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Bowhead Whales: Giants of the Arctic

July 27th, 2015 | By | Filed in Wildlife

bowhead, underwater

Photo by Todd Mintz as a bowhead approached in 30′ of water

What do you know about bowhead whales? Did you know they hold some remarkable records in the animal kingdom. Like the fact that they’re the longest living mammal on the planet. However, this was not an easy accomplishment as their population was once driven to the edge of extinction by whaling. We happily report that they have managed to survive it all and proved that they have the longevity to prosper in the chilly Arctic waters they inhabit.

This incredible species stands apart from other whales for various reasons. First off, they don’t have a vacation home. Unlike other baleen whales, bowheads are the only species that stays in the Arctic all year. Though they do go on small trips and migrate short distances, they do not travel great distances to feed or reproduce. (Baleen is a system of flexible material that hangs from the mouth of certain species of whales that they use to sieve food from water.)

Bowheads are distinctive. They have a dark grey appearance, typically with a patch of white under their jaw. They have a massive boney skull that can break through two feet of Arctic ice. They don’t have a dorsal fin. They do have two blowholes which can spout water approximately 20 feet high. Bowheads also boast the thickest blubber of any animal and the longest baleen of any whale, measuring three meters.

Bowhead Whale Quick Stats:

  • Bowheads are the longest living mammal on the planet (some reaching 150-200 years old)
  • Its massive head is one- third of its body length
  • Bowheads have the largest open mouth of any animal measuring 12 feet high, 16 feet long and 8 feet wide
  • Some bowheads measure 60 feet long and weigh over 70 tonnes
  • Bowheads are generally slow swimmers that can remain submerged in shallow water for up to 40 minutes in a single dive
  • Female bowheads are larger than males
  • Social and non-aggressive mammals that retreat when faced with conflict

Check them out in the wild

Interested in checking out bowheads in the wild? Arctic Kingdom offers various trips that allow you to see these stunning creatures including: Polar Bears and Glaciers of Baffin Island which allows you to visit a newly- discovered molting area! Yes, there are a few spaces left in 2015.

Author: Mandy Ams

Cory Trepanier, Canadian Artist, in Iqaluit

July 24th, 2015 | By | Filed in AK NEWS

Cory TrepanierOne of the perks of working in the Canadian Arctic is meeting interesting people, especially artists. There is a long tradition of southern artists travelling the north, camping in remote areas to spend time painting and sketching. Members of Canada’s Group of Seven did it eighty years ago. This summer Canadian artist Cory Trepanier is exploring the North, adding to his Into the Arctic Collection. You can read his field journal here.

Cory Trepanier in Iqaluit

Cory En Plein AirCory has kindly sent us a selection of photos depicting him at work en plein air. He is experiencing excellent weather for painting outside, these last weeks of July. We will be posting the photos he shared with us on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.

One advantage to artists and photographers of travelling at this time of year to Iqaluit is the long twilight that comes each day the midnight sun shines. A beautiful hue is cast across the landscape that adds magic to a painting or photo.

To learn more about visiting Iqaluit for a weekend or a week, visit our Arctic Weekend Getaway section of the website.

Taiga, tundra and Arctic explained

July 21st, 2015 | By | Filed in Landscape

CanadaEcozonesEveryone of us has a mental image of what the Arctic looks like, even if we have never been. Natural Resources Canada divides the Arctic in two: The Northern and Southern Arctic. Their delineation is based on rocks and plants. Baffin Island is in the Northern Arctic ecozone, where as our Polar Bear Cabins are situated in the Southern Arctic ecozone.

Taiga Shield

Caribou in autumnThe Arctic has been described as treeless, yet especially-adapted willows grow, if only a few centimeters high. Taiga, on the other hand, is a region where spindly spruce and fir grow – stark silhouettes against the sky. Taiga is also home to immense wetlands. Our Autumn Caribou and Northern Lights Safari occurs in the Taiga Shield Region.

Ecozone vs. Biome

Tundra is not an ecozone, but it is a type of biome. Biomes being a large type of community defined by a significant vegetation type. Ecozones can be comprised of a number of distinct biomes. You can hike tundra in the Northern Arctic on Baffin Island and in the Southern Arctic around our polar bear cabins. You can visit the Taiga Shield and hike tundra at the same time.

