Gypsy's, Polar Bears, and Tundra Buggies

Trip Start Jun 07, 2008
Trip End Jun 28, 2009

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Flag of Canada  , Manitoba,
Saturday, October 18, 2008

This morning we woke up early to go see the polar bears. We took a bus out to the tundra (it means a treeless area) to catch our Tundra Buggy. A Tundra Buggy is like a giant bus with huge wheels, a bathroom, and a back porch. Our guide's name was Mark and he has been a polar bear guide for 10 years. There was also a lady from Polar Bear International named Sarah who told us lots about polar bears. Mark was lots of fun and crazy! He is also a river guide in the Yukon and a dog sledding guide in the Rockies.

We started out and almost immediately we saw a mother polar bear and her cub by the Hudson Bay! It was amazing - the cub came right up to the Tundra Buggy and smelled our wheels! We watched them for a while, then drove for about five minutes before we saw another mother and two cubs! Then we drove about ten minutes and saw another polar bear, a male! Mark said we were very lucky.

After lunch, we saw an Arctic hare who looked very fat and was hiding under a bush, and some ptarmigans, which are like Arctic chickens. Both the hare and the ptarmigans were white - they were ready for winter already. While we were looking at the hare, we suddenly saw an Arctic fox - he was also white and was running through the willows. The fox was very fast - he must have been hunting, but Mark said the hare was too big for him.

In the afternoon, we saw a lot more bears, including one big male sleeping right by the lodge and another one walking around. I think we saw eleven bears in all!

Here are some cool polar bear facts:

Polar bear mothers come to their dens about 20-30 miles inland from Churchill to have their babies in November or so. They lower their heart rates and they don't eat anything at all while they are in the dens having their babies and even after they are born. Polar bear mothers fast longer than just about any other mammal, about eight months! Polar bears can have one to three cubs. The cubs are born in January usually and then in March or so they walk to the ice to go hunting and get food with their mother. It is very dangerous for them because wolves sometimes try to kill the babies. Sometimes the mother carries the babies on her back to help them through deep snow.
Polar bears can walk on thinner ice than humans even though they are much larger than us. Their paws spread out and they spread out their weight so they don't sink. They have little bumps on their paws called papillae that help them grip ice.
Polar bears are in Churchill from October to November because they are waiting for the ice on the Hudson Bay to freeze so they can go onto the ice and catch seals to eat. The ice freezes first in the area around Churchill because lots of the inland water is brackish and fresh water freezes faster than salt water.
The polar bears catch ring seals with their claws by grabbing them behind their neck and pulling their head or they put them in their jaws and sling them side to side until they are dead.
Polar bears do not live in herds. It is every polar bear for him or herself.
Polar bear ears are smaller than other bears so they can stay warm.
Polar bears have black skin.
Polar bears like to eat seals, berries, just about anything if they are hungry - they are omnivores. They are very smart.
Polar bears do not hibernate. They do fast during the summer, so that is why they are so hungry by the time the ice freezes. They can slow down their heartrate and do a mini-hibernation if a storm comes up or if they can't find food.
A mother bear sits on her back legs to feed her babies.
The Inuit word for bear is Nanuk.
The reason why global warming can hurt the polar bears is that if the ice melts earlier, they have less time to hunt seals during their best hunting season. If they don't eat enough then, they have to fast longer and may be weaker and more likely to get hurt or die or mothers are more likely not to have strong babies or to have babies at all. The researchers in Churchill have found out that since the 1990s the polar bear population has gone down by 20 percent and that since the 1980s, when they tagged bears, the bears are not as healthy as they used to be. That is very sad. If the ice keeps melting earlier, more polar bears may die or else go farther and farther north.

On the way back to Churchill, we saw a wrecked army plane called Miss Piggy and also the Polar Bear jail, where they keep polar bears who come into town. We also saw polar bear traps. Sometimes bears get hungry before the ice freezes and try to come into town. If they do, the town sometimes catches them and takes them out by helicopter. The town mayor and council and other people have a polar bear watch program that keeps a watch around town for polar bears, but sometimes some get in. A polar bear was in town yesterday morning at 5:00AM but left. If you walk outside the perimeter of town, you should take a gun or be in a vehicle.

We also learned about the Northern Lights, which are called the Aurora Borealis. Aurora was a Roman god who was the goddess of dawn and Boreas was the Greek name for the north wind. The lights are caused by the solar wind, they think. Benjamin Franklin was one of the first people to notice them. We hope we can see them tonight, if we stay awake long enough. The Cree people call the Northern Lights the "Dance of the Spirits."

Tonight we ate dinner at Gypsy's, which was a great, fun family-run place place. Our waiter was so crazy and friendly. He gave us fresh, hot Portugese rolls that no one else got. He also made us a special, huge, banana split with chocolate chips, marshmallows, white chocolate, sprinkles, and brownies. It was delicious. After that, he gave us a tour of Gypsy's bakery. He showed us the kitchen, the fridge and freezer, his office and where they store all the food. It was really cool. He gave us a kiwi and a pear for breakfast. He was really nice. His mother, Mrs. Da Silva, runs the place and is also very nice.

On the walk home, we stopped to pet the cutest puppy ever, a fluffy white Eskimo husky that lives outside the general store. I would love to adopt him! So would Charlsi - we nicknamed him Snowy. Now we are about to play checkers and Uno before we go to bed. Goodnight!
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