Never look a polar bear in the eye

Welcome to Churchill, Manitoba. Year-round population: 943.

Despite the isolation and the freezing cold at the arctic’s edge, visitors from around the globe flock to the town every autumn, driven by a single purpose: to see polar bears in the wild.

For six weeks in October and November, this little town of nine hundred people becomes an ecotourism destination as up to 10,000 visitors descend on the local populace.

Churchill, Manitoba is “The Polar Bear Capital of the World,” and for one unforgettable “bear season,” Zac Unger, his wife, and their three children moved from Oakland, California, to make it their temporary home.

But they soon discovered that it’s really the polar bears who are at home in Churchill, roaming past the coffee shop on the main drag, peering into garbage cans, languorously scratching their backs against fence posts and front doorways.

Where kids in other towns receive admonitions about talking to strangers, Churchill schoolchildren get “Let’s All Be Bear Aware” booklets to take home.

Zac Unger takes readers on a spirited and often funny journey to a place as unique as it is remote, a place where natives, tourists, scientists, conservationists, and the most ferocious predators on the planet converge.

In the process he becomes embroiled in the controversy surrounding “polar bear science”-and finds out that some of what we’ve been led to believe about the bears’ imminent extinction may not be quite the case.

But mostly he learns about human behavior in extreme situations . . . and also why you should never even think of looking a polar bear in the eye. …

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