Canadian Arctic High School Expedition

The arctic tundra is one of our planet’s most surprising wildlife habitats: an endless snow-scape in the winter that bursts with life when summer arrives, drawing migrating species such as caribou, beluga whales, and—most famously—polar bears. Set out from Churchill, tracking the intriguing wildlife that have adapted to extreme Arctic conditions.

July 20 - July 30, 2019
August 1-August 11, 2019
Airfare is not included. We have arranged a round-trip group flight between Winnipeg and Churchill. Students may also join one of our trip leaders on a flight from Minneapolis to Winnipeg, and return.

Trip Highlights

  • Track polar bears from our base at a research facility, and meet first responders for Churchill’s Polar Bear Holding Facility tasked with relocating curious bears that wander into town.
  • Seek out the smaller species of the tundra, from red foxes to ptarmigans, and document your discoveries in a photo- essay.
  • Kayak with playful beluga whales and listen to them “sing” as you learn about scientific efforts to decipher their communications.
  • Use your camera to capture shooting stars and the spectacular swirl of the northern lights dancing on the horizon.

Itinerary | 11 days

Days 1-7

View Images

Our Arctic adventure begins in the remote town of Churchill, nicknamed the “polar bear capital of the world.” Take a walk in this former fur-trading outpost—home to fewer than 1,000 people—and learn about everyday life on the icy edge of the Hudson Bay. Chat with locals who live among the resident bears and then head to our home base in the area, the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, a research facility at the edge of the tundra that has hosted National Geographic-funded scientists and conservationists. Learn about the behavior of polar bears, arctic foxes, and other wildlife from the resident researchers, and get a firsthand look at how rising temperatures have affected the surrounding ecosystems here.

Venture out onto the tundra on foot and in our all-terrain vehicle in search of polar bears, which arrive each summer with their cubs to roam the wilds surrounding Churchill, waiting for the Hudson Bay to freeze over so they can hunt seals and other marine life on the pack ice. Observe these majestic creatures from a safe range, and photograph their white coats against the magenta fireweed that blankets the tundra each summer.

Encounter and photograph other intriguing wildlife of the far north, including caribou, red foxes, and a host of migratory birds. Kayak in waterways that teem with friendly beluga whales, which migrate here in the thousands during the summer months to feed and give birth to their young. These curious mammals are known as the “canaries of the sea” for the singing noises they make. Watch them play at the water’s surface, and listen to their clicks and whistles as we learn how scientists are working to decipher their communications. With the help of our host biologists, investigate the ecological health of an estuary that serves as a temporary habitat for calving belugas.

Meet with native elders to hear stories about their relationship with their unique environment, and learn about local traditions that have been passed down through the generations. Then trace the history of the region’s earliest European fur traders as we hike between the Prince of Wales Fort and the harbor at Sloop Cove. Along the way, look for 18th-century graffiti left by these early trappers. Meet fur trappers to discuss the challenges involved with teaching their livelihood to the next generation and learn how changing laws have impacted their work. Photograph the wilderness that surrounds the town during a hike along the rugged shores of the Hudson Bay.

Days 8-11

Return to Churchill for the final days of our expedition. Learn about Polar Bears International’s educational outreach initiatives and their studies on bear behavior, biology, and population distribution. Visit the Itsanitaq Museum for a look at life on the tundra through the ages, and check out the exhibits on narwhals, sometimes called the “unicorns of the sea.” Meet first responders for Churchill’s Polar Bear Holding Facility—locally known as “polar bear jail”—who work to prevent human-wildlife conflict by detaining and relocating curious polar bears that wander into town, and discuss the pros and cons of this practice. Present your On Assignment project and celebrate our time together in Canada’s wild north before catching your flight home.

Our high school expeditions are for students in grades 9-12, and offer opportunities to get out into the field and discover fascinating destinations across the globe through the lens of an On Assignment project. Each expedition offers a choice of two or three areas of focus, such as photography, geology, or wildlife conservation. Students travel alongside a team of highly-qualified trip leaders—college graduates with extensive experience in the field, who love working with students. A National Geographic expert joins for a portion of the trip (four to eight days) to share their insights, and inspire students with their passion for the work they do and the places they will discover. The group size ranges between 14 and 28 participants, and the student-to-trip-leader ratio is usually between six and eight to one and never more than nine to one.
This expedition includes several active excursions in an Arctic environment. To get the most out of the program, students should be physically fit and enthusiastic about outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking. Please note that, although we work with local experts to optimize our chances of spotting wildlife, sightings cannot be guaranteed.
In Churchill, we stay in a family-run hotel in the center of town. During our time at the research station, we stay in dormitory- style accommodations.

Matthias Breiter, Natural History Photographer

Meet Our Experts

Author, wildlife photographer, and cinematographer Matthias Breiter has spent most of the past 30 years researching the daily lives and habits of black, brown, grizzly, and polar bears. He has authored 20 books, and his articles and photography have appeared in National Geographic magazine and BBC Wildlife. Matthias’s most recent documentary, Polar Bear Summer, has won international awards and was nominated for an Emmy. He has also been involved with Nat Geo WILD productions like Grizzly Empire and The Wild West. Matthias will join both departures of the Canadian Arctic expedition.

On Assignment Projects

Create a portfolio showcasing the many facets of the tundra. Learn to photograph wildlife using polar bears, caribou, and other Arctic-adapted creatures as your subjects. Experiment with color as you frame your friends in fields of magenta fireweed; and practice night shots far from light pollution, capturing vivid constellations across the night sky and—if we’re lucky—the swirling flares of the northern lights. There is a supplemental fee of $150 for this On Assignment project.
Examine the tundra’s complex ecosystems and learn about the diverse life that thrives in these harsh landscapes. Discuss the latest research on resident and migratory species such as polar bears, caribou, and beluga whales; and investigate the health of area waterways on tidepooling excursions. See firsthand how findings are being used to protect area wildlife from the effects of rising temperature.