The Canadian Arctic

The Department of Natural Resources definition of the Arctic is not the only definition. Some people define the Arctic as anything north of 60. Others define the Arctic as anything north of the treeline. We, at Arctic Kingdom, think the region may be defined by weather and wildlife.

Polar Bear Migration Fly-in Photo Safari: A Trip for Photographers

July 15th, 2015 | By | Filed in Featured Trip

Mother and cub at twilightI refuse to apologize for some shameless self-promotion, because our Polar Bear Migration Fly-in Photo Safari is an outstanding adventure for wildlife photographers. And…it is exclusive to Arctic Kingdom. That’s right. We operate it.

So what makes this Arctic safari special for photographers?

Only 8 people at a time can participate. So you won’t be jostling people elbows trying to get that perfect angle for your shot. The electric fence that surrounds the camp is nearly invisible, so you can shoot right through it – at eye level with the polar bears. You are in place to shoot during the dawn and twilight of late autumn. The perfect light for the dedicated photographer.

Are polar bears the only wildlife?

No way! In addition to polar bear mother and cubs, Arctic fox, caribou, wolverine, gyrfalcon, ermine (stoat) and marten inhabit the area around our camp. Arctic foxes are known to nip and tease polar bears. They entertain us every year. Caribou have migrated south from their summer feeding grounds.

Aerial photography is possible

Included in the package price is a charter flight from Churchill to the tundra on which our camp is situated. While air born, if the conditions are good, you are welcome to shoot from the air. Keep an eye open for caribou and polar bear on the ground.

A few spaces are available in 2015

If you want to kick start your wildlife photography career, this is the trip to take. You live in the heart of polar bear alley, in comfortable cabins, with a chef to prepare your meals, while shooting some of the most intimate photos of polar bear behaviour possible.

Nunavut Day – July 9, 2015

July 8th, 2015 | By | Filed in IN THE NEWS

Experience mushing first hand

Experience mushing first hand

Happy Nunavut Day! July 9th marks the annual celebration of when the Parliament of Canada passed the Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act in 1993. Nunavut officially split from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999, resulting in Nunavut becoming the newest territory in Canada.

This public holiday commemorates the largest and northernmost territory and is celebrated by the organization and participation of many different events. There are communal meals arranged, traditional games and dances, speeches by local leaders, presentations of policies and initiatives and fun competitions to increase the awareness of Nunavut’s history among younger generations.

Did you know: 10 Interesting Facts about Nunavut

- The first people to live in Nunavut were the Inuit
- The creation of Nunavut marks the first major change to Canada’s political map since 1949
- Nunavut means ‘our land’ in the Inuit language of Inuktitut
- Nunavut’s official languages are Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, English and French
- Nunavut is the largest territory and makes up one fifth of Canada’s land mass
- Nunavut is the least populated, yet has the largest surface area in Canada
- Species that call Nunavut home are: muskoxen, caribou, polar bears, arctic foxes, whales and seals
- The land and the water are frozen most of the year
- Nunavut’s resources are diamonds, hunting, fishing, trapping, sealing & arts and crafts
- Nunavut was the last province/territory in Canada to have a Tim Hortons, the first one opened in December 2010

Nunavut’s Emblems

The official flower is the Purple Saxifrage. The official bird is the Rock Ptarmigan and the official animal is the Canadian Inuit Dog.

Author: Mandy Ams

Birders: The Arctic is teeming with #birds

July 8th, 2015 | By | Filed in Uncategorized

MurresBirders, Bylot Island is a Migratory Bird Sanctuary off the northern tip of Baffin Island. Located 25 kilometres (16 miles) north of Pond Inlet, across Eclipse Sound, visits to the Sanctuary are conducted during our Narwhal and Polar Bear Safari.

The island is nesting habitat for large numbers of Thick-billed Murres and Black-legged Kittiwakes. Moist lowland tundra on the island welcomes migrating songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl. Bylot Island has the largest breeding colony of Greater Snow Geese in the Canadian High Arctic. A total of 74 unique species of arctic birds thrive can be seen on the island.

