Jason Hillier - Arctic Kingdom Polar Expeditions

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Walk with Grizzly Bears – A personal trip account on how to get within 10′ of a grizzly bear — safely!

October 7th, 2014 | By | Filed in Client Reports, Grizzly Bear

I recently returned from a walk in the wild with grizzly bears. I will deliver my first person stories of breath-taking encounters with grizzly cubs and adult bears as they fished just a few feet from me. I will share personal videos and photos of the 25 minute helicopter flight over mountains and a million square kilometers of wilderness. I'll share my pictures and videos of the antics of the cubs, and their protective mothers. On this short webinar I will explain 1) how I was only a few feet away from Grizzly Bears - yet the only concern he had, was how much memory was left on his GoPro camera. 2) how I was able to watch Grizzly bears stalk fish, jump, and devour hundreds of chinook salmon 3) why of all Grizzly photography trips 'out there', this trip will get you closer than any to grizzly bears males, females, sub-adults, and cubs - safely! 4) how I was able to get some incredible video of grizzly cubs climbing a tree and almost losing his GoPro camera to the teeth of a grizzly cub. 5) why this trip is great for families and the professional photographer alike

Arctic Kingdom Floe Edge garden a success!

September 3rd, 2013 | By | Filed in Uncategorized

caribou carpaccio - eider ducks Arctic Kingdom is pleased to report that its first floe-edge sprout operation was a success! Four flats of baby arugula flourished on a diet made up exclusively of paper towels, iceberg water, and 24-hour sun. Our four arugula flats grew from seed to garnish in seven days, and our guests reported their flavour as, “spicy,” and their appearance as, “sturdy, chubby, and dark green.” Once they were one-inch-high, the sprouts were harvested, and used to add flare to plated dinners, as well as add a spicy and vigorous note to salads and grains. Camp manager and resident geologist Angus Simpson couldn’t prove that 10,000 year old iceberg water had a positive affect on the plants, but we found little else to explain their extraordinary ability to emerge unharmed from a freeze and thaw cycle that would kill a typical salad green. Here is how and why we did it. Why: Pond Inlet has food security issues, partially related to the reasonable inconsistencies found in a food delivery system that relies mostly on plane delivery from Manitoba or Montreal. Herbs that a cook might have ordered in from a Sobey’s in Winnipeg might not make it on the plane. If they do, the next challenge is ensuring they make it through up to three plane transfers unharmed. On top of this, most produce prices are triple or quadruple of the same goods in the south. A sprout farm is a low cost alternative, and avoids potential problems that could be caused through relying on costly basil that might not survive its 2,500 kilometre trip from the south. We also did it just to see if we could, to demystify the process of germination for staff and guests that might not have attempted similar projects themselves, and because baby plants are so attractive. How: One of our cooks and flow-edge gardener Katie Mathieu picked up four generic, clear-topped germination flats from a hardware store and some packages of Mumm’s organic sprouting seeds mixes. Once in Pond Inlet, Katie used a meat thermometer to punch drainage holes, six-inches apart in a honeycomb pattern in the black plastic bottoms of all the sprouting trays. The trays were then lined with six layers of clean paper towels, and spread with arugula sprout seeds in the spacing shown below. sprouts before and after AK arugula 2013-3 The towels and seeds were moistened with pure water until they were thoroughly damp, but not soaking. The clear plastic top was put on the trays, and the trays were put in the hall closet (at our Pond Inlet staff house) to germinate away from the sun. There are conflicting opinions on whether darkness is necessary for sprout germination, but because we were working on a tight timeline we decided to simulate an underground environment as best as we could. Later on, in camp with the 24-hour sun, this false night was achieved by covering the sprout flats with an Arctic Kingdom camping towel. Ak sprout farm 2013-2 The container that you can see just outside the tent window is the gravity-fed kerosene supply for the stove that warms the dining tent,the connected kitchen, and the adjacent sprout farm. The stove is turned off at night, and then on again at 6am in the morning so we can thaw pieces of iceberg for drinking water, and create a cozy place for you to make toast, drink coffee or tea, and relax before breakfast. Back to the farm! Katie would like to note that sanitation is key in all phases of this operation and she would like you to wash your hands well, use clean water, and clean air-dried trays. The first four-day old flats, sown in Pond Inlet, were carefully packed for the four-hour snowmobile trip to the campsite. First, extra water was allowed to evaporate to avoid ice crystal formation, which could damage the plant cell’s walls. Next, tray tops were taped on with masking tape. The flats were wrapped in two layers of plastic garbage bags and then a wool sweater to reduce shock. They arrived at the site unharmed, and when guests arrived three-days later they were already showing their first true leaves. To avoid mildew and maintain a proper moisture level for plant life, all of the trays were gently rinsed with pure water, twice a day, as soon as they showed signs of growth. On the day before harvest the watering was stopped to simplify the harvest. When damp, the sprouts will stick together and won’t be loose enough to use as garnish right away. After one day of imposed drought, we would lift the now dry and sprout-covered paper towel mats off of their trays and use scissors, or Katie’s extremely sharp fish knife, to cut the sprouts off the paper towel. We would do this above a paper towel lined container; the sprouts would fall in, would be covered with a moistened paper towel, and then stored in the large shelter tent that served as our walk-in fridge. One May evening, during a lamb dinner on the floe-edge, the sprouts being used for garnish froze solid. Head Chef Philip Heilborn was pleased and shocked to report that the frozen sprouts thawed perfectly and showed no signs of wear and tear from their whale watching related ordeal. Later in the week he used them to simulate edible lichen on a caribou Carpaccio dish, “to great success.” The strong flavour and attractive texture of the sprouts were invaluable to our kitchen during the two-weeks where the herb orders did not catch their flight. The entire operation, flats and seeds included cost us less than $30. We consider our experiment farm a companion to the creative problem solving that is a hallmark of the culture of the north, and the newest addition to your Arctic Kingdom experience. We look forward to future seasons of sprouting and gardening in the Arctic, and continuing to make your trip with us as enjoyable and surprising as possible. Next up on the floe edge farm schedule, Oyster Mushrooms! caribou carpaccio group shot AK 2013

