Churchill, Manitoba has more polar bears than almost any other location in the world. Though you may never get to visit this piece of the Canadian tundra that's nicknamed the "Polar Bear Capital of the World," not to worry: If you have a craving for a polar bear viewing session, Google has you covered.
In time for International Polar Bear Day, Google now has Street View imagery of Churchill and its polar bears, courtesy of a group of Google Maps employees who traveled through the tundra on a special "Tundra Buggy" while recording imagery on the Street View Trekker, a backpack-mounted camera that captures Street View data in remote locations.
The team had to overcome numerous hurdles to acquire the images. "The main challenge was that this was the first time we mounted the Street View Trekker on a Tundra Buggy, so a few special considerations had to be made to account for the height of the camera (with the trekker mounted on the buggy roof)," explained Karin Tuxen-Bettman, Google's project lead for Arctic Street View, in an email. "Also, it was a little difficult to make changes to the Trekker onsite (i.e. turning it on/off, taking it inside for the night), due to the freezing cold on the roof of the buggy!"
The images were taken between October and November while polar bears waited for sea ice to freeze on the Hudson Bay, where they go each year to hunt seals.
The polar bear trek was conducted in partnership with Polar Bears International, which contends that the new Street View imagery will have uses beyond voyeurism for polar bear-lovers.
From a post on Google's blog:
Understanding global warming, and its impact on polar bear populations, requires both global and regional benchmarks. Bringing Street View to Canada's tundra establishes a baseline record of imagery associated with specific geospatial data—information that’s critical if we’re to understand and communicate the impact of climate change on their sensitive ecosystem. As we work to safeguard their habitat, PBI can add Street View imagery to the essential tools we use to assess and respond to the biggest threat facing polar bears today.
But also, the bears are just fun to watch.