SI Vault
Downs Matthews
September 11, 1989
At the edge of the shore ice, where Hudson Bay's cold waters move sluggishly beneath a bank of gray fog, a big male polar bear ambles into view. From a distance he seems little more than a harmless hummock of snow that somehow moves. But at the sight of this lord of the Arctic, the eight photographers watching from a Tundra Buggy on a Cape Churchill ridge suddenly develop a shortness of breath. They are transfixed by bear fever.
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September 11, 1989

Polar Bear Safaris: The Hottest Thing Up North

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"If I could have gotten him into my clinic," Albers says later, "I could have saved him."

But it is not possible to interfere. That night in the dining car, even spaghetti alla carbonara and Chianti fail to dispel the gloom until someone comes in with the news that the aurora borealis has blossomed in reds and greens across the night sky. There is a rush for cameras and fast lenses.

Temperatures have slid to 10 below zero, and a steady 17-mph wind brings the chill factor down to 45 below. No one can stay very long on the shooting platform between the parked vehicles without risking frostbite. During the night a winter storm moves in. The air turns white, and shadows disappear from the snow. Visibility drops, and objects lose definition. The bears are now almost impossible to see in their element. Photography becomes a pointless exercise.

This is the moment the bears have been waiting for. Almost as one, they move toward the new ice forming rapidly on the bay. The aroma of breakfast bacon no longer appeals to them. Out there, fat tasty seals are waiting. In just a few hours, the bears are gone.

Watching the bears leave, the photographers know the safari is over for them, too.

"I wonder if I got that shot of the bears playing," Bruemmer worries.

"You can always come back next year," suggests Guravich, who has been here 20 times.

Another bear groupie is born.

For information on the safaris, write to Tundra Buggy Tours, Ltd, PO Box 662, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, R0B 0E0, or phone 1-204-675-2121.

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