Birders are welcome in the autumn too.

Our Autumn Caribou and Northern Lights Safari is an opportunity to visit the transitional boreal landscape of southern Nunavut. As the caribou migrate so does the Lapland Larkspur, one of the birds you can see on this expedition.

Prime Bird Watching Season

The Snowy Owl, the Raven and the Ptarmigan are the only bird species to winter in the eastern Canadian Arctic. However about 100 species of birds migrate to the region annually. May through August is the prime birding season.

Our Arctic Weekend Getaways are affordable options for birders who want to visit the Far North during prime birding season. Iqlauit, on Baffin Island, is a mere 3-hours from Ottawa, by direct flight. Fly from Ottawa Friday morning and you will be birding on the tundra by lunch time.

Call us (1 888 737 6818 toll free in North America) to learn more about your birding options in the Canadian Arctic.

Pan Am Games work around when travelling to Baffin Island

July 6th, 2015 | By | Filed in Current Events

Iqaluit Northern LightsFrom June 10 to 26 and from August 7 to 15, , Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe region are hosting the 2015 Pan Am Games. Seven thousand athletes and a quarter million visitors are expected. Needless to say there will be a strain on all transportation systems, including flights.

Ottawa is the gateway to Baffin Island: Toronto is not the only gateway to Ottawa

We recommend that you fly to Ottawa via Montreal, Quebec, if you are planning a visit to Iqaluit and Baffin Island during the dates of the Games. Montreal is a major international gateway with an excellent airport. If you are arriving from Paris, London or San Francisco, you will find convenient connecting flights to Ottawa. There are plenty of hotels surrounding Pierre Elliott Trudeau International (YUL).

Take the Train

There are as many as 12 departures a day between Montreal and Ottawa by VIA Rail, Canada’s passenger rail service. The Dorval train station is a short distance from the Montreal airport (YUL). It is a comfortable alternate. Plan to spend a night in Ottawa before catching your northbound flight, if you choose this method.

Add to your Pan Am Games visit a weekend in the Arctic

Plan to extend your stay in Canada by adding a weekend in the Arctic. Iqaluit, the capital of Canada’s eastern Arctic is only a 3-hour direct flight from Ottawa. If you catch our 9 AM Friday flight from Ottawa, you’ll be in the Arctic by lunch time. Our 2 night, 3 day Arctic Weekend Getaway is an extraordinary value. A return flight from Ottawa to Iqaluit is normally $2,500 a person. Our package includes the flight, 2 nights hotel, a city orientation tour, taxes and airport transfers in Iqaluit at a per person cost of $1,516. Yes. You read that correctly. You’ll save $984 per person!

What does land-based mean when describing an Arctic adventure?

June 25th, 2015 | By | Filed in Uncategorized

You have narrowed your choice of vacation destinations to the Canadian Arctic. En route to that decision you visited a lot of websites, asked questions on Facebook and watched travel programs. You did your homework!

Land-based or Ship-based?

The next decision you must make is the style of vacation: ship-based – a cruise; or land-based – staying on the land, usually in one place, for an extended period of time. They have things in common:

  • Once you have boarded a ship, or arrived at base camp, conveniently, you unpack once.
  • Professional chefs prepare gourmet meals from local ingredients that make your mouth water.
  • There are a team of people charged with ensuring your safety, comfort and fun!

The difference

Land-based TripsDuring a land-based trip to the Arctic, you will get to meet the locals, really meet the locals. Arctic Kingdom’s land-based adventures employ skilled-guides from local communities. We explore their neighbourhoods. (Some neighbourhood, eh?) A land-based expedition allows you to become intimately familiar with one locale. You never feel as if you are passing through.

Another significant difference is the way wildlife react to the sound of ship engines in the North. Centuries of hunting has instilled a wariness in narwhal and other marine mammals. Silence is a tool for viewing wildlife during a land-based Arctic adventure. We may make a noise getting to a wildlife viewing spot known to our local team members. Once we are there, however, we can sit silently and wait. There isn’t a “next port of call” that limits our stay.

Expedition Leader Report from the Field: June 13 to 19, 2015

June 23rd, 2015 | By | Filed in Uncategorized

Narwhal, Paul NicklenExpedition Leader Jane Whitney shares another report from the field.”

