February 2012 - Arctic Kingdom Polar Expeditions

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Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari trip report by John E. Marriott

February 14th, 2012 | By | Filed in Client Reports

One of Canada's most respected wildlife photographers - John E. Marriott, joined us on our Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari  about 100km south of Arviat, NU, Canada.  With a maximum group size of 8, a private plane flying 40 minutes north of Churchill hugging the coastline, and then landing on the tundra in what is known as "Polar Bear Alley" with bears only meters away - John was in for 4 days of pure polar bear fun. Here is his account of that trip:

The Great Polar Bear Photo Adventure - By John E. Marriott

"He's going to come right at us!" And just like that, a 500-kilo polar bear hurled himself up and over the bank and bee-lined straight for us in a cloud of snow and seaweed. When he was fifty meters from us, he put on the brakes and glanced behind him nervously, watching to see if his nemesis, the little 250-kilo white ball of fury that had chased him towards us, was still in sight. Seconds later, the mother polar bear marched up the bank with her two big cubs in tow and glared furiously at the male, completely ignoring the two armed guides and the two photographers in front of her. As the big male lumbered closer and closer towards us (and away from her), I tried desperately to fit some part of him in the frame with my 500mm lens, finally giving up when he got within twenty meters. In perhaps a final test of what the boundaries might be, he took a hesitant step towards me and was instantly rewarded with a loud boom from one of the guide's rifles. The crackerjack shell sent him running off across the tundra for a few hundred meters, where he lay down on the hardpack and cautiously eyed us on his left and the mother and cubs on his right.
The big male came flying over the bank right at us in a panic to escape the female
The adventure began with a thrilling, hour-long flight over the tundra in a Turbo Otter plane from Churchill. I love small planes that hug the landscape, and this one provided a spectacular view of the coastline and of the Barrenlands. I spent the entire hour scanning the horizon feverishly for wildlife and was rewarded with five different bear sightings! We arrived at the tiny Arviat Polar Bear Cabin complex at noon on November 1st and despite the noise of our plane landing on the flat tundra, a polar bear was laying there having a snooze on the seaweed no more than 100 meters from the complex's electric fence.
The tiny cabin complex (6 cabins in total) is surrounded by an electric fence to keep the bears out
For the next three full days, we watched as eleven different bears wandered by the windswept complex, with many spending hours checking us out. For the most part we stayed inside the fence and photographed them as they circled around us nosily, but we also ventured outside the fence regularly for forays onto the tundra in search of more bears (we saw five in total on our short hikes) and other arctic wildlife. By the end of the trip, I'd seen arctic hare, arctic fox, willow ptarmigan, snowy owl, and gyrfalcon.
An arctic hare eyes me warily on the edge of a frozen pond
Willow ptarmigan on the tundra
From a polar bear perspective, the trip was a fantastic success -- while we didn't see as many polar bears as I was used to seeing on my Churchill trips (where you can often see 10-20 bears in a day), I was like a schoolkid in a field of candy whenever a polar bear approached us. The level of excitement was palpable, as was the thrill I got from standing on foot face-to-face with these beautiful animals in non-threatening situations (the bears seemed to know that the fence and that the armed Inuit guides meant business and they either stayed back 30-50 meters, or they got a warning crackerjack shot fired at them once or twice, which kept them back). Being on foot with these polar bears was an experience of a lifetime and I would try to put it more eloquently, but suffice to say that it's as close to indescribable as wildlife photography gets for me.
A huge polar bear checks us out at close range
A polar bear portrait
I was so impressed with the photography opportunities that presented themselves (and with the glorious ones I envisioned that didn't present themselves this year), that I began planning my trip back before my November adventure was even over! It's a true adventure into Canada's hinterland, so if you've ever dreamed of photographing polar bears from ground level and wanted to do it with a fun group, then check out the rest of my pictures and if you're still interested, then go read about what the Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari entails for October and November.
A curious cub walks by us at close range
Polar bear tracks on the tundra just meters from the electric fence
Sunshine and -10 never felt so good! A scenic view of the coastline at low tide.
A polar bear rolls around in the snow on a windy day
Another polar bear walks the beach by the complex
A polar bear mother and cub
The peek-a-boo polar bear!
My favourite shot from the trip, taken during a blizzard on Day 2
How close do we get? Pretty close!
Our guides, Jason and Graham, checking out tracks with fellow photographer, Kevin
Eye level and gorgeous!
A mother and cubs trying to decide whether or not they should come visit us
Another one of my favourite polar bear photographs from the trip
Thanks for looking everyone! Happy shooting! John

A Canadian Signature Experience

February 13th, 2012 | By | Filed in AK NEWS, Current Events, Current Trips, FEATURED, Featured Trip, IN THE NEWS, Trips, Upcoming Trip

Arctic Kingdom’s Narwhal and Polar Bear Safari is now a part of the Canadian Tourism Commission’s (CTC)’s Signature Experiences Collection (SEC).  This Arctic Safari, which takes place in northern Baffin Island, Nunvat, is an amazing experience, where people get the chance to see first-hand polar bears, narwhals, seals, or sometimes even walruses. If you don’t know what a narwhal is, picture a whale with a unicorn horn – “the mystical unicorns of the sea.” In addition to seeing an array of wildlife, there is also the opportunity to kayak among floating ice fully escorted by knowledgeable Inuit guides.  

Narwhals courtesy of Eric Baccega

We are proud to be a part of the CTC’s SEC, an amazing collection that features the best of what Canada has to offer. The SEC is a collection of unique and inspiring travel experiences that showcases Canada to the world. Arctic Kingdom was highlighted recently in a case study done by the CTC. To see the full article visit: CTC Arctic Kingdom Case Study. If you would like to take part in a true Canadian adventure, and join the Narwhal and Polar Bear Safari for June 2012 visit: www.arctickingdom.com. For more detailed information about the trip you can also download our brochure.
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