New Bowhead Whale Molting Location Found

April 29th, 2013 | By | Filed in Arctic Animals, Recent Trips, Scientists, Upcoming Trip

“There must be over 20 bowhead whales!” Exclaimed Graham Dickson, Chief Expedition Officer for Arctic Kingdom Expeditions. It was August 2012, and while scouting a new area just south of Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut by boat with a couple of photographers on Arctic Kingdom’s trip “Polar Bears and Glaciers of Baffin Island” Dickson, and the photographers were witnessing the act of bowhead whales rubbing their 60’ long bodies on the rocks at the bottom of the ocean floor to scrape off their skin – a process also known as ‘molting’.
Bowheads rubbing in the shallow waters of the coast of Baffin Island with snorkeler Todd Mintz approaching

Bowheads rubbing in the shallow waters of the coast of Baffin Island allowed with snorkeler Todd Mintz approaching

One of the photographers, Todd Mintz, a Canadian photographer who has travelled with Arctic Kingdom to photograph polar bears, muskox and narwhal since 2010 couldn’t resist putting on his drysuit and floating in the water to witness the behavior underwater. He took this video with a GoPro camera mounted on his camera. When asked what is was like to have a 100 ton whale approach to within 5 feet of him, Mintz replied, “That was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. I had no idea what he was going to do. I was frozen on the spot, and only remembered to take some pictures at the last second. That never happens.”
bowhead, arctic kingdom, swim with bowhead

View from the boat when the bowhead whale surfaced

Mintz also managed to retrieve some bowhead whale skin that was floating in the water. At the time Dickson and the photographers on board knew they were witnessing something special. The fact that there were such a high concentration of bowhead whales in 30’ of shallow water is very rare as bowhead whales are known to be pelagic or deep water whales. Second, the water clarity was crystal clear and to our knowledge there has never before been such clear underwater photographs taken of bowhead whales. Third, the pieces of bowhead whale skin in the water, also to our recollection had not been seen before. To verify what we saw, we consulted with the Canadian expert in bowhead whales - retired bowhead whale ecologist and researcher Kerry Finley. Finley has studied the Baffin Island bowhead whales since 1983 along the coast of Baffin Island mainly a few hundred kilometers to the north in Isabella Bay. He had not been to the location where we saw the rubbing activity.
"The place where whales go" according to local Inuit elders

