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Polar bear poses in the rocks. Anne Kiel photo.

Polar bear poses in the rocks. Anne Kiel photo.

By Rob Watson, Churchill Wild Guide

I am still amazed at the opportunities for wildlife viewing, photography and exploration one can experience in a single day at Seal River Heritage Lodge. On one particular day this summer we had different tours taking place simultaneously. One of our groups were getting ready to depart and we had a surprise visit from world-renowned photographer Nobert Rosing and travel professional Anne Kiel of POLAR Erlebnisreisen. We split up the boats to maximize preferences for each group.

Guides Terry and Quent were running the “Trolling with Guests” beluga whale tours and the weather was hot and muggy, but the water and its cool breeze provided shelter from the heat of the day. Dawning dry suits, all the guests were soon in the water with the whales to participate in Churchill Wild’s unique method of snorkeling with belugas.

The method was created by Churchill Wild co-founder Mike Reimer and his children in the early days of developing their polar bear lodges. When first attempted, Reimer would let his children hold on to a rope while dragging them behind the idling boat, but he noticed that while the people on the boat could see the whales tailing the children, the actual participants themselves couldn’t see the whales. That was quickly rectified when Reimer decided drag the children by their feet instead, face down in the water. This worked famously, and a little underwater singing soon had the children face-to-face with numerous beluga whales and loving it!

Snorkeling with beluga whales, Churchill Wild-style. Here they come!

Snorkeling with beluga whales, Churchill Wild-style. Here they come!

The guests on this day enjoyed a similar experience, and returned to the lodge excited, many of them stating they had seen hundreds of whales face to face. Like Terry and Quent’s adventure, we couldn’t avoid the swarms of whales vying for our attention, but our boat was on another mission.

We wanted to spend as much time with the bears as possible. We spent the day in close proximity to four of the seven polar bears that we could access on the water. It was amazing, as the bears viewed us as part of their environment and allowed us to be present during their incredibly hot day routines.

The bears were not at all disturbed by our presence as they soaked in the cool shallow waters of the river mouth, and we were granted the privilege of observing their fishing techniques. Polar bears do not normally require, or eat, large quantities of food during the summer as they conserve energy, but they do occasionally hunt belugas.

The bears at the mouth of the Seal River took down a few belugas over the course of the summer, and it was astounding how they would lay on a rock for hours staring down into the water, not moving a muscle and waiting for just the right opportunity to pounce.

Mike and Jeanne had other plans for our newcomers, photographer Nobert Rosing and travel professional Anne Kiel, and they headed north to Hubbard Point. I was laughing as Mike was coming out of the lodge with all his boating gear, phone glued to his ear making his last business call before the trip. You can always see an extra happy smile on his face went he gets back to his passion on the land and sea for wildlife viewing in this part of the country.

Nobert Rosing and Anne Kiel. Glassing for polar bears.

Mike and Jeanne Reimer. Glassing for polar bears. Anne Kiel photo.

“By the end we were overwhelmed,” said Rosing via email. “It’s a breathtaking Lodge with the finest interior, a huge lobby, excellent food and view through big windows that look over the endless tidal flats of Hudson Bay. We went out with excellent guides and a speedboat to see polar bears and beluga whales. The mouth of the river was full of the majestic whales and polar bears were walking on the beach, playing in the water, and some tried to hunt a beluga whale. What a picture! Some bears even posed on huge rocks with fireweed in the background. For me, as a polar bear and Arctic photographer, this was like paradise.

“Mike and Jeanne Reimer have done an amazing job. I’ve known their family for decades now and I feel privileged to know them and consider them friends. Seal River Heritage Lodge is a “must see” for everybody who loves the Churchill area. It is not my last time being there!”

I have known Norbert for almost 30 years and when we all met back at the lodge for appetizers, he was trying to figure out a way to skip his next two trips and stay with us. This was a scouting trip for Anne and himself and they were already setting up for next year and the long term.

“For me, as a travel agent, it was a great opportunity to visit Seal River Heritage Lodge while on a trip to Churchill with Norbert,” said Kiel via email. “Seal River Heritage Lodge is unique in many ways. The location, the design, the food and the very friendly hosts and staff make it special. I saw only happy faces on the guests who had stayed there for five days, and everyone I spoke to told me that their expectations had been exceeded. I’m sure I’ll be able to sell the Churchill Wild programs on the German market and hope to be back myself one day.”

I still love that we can all go out with different agendas and all have perfect days.

Polar bear says goodbye from the beach. Anne Kiel photo.

Polar bear says goodbye from the beach. Anne Kiel photo.

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