“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 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.”
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 new 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
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
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 1 to 7 and Aug 8 to 14 2013 to the “place where the bowhead whales go” along with our Inuit friends and we hope to repeat August 2012 encounter.
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 – thomasarctickingdomcom
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
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
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
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….
Lined up, our fingers on camera buttons, we watched, took photos and observed. The cubs tumbled over each other joyfully, with their mother nearby.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 2013/14?
The Sunspot Cycle and how it is linked to sightings of the northern lights. The cycle is generally around 11 years and the 2013/14 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!
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.
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 thomasarctickingdomcom 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
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:
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).
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
We love receiving emails or letters from guests as it makes all the effort that we put into making your Arctic wildlife experience the best it can be all the more worthwhile. The amazing email below came in from one of our guests on the Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari and Terry gave us permission to share her email for all to see.
From all of us at Arctic Kingdom…thank you Terry for sharing your heartwarming reflection of your trip with us!
Looking at the photographs… put me in the mood to finally type this travel log up. The truth is, this is something I’m still extremely emotional about …. I truly left my heart in Nunavut… I hope you all enjoy my view of this trip – even if it’s just a smidgen of how incredible it actually was. Polar Bear hugs to you all …. Terry F.
Our Nunavut experience…
It was my idea to go and see the Polar Bears. But so much these days depends on timing – and worried that nature might not correspond with our travel arrangements, I asked our travel agent for the ‘full’ Polar Bear experience. She had already booked us into Churchill, and now she came back with a trip to Arviat, Nunavut. We jumped on it. Now we felt we had covered enough ground, all we needed was luck on our side to see the great white Polar Bears of the North [with Arctic Kingdom].
The single turbo Otter trip from Churchill to Nunavut was thrilling, and already, I felt the trip had paid for itself. Little did I know, it was all going to be so much more … much more than I ever expected.
Our Nunavut camp was based by the Ocean shore, where we had a complete view of the ‘slush’, the jigsaw pieces of ice that would eventually join together and freeze up that part of the ocean. The camp is rugged, like the terrain it lies on – but you have all the comforts and amenities you’d expect for a unique True North Safari.
We went to Nunavut to see Polar Bears, but ended up falling in love with the Tundra as well. The ice formations of the Tundra were so diverse and beautiful. We ate icy cold berries that hugged the Tundra, discovered mushrooms in the middle of ice fields, heard the eerie sound of whipping winds grazing the Tundra, and when the sun came out, you were standing in a field of dazzling diamond sparkles in the snow. Nunavut is a place that takes your heart easily. It demands respect, this unforgiving, harsh land …. And yet … it’s so incredibly inviting, so heartbreakingly beautiful.
There wasn’t a day that went by where we didn’t see a Polar Bear. These magnificent creatures, in their territory, in the stillness of the Tundra. The fact that your standing there, on the Tundra, and a Polar Bear and her cub are pacing, slowly, gently up and down from about 20 feet from you – you can’t come to terms with what you’re seeing – it’s exciting down to the fingertips. And then you notice that the mother bear is sporting a huge ice crystal on her front leg that gleams in the light like a huge rhinestone adornment. A perfect coca-cola bear, dressed for the occasion, with her young one always close to her. Ohhhhh, it’s not something you can catch on video or camera like the eye sees it. It’s something that notches into your heart, along with the Tundra itself.
The Polar Bears aren’t the only white creatures of this utterly extreme world. We also saw the quirky Ptarmigan, the sweet Arctic Hare, the shy Arctic Fox and the regal Snowy Owl …. All white inhabitants of this desolate and magical land.
