Polar Bears Overrun Small Canadian Town for Annual Migration

Migrating bears typically outnumber residents in the tiny town of Churchill in northern Manitoba.
18:21 | 11/05/13

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Transcript for Polar Bears Overrun Small Canadian Town for Annual Migration
This is a special group. Contact Hernandez in new York and this is an ABC news digital special report called the polar bear capital of the world the small town. Of church hill in Canada on the shore of the great hats and they. Population. 800 people -- traffic lights but it becomes. A wait station for 12100. Pound -- -- -- their annual migration but why Churchill. Now we're joined live from the frozen tundra of the great white north by none other and ABC's Barry Allen. And -- and analytic T you've got your beard and -- a long way from home but bring it at Churchill what did you. I I now -- I've got the razor and and yes it is greetings from a beautiful chilly. 32 degrees with about a fifteen mile an hour -- I -- church -- -- Canada because as you said this is the polar bear capital of the year once a year. Essentially 900 polar bears come through in -- and over and look in street. This is what we came out here board. These animals come through Churchill Manitoba making their way from the woodlands of northern Canada. Off to the frozen shores of Hudson Bay why because they rely on our diet that is rich in protein rich in fat and they get that from seals that obviously go into it and get them. Is by going onto the ice that's formed on Hudson bag. And you can see Dave if you can pan over there and and get this -- that's -- right I'm a top of what he's tundra buggies here. Obviously this is for a tourist -- animal enthusiasts it isn't on believable. Sites in these animals -- -- get -- to some of them 14100. Pounds now that Barrett bear. Is and again -- -- a couple days appears on get into the elevator up polar bear aficionado that broke the record but a medium size -- On its back legs could easily be eight maybe even ten feet tall. In the reason myself -- -- is there is a company X four dot org organization has put up a series of webcams to capture this annual migration. As this huge. Population of polar bears moves from the interior of Canada -- cross Hudson -- And you have to actually travel. -- here I mean this is not a rough assignment I didn't turn this -- -- but the fact the matter is that these webcams. Actually catch that -- of activities motorists coming up and move it around throughout the coastline of the Hudson bank. As they're trying to prepare and stock up and -- -- for the winner. And type. I want -- actually bring in right now -- -- Who is a wildlife biologist you've studied polar bears I do this is that this is an amazing Titus. When you see what -- bears for the first time and you can see it actually calendar on the side here if it is. A breathtaking sight but clearly it's an animal that's on the -- -- -- useless it is an end and it was passed back in 2008 how critical of the numbers now. Well globally the numbers are fairly stable as best we know about 23000. -- -- polar regions but. It's the habitat loss in protected habitat loss that has elevated their status -- it's been threatened in the United States. And in the fact the matter you know Israel -- -- nineteen sub populations throughout miserably in the Arctic area -- right. It this was I don't know seem like a very odd thing for -- but there are no polar bears in -- No penguins -- hologram of their card teams and have them and mix them but. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- They're huge and -- -- the size of compact cars partners -- they're quiet stick. They're absolutely gorgeous so. As these bears are stretching moves through then church I -- we've got polar bears interacting with people and obviously now that can be problem. It is Seattle we have -- -- -- mauling was earlier than last last week as a matter of fact were people were injured as bears moved into the town and just have this chance occurrence for the two men on. Street and of course things ended poorly for the people. You what you -- Churchill Manitoba you -- polar bear signs of this that I don't want here or and you get all kinds of warnings of people saying. Don't go out at night or if it -- -- don't even want to he has and has more than like you know 3040 being away because the fact the matter is is that. These animals are so massive but -- so quiet. Well yeah they make their living sneaking up on seals which are her. Scattered AG said Alan -- Baylor in the ice freezer so they're experts itself that's their whole. Ability to get their foods at all about this migration pattern because I think one when you -- of a bear you think -- hybrid hibernating in the winner but clearly. Some witnesses -- this is go time for them well unlike other North American -- species here. In in the world the polar bears if you're born a male polar -- you'll never hibernate again because. Typically they can get food year round. -- Hudson Bay population is unique because all the ice disappears. Like in Alaska and other countries where they can actually go off shore with the sea ice. Here they can't do that but even then they come on shore in July and is got a lawyer around like this just panel -- their time until they get ice again like -- -- soon. So these guys artists kind of in a state of boredom more or less -- kind of pass in the hours and days waiting for the ice to form. The females that are pregnant though they -- -- -- already moved inland here. 2030 miles into -- still snow -- and and no give birth in January to their cubs and rejoin the rest the bears what what. The things have been learning as well as that cubs stay with their mothers for extended period of time and we we we actually had to Marty posting throughout the week. Some of these videos and reports we've been putting together we've been working with explore. And some other folks up here. To document some of this. We were actually driving along I say the main road because there really is only one way in and out of churches and Mikhail upon a mother and a -- and it. I mean they're cute. Connolly and