"The place where whales go" according to local Inuit elders

After discussing the behavior of the bowhead whales with Finley and reviewing photos and video taken on the trip he commented, “Your photographers captured just the sort of image that we tried so many years to obtain…I had hoped to document the rubbing behaviour that I suspected was taking place but to no avail. It is interesting that you actually saw pieces of skin which I never saw. It is definitely molting behavior that you saw”. Finley went on to say, “What you have found, could very well be a very special place for bowhead whale observation”
The bowhead whales were finning, logging (resting on the surface), tail slapping, and rubbing on the rocks in the shallow waters

The bowhead whales were finning, logging (resting on the surface), tail slapping, and rubbing on the rocks in the shallow waters

Upon returning to the Arctic Kingdom base camp that evening one of the local Inuit elders came to our camp. We described to him where we went and what we saw. His response was simple – “Yes, you went to the place where the bowhead whales go”. Apparently we are not the first ones to have ‘discovered’ the bowhead whales and where they go to molt. The Inuit people have known about them all along. Arctic Kingdom is planning on returning Aug 2 to 6, 2015 and Aug 6 to 18 2015 to the “place where the bowhead whales go” along with our Inuit friends and we hope to repeat the encounter. 2016 dates are also planned around the same timeframe. EDIT 2014: Arctic Kingdom returned in 2014 and observed the bowhead whale molting behavior with an excited group of guests. There are still a few limited spaces left for interested persons who would like to join. For more details visit this page: “Polar Bears and Glaciers of Baffin Island” Or Contact: Thomas Lennartz – [email protected]

Polar Bear Mother & Newborn Cubs Photo Safari – Trip Report

April 16th, 2013 | By | Filed in Client Reports

By Michelle Valberg Erik was from Austria. Robert and Kendra were from Hong Kong. Micki and Chuck were from LA, Joanne was Australian and Pat was a friend from Ottawa. Most of us had never met before, but we greeted each other like adventurers with a common goal: combing the western edge of Hudson Bay for mother polar bears and their months-old cubs. Stowing our gear and chatting excitedly, we boarded the VIA train in Churchill, Manitoba, bound for Chesnaye, 60 kilometres south. It was a slow ride south through the boreal forest, but with every kilometer clicking past, our anticipation grew. The spring 2013 Polar Bear Mother and Newborn Cub Photo Safari with Arctic Kingdom was about to begin. Two hours later, we rolled to a stop in Chesnaye. Very late on a very cold March night when the temperature hovered at -30C, we stepped off the train onto the frozen tundra, with no station or platform in sight.
2 hour train ride from Churchill to the Lodge

2 hour train ride from Churchill to the Lodge

There, the Lodge staff met and whisked us into their specially-designed Arctic vehicles - vans with special tracks instead of wheels. A quick 30-minute drive brought us to our home for the next seven nights. Ten adventurers were already at the lodge and they were buzzing with elation. That day, they’d experienced an amazing opportunity to capture, on camera, a polar bear and her cubs. Needless to say, our excitement and their stories kept us up until after midnight.
Our group from all corners of the globe - from Hong Kong, Australia, USA, Canada and the UK -  heading out in the tracked van in search of mother and cubs

Our group from all corners of the globe - from Hong Kong, Australia, USA, Canada and the UK - heading out in the tracked van in search of mother and cubs

Day 1 at the Newborn Cub Lodge At 9am the next morning, after a chef-made breakfast, we boarded the specially-equipped van. Parkas on, photo equipment at the ready, we crossed our fingers and toes in the hopes that we would see a mother and her cubs close to their den. Just twenty minutes later. “There they are!” shouted our guide, pointing to a Momma bear feeding her cubs. From a respectful distance, we observed the tender interplay of nature and nurture. Once she was done, our guides positioned the vehicles and we clambered to get all our gear on and our photo equipment ready.
Tracked vehicles seem to watch over the tripods set up close to mother and cubs bear den

Tracked vehicles seem to watch over the tripods set up close to mother and cubs bear den

Stepping outside, the cold took our breath away. And yet…this is what we had come so far to see. We stood together, slightly unsure of what would happen. Even so, in that moment I thought, how lucky am I to experience this!
Waiting for mother and cubs to appear...any second now....

Waiting for mother and cubs to appear...any second now....

