BOWHEAD! giant whales, bears, and immovable pack ice

By Rob

I admitted to our tour guide on day 1 of the tour – “I really want to see a Bowhead Whale!” I’m not normally one to make demands, but I’ve always had a thing for these amazing creatures. The longest life spans of any mammal on earth, a mouth shaped like a ship’s hull, the thickest blubber in the animal kingdom – what’s not to love! As our skidoos raced across the frozen sea ice to our camp, with us braced against the driving snow and freezing winds, my mind drifted to the tantalising prospects ahead.

We had been in camp for no more than 20 minutes when a cry came out from Tom, our Expedition Leader: “BOWHEAD!!!”. I think I was unpacking my vast selection of balaclavas, socks, and mittens at the time, ill prepared for the moment. Grabbing my jacket (and stupidly not my camera!) I ran from my tent, setting off at full speed across the ice to where Tom was standing. And there, for a short moment, it was in front of me. A huge black glistening hump, arched surprisingly high above the water level, set stark against the crushed ice around it. Bowheads are enormous, they look almost industrial against the shimmering white and blue of the sea ice. It stayed for only a few seconds, before dipping below the surface. This very short moment (as wildlife encounters often are) was all I needed. I had seen my Bowhead.

But, the ice floe adventure had only just begun. The next few wonderful days with Tom, his team, and our local Inuit guides were full of moments that thrilled and inspired in equal measure. Polar Bears wandering across the ice in search of Seals and feeding on whales close to camp, small pods of Narwhal moving along the ice floe edge, and Ring Seals spying on us from gaps in the sea ice – such a remarkable place and a complete privilege to be there.

As the days passed, the sea ice continued to shift. Always changing the landscape around us, the tides and winds would churn the crushed ice, forcing pools of sea water to open up in front of the camp and then close over in minutes. You could go to sleep with a solid wall of sea ice in front of camp and wake up with open ocean. Life on the ice floe is like this I suppose, nothing is fixed. Unanticipated moments of awe and wonder can happen at any time. You’re in the hands of Mother Nature!

Our Narwhal and Polar Bear Expedition has places available in 2014. Please take a look at the tour page for more information.

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