The spirit of adventure describes being open to what the week out on the floe edge will offer, as every trip is different. When you travel with an open mind, you are able to receive all the unexpected experiences that are worth their weight in gold.

On our last Great Migrations Safari of the season

We found adventure when our local guides were able to float our qamutiks (sleds) across the open lead we had just paddled to reach the floe edge. We watched the newly arrived delicate Red Phalaropes. En-route, we watched how a Polar Bear sniffs out a Ring Seal through the pack ice, and waits patiently at the breathing hole for it to surface. Well, almost patiently – it sat down, like a puppy dog, then flat out laid down and fell asleep.

We were also witness to the miracle of a spring solstice tide which took away 7 km of pack ice in a single night, giving us a new floe edge with wide open water. We parked ourselves right next to where we spotted some narwhal resting on the surface. We watched as the water exploded with Narwhal everywhere, hundreds of them coming up from their deep dives, some with 9 to 10 foot tusks, lifting them to clear other Narwhal from one side to the other, only meters from the edge. The spectacle lasted nearly a couple of hours. There was no need to remind anyone to be quiet. We were all speechless.

This trip was a good reminder of what life was like for the Inuit who, for centuries, depended on wildlife to survive. A late spring, with too much ice, or even just a small change in an animal’s migration could spell disaster. To have the wildlife arrive brings renewed life. It is incredulous how the Inuit can laugh where we would panic. Life is so much better when you laugh.

Return to Arctic Bay

On the return to Arctic Bay, we stop into Tangmaarvik where Dexter’s, one of our guides, great grandmother lived half of a century ago. It is south facing here, warm, with a beautiful view of Strathcona Sound and Admiralty Inlet. The first of the spring flowers have shown their purple and yellow colours, while the newly arrived Horned Lark sings. Lemmings scurry in the grasses.

We count nearly a dozen Thule style winter house sites, alongside the more modern sod and wood frame house sites. We contemplate how peaceful life must have been for the families who lived here, before being re-located to Arctic Bay in the sixties. Dexter’s great grandmother is the oldest elder in Arctic Bay, recently celebrating her 95th birthday. She chooses to still live in a small shed, the size of the sod house she left in Tangmaarvik. She can reach everything from her bed. We watch her chew the leather for the mitts she makes, and enjoy the heat from her qulliq (a traditional oil lamp). Her pot over her qulliq heats her Snow Goose soup. The wick making the long flame across the qulliq is made from dandelion seed. We need to duck to enter through her small door, where the pot of char rests which her grandkids brought.

Walking the dirt road here in Arctic Bay, looking up at the red Cambrian rock, it’s hard to think about leaving for down south. The spirit of the North can make it’s way into your soul, begging you to return time and time again.

Jane Whitney
Great Migrations of the NW Passage

Thule People: Ancestors of the Inuit

June 23rd, 2015 | By | Filed in INUIT

From the first century to 1600, the Thule people inhabited Baffin Island and the Canadian Arctic. They are recognized as the ancestors of the current indigenous population – the Inuit.

They adapted to the environment by hunting marine mammals in open water. The dragged floats attached to harpoon lines. The Thule introduced dogs to pull sleds. They also introduced large boats (umiaks) covered in animal skin for hunting whales.

Thule siteDuring the winter months, according to archaeological studies, he Thule lived in houses with stone foundations slightly buried in the ground. They used the ribs of bowhead whales to support the skin that covered the roofs.

Over time, evidence indicates that the ancestors of the Inuit began to use land-based resources, broadening the kind of food they consumed.

From where did the Thule come?

Researchers at the University of Waterloo Archeaology Department suggest they migrated across the Canadian Arctic from Alaska.Their ancestors may have been the Choris, Norton and Ipiutak peoples, also known as the Norton tradition.

If the word Global warming, around 1,000 years ago, may have made the migration possible. Bowhead whales, the largest inhabiting the Arctic Ocean were fundamental to the survival of the people of the Norton tradition. The whales migrated eastward, so did the people who depended on them for survival.

Thule seems familiar, it is a small Greendlandic community. It was there that the culture was first classified.

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