Lined up, our fingers on camera buttons, we watched, took photos and observed. The cubs tumbled over each other joyfully, with their mother nearby. Polar Bear Mother and Newborn Cubs  by Michelle Valberg _MV82652_SM And then, the unexpected happened. Momma bear awoke from her rest, stretched, rolled onto her belly, sat up and sniffed the air in our direction. Slowly, she walked towards us. Our guides were immediately on alert and started their snowmobiles. She wasn’t aggressive in her approach—but she was curious. Once the bears got too close, the guides moved in and gently suggested they head in another direction. The only sound over our overawed, pounding hearts was the quick click-click-click of our camera shutters as we captured each movement. Watchee Lodge by Michelle Valberg _MV84314_SM Polar Bear Mother and Cubs by Michelle Valberg _MV83473_SM Perhaps convinced we meant no harm, Momma bear and her cubs went back towards their den to rest. As they slept, we chatted, moved in and out of the vans and tried to keep warm—the temperature by then was around -40C (-55 with the wind chill). And we marveled. On our first day, we had spent 10 hours watching this family. They had approached us four times, we had magic light and an all-around eventful day. We weren’t sure how any other day would compare. Day 2 at the Newborn Polar Bear Cub Lodge The next day, we searched fruitlessly for the family…but eventually, our guides located them later in the day. The babies played, slept and never strayed far from their mother’s side. They were adorable, and yet we had to remind ourselves that one day, they too would become the most fearsome predators in the Arctic. Polar Bear Mother and Newborn Cubs by Michelle Valberg _MV84145_SM Polar Bear Mother and Newborn Cubs by Michelle Valberg _MV84235_SM Polar Bear Mother and Cubs Michelle Valberg _D703839_SM Polar Bear Mother and Cubs by Michelle Valberg __D703713_SM Day 3 at the Newborn Cubs Lodge The wind howled across the tundra, forcing the little family to hunker down. Even so, the light and setting were absolutely stunning. Momma bear put her face into the snow to sleep while the cubs played with each other. In between sniffing around and nosing each other, they crawled all over their mother, giving us unbelievable photographic opportunities. Once again, they approached us with interest. Polar Bear Mother and Cubs by Michelle Valberg __D4S6080_SM Day 4 at the Newborn Cub Lodge After such excellent luck, it came as no surprise that it ran out by the fourth day of shooting. Our guides had spotted three families, but they were deep in the park and the trek would have been too treacherous to make in our vans. We had beautiful light and spent a few hours sitting outside in the sunshine waiting for word from our guides. But the day wasn’t a total loss: An extraordinary sunset morphed into a mesmerizing, noble display of northern lights early in the night. We definitely had nothing to complain about. Polar Bear Mother and Cubs by Michelle Valberg _D4S5159_SM Polar Bear Mother and Cubs by Michelle Valberg _D4S5093_SM Day 5 at the Newborn Polar Bear Lodge There are days in the North when it feels like you’re on a movie set. The light is gorgeous, the landscape was Hollywood perfect and the players all know their parts well. The day dawned cold and windy, but a new mother and her very tiny, very new cubs fresh from the den emerged to explore the world around them. Everywhere Momma bear went, they followed. If she stopped to sniff the air, they stopped, too. Polar Bear Mother and Cubs by Michelle Valberg _D703894_SM Polar bears use the small hilly areas to make their dens and there, we watched them sleep most of the day. Anytime we spotted movement, we would run to our cameras. It wasn’t the best day for shooting—the wind was strong and blew snow straight at us. But I don’t think any of us minded. Polar Bear Mother and Cubs by Michelle Valberg _MV84854_SM Day 6 at the Newborn Cub Lodge Could anything top the week we had experienced? In the Arctic, nothing is a sure thing. There are too many variables, too much can change in a heartbeat. And yet, in many ways, our penultimate day at Wapusk was the best. Under the biggest tree for kilometers, our guides found the family. It was another beautiful background. After hours of sleeping, Momma Bear got up and walked in our direction with her cubs. Our guides warned her with their snowmobiles. She walked back to the tree and we watched her try to feed her cub. She took her big front paw and gently nudged him towards her. It was a tender moment that spoke volumes about how, regardless of species, our desire to both protect and feel safe. We want to feel loved. We want to be nourished. Polar Bear Mother and Cubs by Michelle Valberg _D4S5990_SM Polar Bear Mother and Cubs by Michelle Valberg _MV84912_SM At the end of the day, we had the unparalleled luck to have all three polar bears - mother with her two cubs - walked right past us. Trigger-happy and filled with excitement, we watched her walk away with her cubs close behind her. It was a fitting farewell and I was overcome. Tears ran down my face and I sobbed. I felt so blessed. I was doing exactly what I had dreamed of doing for so long. The Polar Bear Mother and Cubs Photo Safari trip had fulfilled my dreams. Polar Bear Mother and Cubs by Michelle Valberg _D4S7150_SM The return back to Churchill was uneventful. Upon arriving on a bright, sunny day a bit warmer than what we’d experienced in Wapusk we had a dog sled ride and enjoyed the afternoon. But our hearts and minds were far away with the mother and newborn cubs that were back in Wapusk National Park. ABOUT MICHELLE VALBERG This was Michelle Valberg's first trip (of many) as an expedition leader with Arctic Kingdom. Michelle Valberg is a globally recognized and celebrated photographer, whose quest to capture the beautiful and unique on camera has taken her to all corners of the world. Valberg’s stunning, and at times haunting photographs are highly sought after by art collectors globally, and have been showcased in various exhibits and features across North America. In 2011, Valberg’s work was the subject of a critically acclaimed 3-month solo exhibition at the esteemed Canadian Museum of Nature.

