BARK RIVER - A local couple recently returned from a trip to Churchill, in Manitoba, Canada, to watch polar bears migrate through the region.
Sandy Bellefeuil and her husband Bob of Bergman Insurance in Bark River traveled to Churchill Oct. 25-29. Sandy Bellefeuil said the trip was one she had wanted to go on for quite some time.
"I've always wanted to see the polar bears so I just made up my mind and went," she said.
A mother polar bear tests the ice with two cubs following close behind. The Bellefeuils, Bark River, recently returned from a trip to Churchill specifically seeking the bears.
The Bellefeuils flew to Winnipeg and stayed there over night. The next morning they were chartered to Churchill and got on a Tundra Buggy to go out looking for bears.
Bellefeuil said a Tundra Buggy is like taking two school buses and putting them together on four 5-feet-wide tires.
The huge vehicle is heated and sometimes has dining cars and sleeping areas.
"Our first day when we got out there, it was late in the morning. It took about an hour to get to the area the bears are at. That first day we saw four bear up close and one at a distance," said Bellefeuil.
The second day, Bellefeuil said they saw 10 bears total, including a mama bear and her two cubs. It is rare to see a mother with more than one cub, she said.
"The highlight of our day was when we saw a mother and two cubs about two hours before we left. It was the perfect end to a trip of a lifetime," said Bellefeuil.
The tour company they went through, tundrabuggy.com, had to keep the passengers secure at all times. They were corralled to and from the buggy and weren't even able to get pictures with it to demonstrate its massive size.
Bellefeuil said the polar bears are in the Churchill area on their way out on to the ice to eat seals.
"As soon as the ice forms on Hudson Bay then the tours are done. The bears go out there up to a mile and they eat out there all winter long," said Bellefeuil. "It's very rare for the bears to come back to town after that until spring when it thaws and they move back through the north country where it's cooler."
Bellefeuil said the town of Churchill even has a jail for rowdy bears that bother humans.
"They have a polar bear jail and there were eight of them in there. Those are the bears that come into town and bother people so they hold them and then bring them at least 50 mile up north to set them loose," she said.
Another difference Bellefeuil noticed in Churchill was the security.
"People all leave their cars out on the street all day and all night, unlocked, for anybody to be able to get in. If you see a bear you can get in one and honk the horn," she said. "(If they come to town), they are looking for food."
Bellefeuil said her husband Bob wasn't too sure he wanted to go, but after the trip they were both amazed.
"The one thing that Bob liked was there's not a lot of knick-knack shops to go in. He's used to having me drag him through everything," said Bellefeuil. "To me it was an experience of a lifetime. I would do it again, maybe I would go to another part of the world to see them but I would do it again. It was phenomenal, more (so) than I expected. Bob really enjoyed it too."
The Bellefeuils also called the trip a learning experience.
"It was very good as far as learning about the bear, and global warming. These people up there are not that worried about it. They said (the climate is) changing slow but not affecting bears," she said.
There are about 27,000 polar bears in the world, about 10,000 in the Northern Hemisphere and there are about 1,000 in the area the Bellefeuils visited.
Audrey LaFave, (906) 786-2021, ext. 145, email@example.com