Living on the Wild Side with Quest Nature Tours

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Early this past November near Churchill, Manitoba our Quest Nature Tours group was watching two polar bears at close-range from the comfort of a hulky vehicle specially designed to keep us safe from polar bears, the world’s largest, weighing upwards of 1,800 pounds. The bears had been unenthusiastically chewing on seaweed on the shore of Hudson Bay where, like hundreds of other bears in the region, they were marooned for four to five months waiting for the surface of the bay to freeze. Unexpectedly our driver received a call from another driver, “You need to get over here, quickly!”

“What could be more interesting than watching these bears?” we all asked and wondered. “You’ll see” the driver replied.

It took a full 10 minutes before we finally saw the object of interest, a large seal laying atop a smooth boulder a few hundred metres from us. Our driver gestured to other driver by rubbing his beard, signaling to confirm this was a Bearded Seal, the largest of the seals found in Hudson Bay.

We were impressed, but something was wrong with this picture. The seal was several 100 feet from the shore with a vast field of ice blocks and stones of various sizes between it and the water. It appeared the seal had climbed up onto his rock during high tide to rest and then fallen asleep, when of course in the meantime the tide had gone out. Seals are unequipped to make long overland treks, and would therefore have to wait for the next tide to come in, several hours later, in order to get back to the sea.

The significance of the situation suddenly became tantalizing yet horrific to us – seals are the preferred prey of the Polar Bear! With a sense of smell much better than ours, a bear would be able to detect the seal at considerable distance if the winds were right.

Due to the openness of the landscape, we could still clearly see in the distance the two bears we had just been watching. Would they smell the seal? The winds, though strong, didn’t seem quite right. We waited and watched with baited breath. Another bear directly downwind might smell the seal, or a closer bear might surreptitiously wander by close enough to see it.

The light was fading and we had to return to base camp. We left with the knowledge, uncomfortable as it might have been, that several hours of low tide remained, and that the rhythms of nature would take their place in this little piece of wilderness.

For the curious: there was no sign whatsoever of the seal the next day, so it likely had escaped detection by the bears to live another day.

Quest Nature Tours is dedicated to our natural world. To ask for a copy of our Polar Bear tour or any of our other outstanding nature tours call (416) 633-5666 or toll-free (800) 387-1483. Email us at [email protected] or visit Quest Natures Tours is a division of Worldwide Quest.