Top 5 Things to Know about the Northern Lights

January 27th, 2013 | By | Filed in Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis

1) What Are The Northern Lights? Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis. The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun as a result of solar flares. Solar flares are explosions ejected by the Sun. These flares contain charged particles and if they head towards Earth, carried on a solar wind, Earth’s magnetic fields divert them.

Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

Most of the particles disappear into space but if some enter our upper atmosphere, around the Polar Regions where those magnetic fields converge, then these charged particles react with the gases found there. These magnetic fields create auroral ovals around the top and bottom of our planet which move and distort as the Earth rotates and solar flare activity increases. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as 'Aurora borealis' in the north and 'Aurora australis' in the south. Auroral displays appear in many colours although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow. You have to be within an auroral oval for a chance of seeing this particle/gas reaction hence why you need to travel north. 2) When and where is the best time to see them?

The Northern Lights halo occurs primarily at 60 degree latitude

Auroral activity is cyclic – known as the Sunspot Cycle, peaking roughly every 11 years. Winter in the north is generally a good season to view lights – although this can also be the coldest time. The long periods of darkness and the frequency of clear nights provide many good opportunities to watch the auroral displays but to . Usually the best time of night (on clear nights) to watch for auroral displays is local midnight. Located around both magnetic poles of the earth is a halo like ring called an aurora oval – generally found at the 60 degree latitude in the northern hemisphere. The area directly beneath each aurora oval is the best place to see the aurora most often. North American locations under the northern oval include Yellowknife, Churchill, Iqaluit, Canada, Fairbanks, Alaska. Other parts of the world including Lapland, Norway, southern Greenland and Iceland will also see the northern lights. 3) What Is So Special About 2014? The Sunspot Cycle and how it is linked to sightings of the northern lights. The cycle is generally around 11 years and the 2014 season it reaches its peak, the Solar Max. Sunspots are temporary dark patches which are cooler than the rest of the surface of the Sun and when these increase in number, so too does the amount of solar flare activity and the subsequent possibility of auroral displays. This doesn’t mean you won’t see displays during other periods of the cycle, as activity is constant, just that displays at the peak may be more intense or more frequent. 4) Why Are Displays Different Colours? Colors and patterns are from the types of ions or atoms being energized as they collide with the atmosphere and are affected by lines of magnetic force. Displays may take many forms, including rippling curtains, pulsating globs, traveling pulses, or steady glows. Altitude affects the colors. Blue violet/reds occur below 60 miles (100 km), with bright green strongest between 60-150 miles (100-240 km). Above 150 miles (240 km) ruby reds appear. 5) Will I Definitely See Them?

Viewing Northern Lights over Iqaluit

We suggest locations that have the highest likelihood and where weather conditions are generally better than anywhere else but cannot guarantee sightings. And what’s more, Arctic Kingdom suggests locations where during the day whilst you are not star gazing, there are many activities to keep you occupied while we wait for night to fall. Activities, to name a few, can include dogsledding, igloo building or photographing wildlife. Patience and time is the key as well as a clear, cloudless winter’s night. Displays can occur any time from around 5pm but most activity tends to be a little later. 6) Bonus! How Do I Photograph Them?