All the while, we’re listening to the low, rhythmic voice of our Inuit guide as he’s telling you stories of his grandparents adventures while giving you tips on what and what not to do on our daily walks. While we eat a hot meal and discuss the day’s events with each other, another Inuit guide watches from the rooftops for incoming Polar Bears, because this is a land without time and anything can happen. To complete our Nunavut family, there was our cheerful chef and our amicable expedition leader. Our chef delighted everyone with ready smiles, eye appealing dinners and he always had the number one ingredient to every morning kitchen … ready, hot coffee ! Always in charge, our expedition leader made sure everything ran smoothly, we were safe, and where possible, individual needs were met e.g. a Polar Bear Dip ?
We’ve been home for a few weeks now. We live in a sea-side town that’s as cute as cute gets …. But still, in my heart of hearts, I’m longing for Nunavut …. That far away place, so open, so barren, so …. inviting.
Polar Bear Hugs from Terry and Carl F., Vancouver Island, Canada
Simultaneously exclaimed by Michelle and Leanne, two Arctic Kingdom guests at the start of our inaugural Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari at the beginning of November. The pair had just touched down after an 180km flight over the seemingly endless tundra, only to be greeted by a large male polar bear a mere 20 feet away from the cabin grounds.
Michelle and Leanne pose for the camera with a polar bear
Building on a decade of up close and personal wildlife safaris throughout the Arctic regions, Arctic Kingdom furthers our commitment to the arctic experience. We have partnered with the Inuit people of Arviat to to deliver the best ground level polar bear viewing experience imaginable. One that will allow guests to truly feel connected with the polar bears, and the arctic, all while upholding the most stringent safety measures.
Over the next four days, Michelle, Leanne and other guests of Arctic Kingdom at the polar bear camp witnessed polar bears – large males, females and mother and cubs, from the safety of the cabin grounds, and under the professional guidance of Inuit guides from Arviat, Nunavut who are trained in close polar bear encounters.
“To be on the ground, only meters from a polar bear and, to look directly into its eyes is nothing short of amazing…and incredibly fun!” summarized Michelle of her trip to photograph the polar bears.
Here is a photo summary of the 2011 Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari:
Polar Bear Mother and cubs walk by the cabins at sunset
Polar bear being watched by Inuit guide trained in close polar bear encounters
Polar Bear Alley - Bear rolling in seaweed. At times we could watch a bear for hours on end. Observing them in their natural environment as they go about their routine seemingly oblivious to our presence only meters away.
Polar bears walk along the Hudson Bay coast on the migration route northwards. Polar bears are often curious about new smells and scents..especially of our presence.
David Briggs - AK Expedition Leader - taking a moment to enjoy a polar bear walking by
Arctic Fox comes towards Polar Bear Alley Cabins
The cabins are situated at the 60 degree latitude which is the prime northern lights band that circles the globe. This was what we looked forward to seeing every evening!
Northern Lights looking over the tundra
It was a late year for snow with hardly a trace by early November when this picture was taken and the Hudson Bay was still open water. This is extremely unusual as we normally use snowmobiles to travel by this time.
Nestled on the shores of Hudson Bay directly in “Polar Bear Alley”, situated 100km south of Arviat (180km north of Churchill) – the polar bear cabins are only accessible by air
The turbo otter lands at the airstrip directly beside the polar bear cabins as guests look on.
Arctic Kingdom’s polar bear cabins at dusk. With a capacity of only 8 persons, this is the most intimate and personal polar bear viewing experience anywhere.
Simple, comfortable, clean and warm. Each sleep cabin has it’s own bathroom. There is one shared shower facility.
Bear in the spotlight. Polar bears often came by at night which allowed for some night photography opportunities as well.
Polar mother and two cubs approached by big male bear
During the day, with guides that carried rifles, we would conduct walks on the tundra
Extremely friendly arctic hares in their white winter coat would come within arms reach at times and directly into polar cabin grounds
A polar bear walks on the tidal flats towards the bear cabins. The tides are extreme here receding more than 1km from shore which results in a landscape of beautiful boulder strewn flats that the bears walk in to come to the cabins.
Ptarmigan in winter plumage
For more information on the Polar Bear Migration Fly-In Safari, visit the trip page here: