A polar bear near Churchill Wild’s Dymond Lake Ecolodge. (Photo: Dax Justin/Canadian Geographic)
The question I get again and again about my Churchill Wild experience is, “Did you feel safe out there?” Seeing the apex predator of the Arctic in person for the first time definitely gets the adrenaline pumping, but from our first encounter onward, we felt completely comfortable around the bears — the guides are that good. Sometimes we gently approached bears; other times they cautiously approached us.
When you’re on the tundra with polar bears, there’s this magical unspoken communication that happens between you and the animal. Few people will write about this unique occurrence at length because it’s hard to imagine and explain, but I will do my best.
In every encounter, there’s this instantly noticeable transfer of energy between you and the bear. Every one of your senses is heightened, yet you are absolutely still. The bear walks toward you, slowly and calmly, sniffing the ground and air as it inches closer. The exchange paints an imaginary ‘do not cross’ line when you’ve both reached a comfortable distance.
The bears back off when they hear a sharp or loud sound that is unusual in their environment, so the guides use verbal communication and bang rocks together to manage the encounters. The bears were as curious about us as we were about them, but they knew, in every case, when they had gone far enough. This deeply felt exchange and this understanding is what helps to keep them safe and wild.