests - bear and human - that the community works hard to respect year-round. It is also the last one this far north where burials can still take place below ground thanks to brief breaks in the permafrost.

Bears really can fly! A polar bear found in town is sedated and then relocated via helicopter. What I initially considered a stressful journey for the bears I soon realized was far better than the alternative: being shot and killed on the spot.

A helicopter gently places a sedated polar bear down in the tundra where it will be set free. I unexpectedly fell in love with the seductive beauty of the area as much as I did with the animals that call it home.

A newly-relocated bear and conservationist, with a tranquilizer gun, eye each other. The bear's sedation is wearing off, dictating an imminent parting of ways.

A cub practices smelling for danger and understanding with the ubiquitous nose-in-the-air look of polar bears of all ages. Incredibly, polar bears can identify scents up to thirty miles away.

A male bear wakes from a long sleep in a bed of kelp.

Thank you WWF for a journey rich in knowledge, camaraderie, and purpose.
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