Polar Bear Blog

Top 5 polar bear myths, debunked!

Polar bears sparring at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jad Davenport photo.
Polar bears sparring at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jad Davenport photo.

by Allison Reimer

It’s not at all uncommon for us to encounter guests with misconceptions about polar bears, so we decided to debunk the most common myths we’ve come across and shed some light on our beautiful residents. Here are five myths you may have heard about polar bears and five truths you may have not.

Myth #1: Polar bears hibernate.

Aside from nap time, polar bears are up and moving year-round! Many people are surprised to hear that they can come to see polar bears with us in the summer months at our polar bear lodges, when the bears are wandering around foraging on the tundra for berries, small creatures and beached beluga whales. Photographing polar bears in blankets of fireweed or when they’re wrestling with each other in Hudson Bay just so they can stay cool, makes this myth extra sweet to debunk. Don’t take my word for it, come and see for yourself!

Polar bears don't hibernate in the summer! Photo by Charles Glatzer.
Polar bears don’t hibernate in the summer! Photo by Charles Glatzer.

Myth #2: You can only view polar bears from a buggy.

This is my favourite myth to debunk! At our fly-in eco-lodges you can walk with polar bears! Our highly-trained guides have over 20 years of experience with bears, and with bear safety measures in place you can photograph these magnificent predators at eye level. We treat all bears with great care and respect that we are in their environment. Being on the ground and watching a polar bear approach you is one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had.

Yes, you can see polar bears at ground level! Robert Postma photo.
Yes, you can see polar bears at ground level! Robert Postma photo.

Myth #3: (a personal favourite) Polar bears live with penguins.

I’m not here to burst anyone’s bubbles, but polar bears do not live near penguins. This is very fortunate for the penguins, as polar bears happen to be one of the fastest land mammals on earth. Emperor penguins for example, have a top speed of 9 km/hr, while polar bears can reach 40km/hr. In animal kingdom math that equals disaster for our pretty Antarctic birds.

While they don’t live with penguins, polar bears live alongside a plethora of other fantastic wildlife. This includes our beautiful beluga whales. Beluga whales are the canaries of the sea and it’s fascinating to be able to swim with them. At the same time, you could be viewing polar bears wandering on the shore or waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting whale! Wolves, red foxes, Arctic foxes, caribou, and ptarmigan also wander the shoreline of Hudson Bay. Polar bears have plenty of company up here in northern Manitoba!

Polar bears and foxes. Yes. Polar bears and penguins. No. Birgit-Cathrin Duval photo.
Polar bears and foxes. Yes. Polar bears and penguins. No. Birgit-Cathrin Duval photo.

Myth #4: Polar bear tourism harms the animal.

Sustainable tourism is very important to us and is at the core of the Churchill Wild operating systems. There is a strong emphasis on maintaining an eco-friendly environment using solar power, grey water recycling, and restricting vehicle movement on vegetated tundra. And we take our impact on the animals just as seriously as our impact on the environment. Bear safety is a top priority, not just for the guests, but for the bears as well. We wait for animals to approach us on their own terms. Walking with polar bears is a privilege and we hold an extensive bear safety orientation before taking new guests out on the land. We are here to observe the polar bears, not disturb them.

Low impact polar bear hikes, people power! Photo by Robyn Jaques.
Low impact polar bear hikes, people power! Photo by Robyn Jaques.

Myth #5: Polar bears are slow.

I talked about the impressive speed of polar bears earlier, but I wanted to make a point of mentioning it again. These big, cuddly giants roam our coastline daily and their lumbering gait is very deceiving to most guests. A polar bear’s size can be dangerous, because contrary to popular thought that their excessive blubber slows them down, it actually provides a lot of power and explosive speed. Polar bears are like an Arctic version of hippos, which are also unassumingly fast. This is why we make sure to maintain a healthy and respectful distance while walking with the polar bears.

Don't let their summertime sleepiness fool you. Polar bears can travel up to 40 km per hour. Robert Postma photo.
Don’t let their summertime sleepiness fool you. Polar bears can travel up to 40 km per hour. Robert Postma photo.

These iconic bears are fascinating and never cease to entertain our guests. If you want to learn more, come visit us!

About Allison Reimer

Allison Reimer is the daughter of Churchill Wild co-founders Mike and Jeanne Reimer. One of their four adventure-loving children, Allison grew up in the Arctic watching and helping her parents build Churchill Wild from the ground-up. Allison brings an authentic voice to our blog and we’re excited to have her join us as a contributing writer.

2 comments:

  1. I love reading about the polar bears and had once hoped to come up there, but alas! age has its downsides. Thank you for the pictures. I was able to enjoy the bears and their surroundings here at home and I LOVED the experience!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *