Polar Bears on Google Maps! Street View Comes to the Arctic
By Tanya Lewis, LiveScience
Google Street View has taken viewers to the Amazon, the Galapagos and, now, the Canadian Arctic — the home of polar bears. Starting today, on International Polar Bear Day (Feb. 27), people around the world will be able to see the bears in their natural habitat.
The Google Maps team brought its cameras to Churchill and the surrounding tundra in October 2013, capturing 360-degree panoramas of polar bears out on the snow. The goal is to capture the remote and starkly beautiful environment before it disappears, along with its furry inhabitants.
“The Street View project lets viewers explore the tundra and see the polar bear migration, no matter where they live,” said Krista Wright, executive director of the conservation nonprofit Polar Bears International (PBI). (See photos of polar bears on Google Street View here and video here.)
Putting bears on the map
Google has worked with other nonprofits in the past to bring Street View to some of the world’s most remote and vibrant places, including the Amazon, coral reefs and Alaska’s Denali National Park. Last year, PBI invited the Street View team to Churchill, Manitoba, for 10 days to photograph the bears.
The Google team mounted its Trekker camera on a “tundra buggy” vehicle donated by the ecotourism company Frontiers North Adventures and set off into Manitoba’s Wildlife Management Areas and Wapusk National Park to snap hundreds of shots, later stitching the photos together into panoramas.
The Trekker captured images of bears sparring with each other, bears resting on the snow and sea ice in Hudson Bay, and even a few adorable cubs at play. [5 Weird Facts About Polar Bears]
Although they mostly keep to themselves, “the bears tend to be curious — there are some times when they come up to the truck,” Wright told Live Science. One bear came up to the vehicle and stood up on its hind legs, pawing at the equipment. “We call it ‘buggy love,’ ” Wright said.
Karin Tuxen-Bettman, Google’s project leader in the Arctic, said the experience of being out there was amazing. “When you’re outside looking at a polar bear, for me, personally, I felt so much excitement, but I also felt a little scared,” Tuxen-Bettman told Live Science. “They’re huge, but also very fragile. I kind of wanted to hug them.”