Life changing opportunities don’t always come knocking, but when they do be sure to answer.
As the newly appointed executive chef at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, I had only begun to learn about the importance of the Arctic region and the studies Aquarium researchers and scientists are doing in the field. As the least inhabited region in Canada, very few people get to see firsthand the effects that climate change is having on this fragile environment.
As luck would have it, this fall I was presented with a unique opportunity to cook for 30 people at a small facility just near the mouth of Seal River, on Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba. My main reason for going was to watch the dramatic change from fall to winter and to see as many polar bears as possible. The experience did not disappoint.
When I arrived near Seal River the landscape was marshy. Dark greens transforming into browns, knee deep as you walked the terrain. Within two weeks the landscape was transformed into a sea of white, except for the tiny bits of frozen soil under the layers of snowfall. Small lakes were completely frozen over in the span of just a few weeks.
With the lakes frozen over the polar bears began to arrive. Four resident polar bears were spotted on a daily basis, each one with its own moniker as named by the wilderness specialists from Hollywood Bob who loved to pose for photos to Grubby who always looked dirty.
There were also several transients that would come and go within a day, passing through to try and find a place where the ice had become thick enough to go hunting for seals.
With the exception of pregnant females, polar bears do not have a traditional hibernating season; instead they slow down their metabolism to a form of “walking hibernation” during the summer months. They remain active, but rely on stored fat for energy. In my time at Seal River, these bears were in the process of preparing themselves for the ice to form, which meant a lot of friendly sparring to get their blood flowing again.
For such a remote, frozen landscape the area was teeming with wildlife including Arctic foxes, snowy owls, caribou, moose, ptarmigans, and Arctic hares.
Being at Seal River with people who had been coming there for decades gave me a fresh insight into the changing world of Canada’s Arctic and Sub Arctic climates. People noted the lateness of the lakes freezing over and the warmer temperatures comparatively. They also noted the increase in polar bear sightings. It may be due to ice forming later now further south, which means the bears are travelling further north to try and find ice for hunting seals.
Locals also noted the elongated season of narwhals and belugas in the area, which usually migrate to the Hudson Strait in early September, but were still being viewed near Seal River well into October.
To the untrained eye, these changes may not be so apparent. Hearing stories first hand from locals and repeat guests that have been passed on year to year, it is clear that climate change is already having an effect on this remote region.
Back home in Vancouver, I’m proud to be working for an organization that is helping to educate people about the impacts of climate change through interactive displays, exhibits and conservation messaging. We may not all have the opportunity to work or live in the Arctic or Sub Artic regions, but we all play a part in helping to protect one of Canada’s most fragile landscapes.
Blog post by executive chef, Tim Bedford, from the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.