In the past 30 years Churchill has built a sizable eco-tourism industry based on polar bear sitings. Each year, 10,000-12,000 eco-tourists visit, most to see the polar bears. Churchill claims the title of both the polar bear capital of the world (about three hundred passing through in the fall) and the beluga whale capital of the world (about 3000 returning to the river each summer).
Tourists can safely view polar bears from specially modified buses known as tundra buggies. Use of the buggies helps sustain local tourism, but can also cause damage to the local ecosystem when driven outside the established trails. October and early November are the most feasible times to see polar bears, thousands of which wait on the vast peninsula until the water freezes on Hudson Bay so that they can return to hunt their primary food source, ringed seals. There are also opportunities to see polar bears in the non-winter months, with tours via boat visiting the coastal areas where polar bears can be found both on land and swimming in the sea.
Group travel is still by far the most common and easiest method for travelling to Churchill in the fall but the opportunity for independent travel.
With 10-12,000 people coming north to see the polar bears, Churchill’s eco-tourism industry is, arguably, the most successful in northern Canada.