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'If it gets me, it gets me': The town where residents live alongside polar bears

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  1. alyaza
    churchill, manitoba is one of the very few places where a significant number of people live in close contact with polar bears, and this can be quite amusing and also go exceptionally poorly, since...

    churchill, manitoba is one of the very few places where a significant number of people live in close contact with polar bears, and this can be quite amusing and also go exceptionally poorly, since polar bears can and will fuck you up:

    Spend enough time in Churchill, and you will hear the stories.
    Of hearing a noise outside, pulling open the drapes and seeing a polar bear looking in through the window.
    Of walking around a corner at night, coming face-to-face with a bear and, implausibly, scaring it off with the strobe light on a cellphone.
    Of encountering an old man with a walker, determinedly clacking past a puzzled bear that peered at him from behind a rock and muttering defiantly: “If it gets me, it gets me.”
    Of being about to, against all better judgment, walk the couple of hundred yards from restaurant to hotel room at night, only to be pulled back by a warning that a pair of polar bears had been spotted across the street.

    Signs around the town remind residents and visitors alike to exercise caution and report bear sightings on the hotline – 675-BEAR. Culvert traps, baited with seal scent, line the perimeter of the community; bears that are caught in them are taken to a holding facility, popularly known as the polar bear jail, where they are held for up to 30 days (without food, to enhance the deterrence factor of the experience), before being drugged and helicoptered to a spot safely away from town – or, if late enough in the season, on to the sea ice.

    Since the establishment of the Polar Bear Alert Program in 1983, serious attacks have been rare. There has been just one fatality, during the program’s first season: a homeless man, Tommy Mutanen, was rummaging through the freezer of a fire-damaged motel, stuffing meat into his pockets, when he rounded a corner and bumped into a bear. Nearby residents heard his screams, but although they rushed to his aid, they could not make the bear stop his attack, and by the time they shot it, Mutanen was dead.
    There has, however, been one exceptionally close shave.
    Erin Greene first arrived in Churchill from her native Montreal in 2012; she planned to spend a few months working at a local restaurant and then go back home, but she liked it so much she returned to stay the following summer.
    “And then,” she said, “I got mauled by a polar bear.”
    Her friends escaped, but the bear caught Greene and grabbed her by the head and shoulders, tearing off part of her scalp as it tossed her around like a rag doll. As blood poured down her body, Erin was convinced she was going to die, and she might well have done, had it not been for a 69-year-old man with a shovel named Bill Ayotte.

    churchill also might soon find itself a bustling port as a consequence of climate change, since it's in a nifty little place on hudson bay and if all the ice clears, you can route a bunch of stuff to and from there:

    “A few years ago, OmniTrax raised the prospect of shipping oil through the community, and unequivocally the community was resolutely against doing so for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that the shipping industry at the time was ill-equipped to deal with the prospect of accidents or disasters,” said John Gunter of Frontiers North Adventures, one of the premier ecotourism companies in town. “So, it looks like we’ll have to deal with that prospect again in the future.”
    Of course, for a port in an Arctic environment to become truly viable, it will require shipping lanes that aren’t clogged with ice much of the year; and so Churchill may ultimately find itself as both the most famous home of the ultimate icon of climate change and a community that, in the words of Spence, “will have to take advantage” of that warming climate.

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