horribly beautiful but -- having powerful. -- and they are. What's -- you know we handle and on in the springtime. Radio collar and get metrics from its. The little cubs that may be -- twenty to thirty pounds he can hold them. There there nigh -- 2030 pound badger you wouldn't hold that these things haven't quite figured out how to fight so they kind of -- -- of it. They get savvy pretty quick but they're cute as can be now by the time -- this aides you've got to hand you get a handle. Handful of them so they have to be tranquilized that -- -- handled. So give give a targeted they are an endangered species list and what is the future and Holler fact that. Do you do you preserve species that's -- an analyst at. Well like so many species worldwide that are on that list that's it all comes down the habitat loss and -- predict. The world. So in this case as we have changing climate here it's it's hard for people to grasp -- their habitat is ice. Which is an ephemeral very changeable. Habitat and it's so function and -- her temperature so it warms up to the point that ice forms later and later breaks up earlier and earlier this as a species it's not gonna have much -- it's going to be very -- So assesses so it is so the fact that matters is that the short of the hunting period right is when is prime -- Arctic conditions. And more difficult it is for for survival. That's right so this animal has -- impact on all of its food during the seal hunting period so that it can stay for months on land with no food. -- they simply can't move on to the land and -- act like a grizzly bear which still live here. Because of their massive size you can't maintain this kind of body weight. Wind buries in and vegetation so they're unique. -- that they're tied to seals and they're tied to that environment but if you look globally endangered species that's the problem they're like pandas and bamboo people get fat. That you take the man blew away they just and easy take the isolating style. And you can see all of this as this whole migration process goes on for the next month or so really rank right. And all this on -- dot org predicts that these webcams up throughout Churchill. That document and and it's it's amazing it's really -- first of a kind opportunity for someone that isn't ideal to make it appear to Churchill. I'm really kind of see nature in motion in this very critical point of of a -- -- -- existence. If you do it. Get a chance to get to church showed they panic you can discriminate. And -- -- this is where we -- last night Sarah a polar bears hanging out. I think that might have been where we are actually having her last -- -- Listen this is -- this is the lodge this is run by frontiers north has one -- outfitters here up in church of and essentially this is kind of like a smash -- between a monster truck and a mobile home I mean you can see these panels that can reach you know ten feet out. You gotta keep people safe -- you wanna obviously bring them as close as you possibly can reaction so. These huge buggies will bring out about seventeen miles and you can stay a couple of nights -- here at this lives everything is totally self contained there are no. Power lines or sewer lines -- that that are out here this is that completely contained. In community essentially out here -- Is in existence through the entire Olivera migration season com and it is -- it is a fascinating way to be able to see these. Animals in their natural environment. I'm who without having a destructive but -- into it of course then not always -- it begs the question Tom and I'm not gonna put -- budget to discuss this but I've talked to the folks. It's a matter of if in fact global warming is the issue that is causing the depletion. Of this animal's environment. I was operation like this do it because it is also contained. They have taken measures these -- diesel operated. These machines that obviously have to have permits by the country so. -- infrastructure that's out here was actually established back in a forty in the forties or fifties by an is that correct read eyewitness -- -- ground -- by US and Canadian military that were actually out here correct performing tests are here so the actual pathways to actually get out here on the tundra were already in place so it isn't as if they were bringing a larger footprint. That was -- here. MA if it really is that it's it's a one of a kind experience. It's a see this tie and and I gotta -- -- mean. Over the past couple of days just spending some time in Churchill in getting to know some people in Churchill. For a population of 800 it is -- very colorful is a very unique. Town and can clearly. I mean sprint for this alone for once a year to essentially where people become the minority the polar bear case. It's great -- it's a very far cry from the upper west side where you normally had to work every morning. Tell us about -- your trip from that logic just a few yards away from the polar bears from your current -- opposition. How do you stay safe what -- they tell you need to do to make sure you don't. Bump into one. These things. The fact matters -- it's like anything kind of -- does that go everywhere and be safe and exit that but they really do take it very seriously here. Because he's -- are so quiet and I mean a paw on a polar bear can get in a fourteen inches so it one swipe it can cause some serious problems. For safety you're not allowed on the ground at all I mean -- right now we're probably -- like. Ten feet off the ground no one is allowed off of any of these -- so when you transfer from your buggy to your lives it's you know basically like ducking onto a spaceship and if it's it's wild and and we are coming in here last night. The -- and that the stars are out. Are buggy operator kills the headlights and are you could see was like the glimmering -- from the lodge it's all lit up on the inside and as the polar bear standing outside I mean it was it. It was fine Q and and it kind of came to me it's like. Harry Potter means the polar express -- it's just. But he did take safety very seriously and and it's not an act to say this. People that are coming out here really want to learn about