Google has taken their Street View cameras to some pretty far-off places, but on Thursday, they added one really far-off one: Manitoba, Canada, the natural home of one of the biggest polar bear populations in the world. The Google team spent two months collecting images of polar bears using a Tundra Buggy, which seems to be the vehicle used for the arctic equivalent of a safari wildlife tour. The result is no David Attenborough documentary, but it's probably the closest available equivalent you'll get to strolling around the home of the elusive animals:
The project expands upon Bear Tracker, the Google Maps-based polar bear watching project run by Polar Bears International. As Google explained on its blog post announcing the polar bear views, it serves a double purpose. First, anyone can look at some cool polar bears whenever they want. But also, the imagery establishes a baseline of visuals for future work tracking the impact of climate change on the species' movement and habitat.
A reporter for Popular Science went along for one of Google's polar bear street view filming sessions with Polar Bears International. They describe what it's like to chase the animals around the tundra:
The bear keeps moving and so do we, along a trail that’s headed in roughly the same direction. [Polar Bears International field director B.J.] Kirschhoffer accelerates to a blistering 11 miles per hour—raft speed. I put my hand on the wall for balance as I try to keep binoculars focused on the polar bear, now picking its way around a low pond. The bear switches direction, and then again, as it tests the icy surface. It lies down for several minutes by some willows. Kirschhoffer idles the vehicle to assess the situation. If there was an award for the slowest-motion chase scene, I think, this would win it.
Kirschhoffer parks the buggy along a trail that he thinks lies in the bear’s path. He guesses correctly. The animal ambles our way. When it reaches the buggy, it hoists itself into a standing position and slaps its massive paws onto the vehicle’s aluminum siding.
Google is in the middle of an even bigger effort to map the arctic tundra of the Canadian north. The polar bear images join some other remote street view finds from the project— like dogsledders, remote native communities, and even a very isolated Tim Horton's.