Tripods with long exposures are needed to capture the northern lights

We said ‘Top 5’ – but we are going to add one more as we are asked this question very often. Generally you need to keep the camera steady using a tripod as exposures from several seconds to almost 20 give the best results. SLR camera users should try a wide angle lens with a wide aperture as well as setting their ISO levels to high. For further tips, you can ask your Arctic Kingdom trip leader when on your northern lights trip. It takes practice to get the settings right as the northern lights photographs you see in books and postcards showing spectacular night skies have been put together by people with years of experience. This is not to say that complete novices don’t succeed - we’ve had some amazing shots sent in to us. More often than not, people tend to simply stand beneath a display and marvel at its magnificence – also beats having to take your gloves off to try and work your camera! ADDITIONAL INFORMATION Photo Gallery: Click here to visit the Arctic Kingdom Northern Lights Gallery Want to see the Northern Lights with Arctic Kingdom? Check out these 4 trips we have designed to see northern lights: Taste of the Arctic Spring Autumn Caribou and Northern Lights Photo Safari Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari Northern Lights Fly-In Lodge

Webinar – Narwhal and Polar Bear Safari

January 17th, 2013 | By | Filed in Webinar

Narwhal and Polar Bear Safari Webinar from arctickingdom on Vimeo.

Discover why this trip has been selected by the Canadian Tourism Commission as one of Canada's "Signature Experiences" Learn about our African safari-inspired camps and how we work with the local Inuit people to provide wildlife encounters with the mystical and rarely seen Narwhal, and get you up-close with majestic polar bears. What a concept. Want to know more? Join Arctic Kingdom Expedition Leader Thomas Lennartz - recognized by Conde Nast Magazine as the Arctic Wildlife travel specialist, for an introduction to Arctic Kingdom and the Narwhal and Polar Bear Safari.

Condé Nast Traveler names Thomas Lennartz as the 2012 Top Travel Specialist for Arctic Wildlife Safaris.

January 7th, 2013 | By | Filed in AK NEWS

Our very own Thomas Lennartz has been recognized as one of the best in the world when it comes to knowing the Arctic Wildlife as one of the 150 Travel Specialists handpicked by Consumer News Director Wendy Perrin who represent the best combination of expertise, access, and value. All the Top 150 Travel Specialists, including Thomas Lennartz as the 2012 Arctic Wildlife Specialist, have all have been road-tested by Condé Nast Traveler readers. None have paid a dime to be included on the list and membership cannot be bought. The resulting collection of approved travel counselors is the most respected and trusted in the travel industry. If you have any questions about the Arctic, where to go, when to go, how to go, he'll be more than happy to answer your questions: To contact Thomas, email him at [email protected] or call at 416-322-7066 x114. If you have traveled with Tom in the past, share your experience on the Condé Nast website or would like to know more visit his profile on the Condé Nast Traveler website here: cntrvlr.com/thomas To learn more about the list, and view all the Condé Nast Traveler specialists, click here

ABC Nightline – Unicorn of the Sea with Arctic Kingdom

September 3rd, 2012 | By | Filed in TRIPS

This past June, Arctic Kingdom was contacted by ABC to take them to the Arctic to film the narwhal and Inuit people of Baffin Island.  They got much more than they expected and put a full half hour episode together on their trip to the Pond Inlet floe edge which originally aired on Aug 21, 2012. A large crack formed and the AK base camp on ice needed to be torn down one day earlier than planned.  Watch their adventure here:

Part 1 – Tracking Elusive Narwhals in the Arctic

Part 2 - Close Call on the Arctic's Melting Sea Ice

Part 3 - Climate Change Threatens Arctic Life


Webinar – Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari with ABC host Richard Wiese

March 2nd, 2012 | By | Filed in Webinar

  Join Arctic Kingdom Expedition Director Thomas Lennartz and special guest speaker Richard Wiese - host of the new ABC show "Born to Explore", for a virtual tour of the Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari. On this special webinar: LEARN – Why there are so many polar bears in the area and how we safely are able to live amongst and are able to get virtually eye-to-eye with them. SEE - stunning photographs of polar bears mothers, cubs, large male Polar Bears, Ptarmigan, Arctic Fox, Snowy Owls and Arctic Hare...  that you can get as well HEAR - A first hand account from Richard Wiese's experience with polar bears up close on this safari while filming for his show "Born to Explore - Episode:  The Great Polar Bear Migration" - Airing Feb 18, 2012 and April 21 between 8 and 11AM on ABC  (check local listings).

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
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