Churchill, MB – There’s no denying the impact of global climate change. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 2015 will be the warmest year on record.
That’s bad news for a treasured Canadian animal already struggling for survival.
This fall, Rotary International arranged a trip for exchange students in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario to see polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba and learn about their plight.
One of those students is Jacob Lin, a grade 11 Rotary exchange student at Regina’s O’Neil High School. He’s been in Canada since August.
“They said, ‘it is very cold (in Canada), maybe minus 10 or more.’ I said, “Really?” because in Taiwan we don’t have minus,” he said.
Focus Saskatchewan met up with Lin while he was packing for a long journey.
“They gave me some big jackets. And some snow pants. And many clothes. I won’t be cold there,” Lin said.
According to the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, polar bears are often called the “Lords of the Arctic.” Male polar bears can grow to ten feet tall and over 1300 pounds. They’re fast too – and dangerous. They can pick up a scent from over 30 kilometres away.
Lin has never seen a polar bear, but he’s always wanted to ever since he saw a documentary in Taiwan: “I think they’re cute.”
The television program also focused on the impact of global warming on bear populations.
“Earth is more hot. They can’t find food and they need to swim (for a) long time,” Lin said.
“Polar bears go out on the ice in the winter to feed, primarily on seals and they’re not able to stay on the ice or get on as early as they used to,” said Rick Hubbs with the Rotary Club District 5550 (which covers the Toronto area, Manitoba and most of Saskatchewan) and one of the organizers of the Churchill trip.
This is the first year the Rotary Club has organized a trip like this; fifteen international exchange students will see polar bears in their natural habitat – both an exciting and dangerous adventure.
“They tell me, don’t get close to the polar bears; they will eat you,” Lin explained, before adding, “I want to take a picture there so I can tell my friends, ‘I go to Canada and I see a polar bear.’”
The students first drove to Thompson, Manitoba. Jacob left from Regina and joined two other students in Yorkton. Then, they took a one hour flight to the most popular destination for polar bear sightings in the world – about 10, 000 people visit Churchill, Manitoba every year.
“We get the opportunity to see polar bears which is something very special and I think we get this opportunity only one time in our life,” said Zach Krepa, an exchange student from France.
“I want to do this trip also to know much things about northern Canada,” added Enriquo Serpi, an exchange student from Italy.
“Every time I have spoken with someone here in Canada, and I said, ‘I’m going to Churchill,’ everyone was like, ‘Wow, I’ve been in Canada forever and I’ve never been in Churchill,’ so I’m feeling really, really lucky and thankful to have this opportunity,” said Lucia De Vitol, an exchange student from Italy.
Polar bears live year round in the Churchill area but in the fall, they make their way to the icy coast of Hudson Bay to hunt for food. This is the best time to spot them. In only a few hours, the students saw 22 bears.
You can watch the full feature Northern Field Trip on Focus Saskatchewan Saturday and Sunday at 6:30pm.