Canada - Escorted Travel - Polar Bears, Narwhales & Belugas - High Arctic

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Scuba Diving & Photography Expedition.


“...When the polar bear opened one eye and then the other, I heard the metallic sound of a bullet being chambered into the barrel of a gun just behind me. The next think I remember is that my camera went on rapid fire as I squeezed off a dozen or so images in a second or two..."
“There were three Inuit guides behind us in full alert aiming at the resting polar bear. Oakley and I were lying on the ice in the late afternoon’s glowing warm light while the Polar Bear, this magnificent animal, was just 20 feet away from us hiding among ice pillars in the heart of the ice desert. 



Then it was very quiet. I could only hear the wind shifting over the ice sheet, the deep breath of the sleeping bear in front of us, and Oakley moving around as her heavy cloth scratched against the ice.


High Arctic NarwhalOnly once a year will Big Animals Photography Expeditions get together an intimate group of two photographer/ adventurers at springtime (end of May and early June) and lead them to northern Baffin Island. We travel there during this critical time of major change in the ice condition which allows us to view the return of the amazing wildlife to the High Arctic - up close and personal.


Those kinds of personally close photography encounters are possible through the knowledge, experience and value that Big Animals Photography Expeditions provides on its expeditions. Who else would offer these services for a two-week journey in the High Arctic for only two photographers?


When you join us, you become one of a handful of modern time adventurers – photographers in the caliber of the Discovery and National Geographic teams.


The end of winter leaves Admiralty Inlet and Lancaster Sound covered with ice. However, as spring arrives and the sun remains high throughout the day, changes happen very fast on the thin ice. As soon as the southerly wind approaches the ice sheet covering the vast water of Lancaster Sound, the Admiralty Inlet starts shifting north while breaking up. This is a signal for the wonderful Arctic wildlife to appear and they do so in full force.


Narwhales and Beluga whales arrive here from Greenland and Canada’s eastern shores. Belugas are on the way to their calving grounds around Somerset Island, which is on the western border of Lancaster Sound. Narwhales on the other hand are arriving here and waiting for the ice to break over at the Admiralty Inlet to reach their food source deeper into the Inlet.

Meanwhile, seals are digging holes everywhere on the ice sheet to reach their food source just underwater to feed their young. Polar Bears, some with cubs, are just leaving their dens hungry after the resting season and they are looking for food - seals in particular.
Venturing into this foreign and forbidden land we hire local Inuit guides and hunters and our expedition is led by these trusting, knowledgeable and experienced people of the Arctic Bay community.


Selected local guides are born here, survive many winters and have hunted here all their lives. They know the ice movement, the wind and the wildlife behavior very well. They are reliable scouts, snowmobile driver, mechanics and campers. In the days we spend over the shifting and drifting ice, we explore hundreds of miles, traversing over varied terrain on snowmobiles. We travel with three guides and each guide tows his qamutik behind his snowmobile. A qamutik ("ka-moo-tik") is a long wooden sled and on which we carry all that we need for our survival on the floe edge, ice and sea. On the qamutiks we carry a boat, fuel, tents, food, diving AND scuba gear. Speaking of SCUBA, as we do in a few select expeditions elsewhere in the world, Big Animals Photography Expeditions introduces the practice of using pony tanks making it possible to encounter dolphins and whales.


The guide saw the Belugas a distance away through his binoculars and on his report; we entered the 28-degree chilling water. We enter the water from the floe edge, which are hundreds of yards away from terra firma shoreline. Waiting for the Belugas, we are suspended at 30 feet below the surface - about 800 above the seafloor deep below us. We heard them first before we could them. Beluga like all other whales use sound for echolocation and in this case, they remained close and along the ice shelf, exactly where we were waiting for them.


As long as we kept ourselves close to the ice shelf, the Belugas couldn’t identify us. We saw them easily from 300 feet away! The visibility at this time of the year is 300 feet or better (only in the early spring) and the Belugas are easy to spot due to the pleasing contrast between the color of the deep blue water and the white coloring of the whales.


When the pod got closer, we could hear their increasingly high-pitched vocalization -perhaps due to our presence in the water with them. Fifteen of them pass by us, females with calves came closer and inspected us from less than 20 feet away and the few larger whales, perhaps males, remained a distance away. They move so elegantly and effortlessly in the water, which is short of amazing at best.


Bears, and particularly the Polar Bears, are gorgeous to watch while they are covered by this very deceiving white fur. It is not an indication of the Polar Bear being cuddly and safe. It is merely Mother Nature’s gift to them, camouflage to hide them well in the snow & ice environment as well as keep them warm. However, the puzzling questions, from whom or what do the Polar Bears need to hide from? After all, they are the Apex predators!


The only breaks in the Polar Bear’s camouflage are three black dots - the nose and its two eyes. It seems like the bear knows it and often when they rest or in the face of urgency, one can see how the bear attempts to cover its eyes and nose and almost disappear into the white background.


The bear was resting in the wide open of the vast ice desert among few pillars, with one paw over his eyes and nose blending so perfectly that we, the urban dwellers, couldn’t see it till we came within 50 feet!


We use the ice terrain and move against the light wind, taking advantage of the environment to allow us to get ever so close. Possibly too close. So close that our guides, although reluctantly, put a bullet into their gun to protect us and also to warn us, the photographers, to step back as we did, with extraordinary vivid memories.


With such wonderful memories and warm light in a cold environment, we return every season. I can’t wait for the next spring to unfold in the High Arctic again. We will be there. Join us for the experience of a lifetime living on the floe edge and pushing the envelope to see Polar Bears in their real environment”.
- Amos Nachoum

 

 

Photograph courtesy of Amos Nachoum

 

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