Adventures in the Last Frontier
Arctic Polar Bears
After 10 years in the adventure travel business, I can honestly say I've seen some amazing places, had some extraordinary adventures and certainly spent some time way off the map. Last week, I had the opportunity for one last trip in 2010, and couldn't help but jump at the opportunity.
Visiting the northern coast of the continent has always been a goal of mine, and seeing polar bear has certainly been elevated on my list due to the increasing loss of habitat and uncertain future of these amazing creatures. The trip had been planned for some time, but it wasn't until the morning of that I realized the extent of the adventure that I was about to embark on. We were headed for Kaktovik, Alaska - one of the northernmost villages on the continent, accessible only by boat on the Arctic ocean, snow machine across hundreds of miles of wilderness or airplane (we opted for the airplane).
Our goal? To view polar bears in their natural habitat. Simple enough right? We hoped so.
As we landed in Kaktovik, the first thing I noticed was snow. When I left Anchorage earlier, it was still fall. Crisp mornings, the colors were amazing, and I could still get away with a hoody as my outer layer. It appeared that the arctic was well into winter. With a 20 knot wind buffeting the side of the truck, we made our way from the runway to the hotel, where we settled into bush living. We were pleasantly surprise with the amenities this small village had - running water, flush toilets, and plenty of heat. Like home - just without pavement, stop lights or droves of people. We were remote, and life certainly revolved around a different set of standards.
We didn't stay still for long, as polar bears had been filling our thoughts for days, and we hoped to spend as much time with them as possible. With a short drive out to the whale bone pile on the edge of town, we were rewarded with our first views of these magnificent creatures. The bone pile is a sort of offering to the polar bears, in an effort to keep them out of town, where they are a danger to residents, and certainly destined to be in the sights of at least a few rifles. As the bears feasted on the remains of this seasons whale hunt, I could not help but feel awed by the spectacle in front of me. This is one of the most well adapted creatures on the earth, humble in their existence. My perception of wildlife was forever altered. These are creatures that live and thrive in one of the most inhospitable places on the planet.
The daylight that first day, as well as the remaining days of our trip quickly passed, and our plane bound for Anchorage arrived before we were ready. We were left with many thoughts as well as questions. Questions like what will happen to this creature? Will it adapt to the changes in the world, or will we adapt in an attempt to stop the changes? Now that we had shared this experience with them, I don't think any of us could imagine life without them.
The current listing for polar bears is Threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act. As with any listing that potentially effects resource development, not everyone agrees with the listing. However, having seen this amazing species, I couldn't agree more. This is something worth protecting, saving in fact.