the polar bear. And the companies that are involved in this give back to come to organizations like PBI polar bear international. The scientists around the world that are study in the habitat in the environment of polar bears because they're beautiful to look at but obviously the protection it is important still. I was gonna say who or what what's the type of person that you've encountered. Taking this tour with -- is a long way to go out tells a little bit about your journey there and then. The types of people -- met since you've been there. -- -- -- Believe mad at -- -- so last night so we getting out about 6 o'clock last night and we open up the door and we just read we -- I. I think there -- there -- -- forty. People that we're here joining -- where well off from Columbia up on and a business trip. So we had a very lively lively time last night. On yet you know the people that you meet up here in -- -- again because it's over mount. We actually Dave my producer and I got stuck in Toronto on her first leg out here and so we're talking about that -- had their eyes -- well -- -- from Toronto to Winnipeg. We can just drive right that's not a problem was taken -- like they -- that isn't saying that's they're taking probably four days or five days and then to get from Winnipeg. Up here -- church hill. The -- the -- -- coming in has either by train which is incredibly wrong or by flying in now with -- -- about Churchill is that it is one of eleven places in the world where if the space shuttle program was still in operation the space shuttle could actually land there. As -- as Churchill used to be used as a military base joint operation between US and Canadian forces back in the forties and fifties. There's a lot of work that was being done around here during the Cold War era where there -- missile testing -- rocket testing that was being -- -- here so you have a lot of military infrastructure that isn't being used anymore. Lot of scientists thought these organizations that have -- in place that obviously are concerned about the polar bear the Arctic fox that was something out that we have -- our first night -- here so they're able to use these things that are kind of already been in place re purpose them from scientific and educational purposes. On if no one of the things that we -- we're in a word of the finest in -- throughout the week as. We got to appear -- probably 7 -- 8 o'clock at night and the town and that the targets of it really is it's a it's a one road town. And I think there are three bars may be one grocery store it's it's it's small. But it's it's it's just did it it's like from another world but it's great every -- every what is. Very welcoming everyone is very hospital because they know what people are concerned about the polar bears -- may know that the town kind of -- This time of the year. On so what opera late night drive that night and as we're driving along we see an Arctic fox is beautiful Snow White box being chased by a red fox. On and we stopped for -- minute we look out the window and the northern lights. Are just lighting up the entire sky and and it it's it was it was like experience we never received not. Experience either I mean. It's not every day you actually get to see you know the 12100 pound polar bear kind of come up -- and sniff your -- at the edge of of a buggy tram. I don't you think keeping -- -- and we have some video of a bear rescue what can you tell us about this video that you sentence. And that the fact the matter is is that -- -- as what happens is is that these bears because you know it's a population of 800 but these bears sometimes a range -- 900 to a thousand that are making their way under the Hudson. Inevitably they're going to be making their way through China mean there in search of food so when that does happen they had a polar bear alert system. -- I think the polar bear alert system probably out numbers the police department in church showed. But they are conservation offers that drive around Churchill that are hostile and monitoring the shoreline. Offer any bears are getting too close to people or their problem bears that -- -- are not leaving town or whatever. They go through. They try to scare him off first with cracker shells and which are essentially just like police -- -- blank stranded to scare up some kind of -- Or a paint gun something like that's opponent that's that's not -- actually -- the -- drive enough. -- about polar bears is that not a lot really scares them I mean for an animal that lives in this kind of condition you have to really I guess and a up up up began if you if you really wanna scare animal like that should if in fact to bear it doesn't -- in does continue to make a return to areas that -- have inhabited by a lot of people. They will shoot a tranquilizer to that and take it to an air ticket to a holding area. Where they will hold the -- -- inside -- out of a large building as each separate cell. They'll hold the bear for about thirty days and what that essentially does is that breaks the bears have been. From returning back to an area where either it felt it was getting food either from from from human speeding it -- from digging through garbage or whatever. By doing that it sort of reset its biological instinct to then go back to. Out -- to -- eyes and search for seals which uses it's obviously it's natural and it's against preferred. Food. There is an actual polar bear jail here in church -- and various organizations will sponsor money -- actually have some of these animals lifted out of airlifted out of out of polar bear jail. And then released back into the wild because I mean. When you've got a thousand of these things running through a town you know. Things -- always -- Essentially. Well Dan I I wish you all the best be -- be warm stay out of polar bear jail. Thank you so much for joining us this has been fascinating Dan -- there and you don't have to -- -- on the -- tangent and watch the bears live. Just doing it they just have to go to abcnews.com. Slash why this has been special report tired and -- here.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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