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From the frozen front line, the truth about polar bears

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LAST week in TCW Andrew Montford wrote about the strange reluctance to reveal up-to-date figures about polar bear populations. Could it be because they don’t fit the predictions of doom?

He also mentioned the heart-wrenching video from 2017, which you can see here, entitled ‘This is what climate change looks like.’

After a severe backlash, National Geographic was forced to admit it could not prove the bear was starving due to climate change but alas! Nat Geo still holds firmly that climate change has, er, something to do with the polar bear starving in the video. It is a non-apology or as this Canadian might say, ‘Lovely retraction, eh?’

As a born and bred Canadian, having lived most of my life in Winnipeg, Manitoba, 624 miles south of Churchill (the Polar Bear Capital of the World), I had the pleasure of visiting the town in December of 2018. 

Why is it a feat to visit Churchill? Why did it take me so long to visit? Why does everyone talk about the polar bears but rarely does anyone go and get to see them?

Because, essentially, you must first get to Winnipeg. Next, you need to decide if you will take the train or plane to Churchill.

If you take the train, you will need to prepare for a $150 CDN (£84) 45-hour train ride. Yes, that is correct, I said 45 hours. Now to most Britons, that sounds utterly insane. But to most Canadians . . . eh. We are used to travelling ridiculous distances routinely. The reason the train takes so long despite not crossing that great a distance is due to the detour around many lakes and ultimately the train must go extremely slowly over the muskeg (Canadian word for a bog or swamp-like area) of the great boreal forest. There is a short cut: rent a car in Winnipeg, drive to Thompson, leave your car somewhere safe as the town is one of the murder and crime capitals of Canada (I suggest seeing if the firefighters would watch your car for a donation to the Firefighters’ Burn Fund) and then take the overnight train from Thompson to Churchill (roughly 12 hours). This is the station at which you arrive:

Or you could take the plane which is about three hours at a cost of roughly $2,000 CDN (£1,120) per person as the airline is owned via monopoly by Indigenous groups. The expensive flight is designed so that all of the money stays within the area of Churchill and its people. As I was visiting for work purposes as a travel nurse up north, my fare was paid by my agency.

Before arriving in Churchill, like any smart Canadian does, I googled what to do if I came across a polar bear. Google’s best advice seemed to be ‘good luck’. Many Canadians know how to deal with various bears (the others are black, brown, grizzly) and polar bears are one of the worst to come across. It all depends on how the bear is feeling. It may ignore you completely or want to come visit you. If it is hungry, you may look like a good substitute to a seal. If it sees you run, you are now what I believe bears would call ‘fast food’ and it will chase you. Additionally, if the bear (as with most bears) is a female with cubs, you are in an even more precarious position as the momma bear will fight to protect her cubs.

When I got to Churchill hoping to see lingering polar bears around town, I was informed that in December, they all head out on to the ice to catch seals. And it was December.

A bit disappointed, I went about my day to the grocery store (as transportation is difficult, the prices are astronomical). There in the fruit aisle selecting peaches was a man decked head to toe in seal fur who looked as if he had fought off a wolf that morning. Picture a Canadian version of Daniel Boone. I discovered he was the owner of Blue Sky Dog Sledding and of 30 or so beautiful Huskies. He was also unique to the area of mostly Inuit and Cree in that he was a politically conservative Métis (a people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry).

As the area was going through a polar vortex with winds of 50 kilometres per hour and a low of -63 degrees Celsius with wind chill, I chatted with my new friend Gerald, his wife, Jenafor, and other locals at the two bars in town (thank God, they somehow had Jameson). I asked them about the viral polar bear video.

Most hadn’t heard of it, but after I showed to them, they answered with great ease, ‘Ya, looks like an old one, how many animals get to live to old age and die naturally, eh?’ or ‘If the bear was starving, she’d be closer to the water where she could hunt.’

As a word of wisdom, beware any data online that suggests the polar bears are dwindling. The global population of polar bears was around 22,500 in 2005 and has risen to upwards of 30,000 (approximately 15,000 of the world’s polar bears reside in Canada alone). While we are seeing the Arctic ice deplete (although I would argue due to cyclical changes that have existed throughout time) the evidence for climate change affecting the polar bears is negligible.

Undeterred, global warming doomsayers will cite the increase in polar bear attacks on humans, arguing that the animals are unable to find food and so come upon human settlements. Again, correlation does not equal causation. What these doomsayers neglect to mention is the increasing traffic of humans to the area for tourist purposes and, guess what, saying polar bears are disappearing only makes the tourism increase, irony, eh? The polar bears are also becoming increasingly curious about tourists and bolder at approaching humans. Many of the attacks, such as one in 2018 on a man and his children, are the result of a mother polar bear protecting her cubs in early spring when everyone is warned to look out for the mothers. The writers of articles about the decline of polar bears rarely speak to anyone in the area and if they do, they censor out any rational or sensible reasons for the attacks and instead strive for media sensationalism.

Canada was founded on the fur trade, and this continues. Canada and several other Arctic countries signed the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat in 1973 to limit and protect polar bear populations from hunting. Now, there is a push from locals in Nunavut and the Hudson’s Bay area for an increase to the limit of polar bears they are permitted to hunt as they argue the numbers have increased exponentially and this is increasing the danger of living among the bears.

If you have a chance to view the TV series Ice Road Truckers you can understand the harshness of the Great White North. It is worth pointing out that very few people venture so far north, which makes videos of sad-looking polar bears so inflammatory to social justice warriors living in their parents’ basements in an urban centre like Toronto. Most Canadians live along the Canada and United States border. Thus, in reality, most people know very little about polar bears even if they are Canadians unless they are actually from or have visited the Arctic. Most people visiting somewhere like Churchill would be surprised that they don’t lock their cars or houses (in case of a run-in with a bear or occasional wolf), they have a curfew siren every night (for younger kids to head home) that the use of long-arm firearms is required when living among wolves and polar bears, and the SJWs would just be horrified at the fur everyone is wearing! They wouldn’t last a day up north, as seen in a recent manhunt in Northern Manitoba. 

Let’s hope the SJWs stay lazy in their parents’ basements, scouring the internet for the next viral video to get worked up about. The 20th century had real issues – Communism, Nazism and the Vietnam War. Today’s youth must invent their own troubles. Meanwhile, in Churchill, they remain frozen in a more practical time.

PS: Although I didn’t see a polar bear in Churchill, here is a picture of some black bears at the town dump in Oxford House, an indigenous reserve in Northern Manitoba. There were seven to ten bears in the dump and these were about ten feet away but too busy to chase after me. One even held a piece of pizza in his paw and ate it like a person!

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Kateri Muys
Kateri Muys
Kateri Muys is a nurse living in Ottawa, Canada.

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