“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
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.
Fiercely dedicated to creating authentic and awe-inspiring travel experiences, Arctic Kingdom is the only tour operator offering land-based trips to the High Arctic. Through our unique combination of small groups, safari style arctic camps, expedition experts and only the most experienced Inuit guides, we ensure that your experience in the world’s most captivating place on earth is second to none.
This Spring we have a special offer of a free flight to Nunavut (a savings of up to CDN 2,600) making this no better time to book one of our summer departures! Join us at Pond Inlet, Nunavut for our Narwhal & Polar Bear Floe Edge Adventure June 7 – 11. Experience our safari style camp situated on the floe edge, where the frozen ocean meets the open ocean to create one of the Arctics most spectacular landscapes. Enjoy the warm Spring weather as you scout for Narwhals, Polar Bears, Bowhead Whales and Seals.
July 5 – 11 we travel to Foxe Basin to witness the spring Bowhead Whale migration, hunted nearly to extinction but slowly making a comeback. Join us to explore this region just south of the Hecla and Fury Straits to experience the ‘bowhead highway’.
Contract us for more information, or to reserve your spot. Stay informed of all special offers still to come by subscribing to our newsletter, it’s semi-monthly and we never share your email address with third parties.
Register now and reserve your spot now for the January 12 webinar highlighting our Baffin Island Trip. One of our newest trip destinations, this small cruiser boat-based trip departs in July, August, and September of 2011. You’ll travel in style along the Arctic coast, experiencing unique opportunities to photographer and view wildlife including bowhead whales and polar bears. This webinar is led by expedition leaders Kristyn Thoburn and Expedition Director Thomas Lennartz, who will be answering your questions and sharing exclusive images of what you can expect to see on this adventure.
Spaces are limited, sign up today to participate. Have questions? Email them ahead of time to thomasarctickingdomcom or ask them during the webinar.
Unable to tune in live? No problem! Our archive of past webinars is located here.
You may already know that the bowhead is one of the ten most endangered whales on the planet, but did you also know it they are the only baleen whales who spend their entire lives in Arctic seas? According to Wikipedia, there are rumors of these whales living from 150-200 years as well. With a small surviving population, the opportunity to view or dive with these beautiful animals is not to be missed.
Bowheads can easily be described as ‘highly vocal’, as this video demonstrates -
Check out our own example of a close encounter with one of these enormous creatures -
This trip is incredible! You’ll see the largest whales of the Arctic Ocean in their natural habitat, breaching, finning – from within a distance of mere meters. Also, herds of walrus, the chance to experience Inuit history and culture, all under the guidance of our knowledgeable and experienced team. Ask your questions during the webinar, or email them ahead of time to thomasarctickingdomcom. We look forward to talking to you!
Register here to participate, it’s free and a wonderful opportunity to hear about our trips straight from the source.
An update on our 2011 trips – if you are thinking of booking, now is a great time to do so.
Our floe edge trips we find always sell out first and the 2011 Narwhal and Polar Bear Floe Edge Adventure is no exception this year being once again one of our most popular trips. June departures are already 50% sold-out. If you are considering an Arctic trip for 2011 to visit a floe edge – in particular to see the mystical Narwhal, please contact us soon to reserve your spot. Trip departures are limited to only 8 participants. You can take advantage of our Special Booking offer if you book before November 25th.
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Tying in nicely with some of our current scheduled trips, which focus on viewing and appreciating Polar Bears in the wild; Nissan has released this sweet commercial, which speaks to the conservation-minded animal lover in all of us.
In those days, the now bright bulb of global climate warming was dimly lit, and its potential effects on polar bears and their habitats were poorly understood. James Hansen had given his famous testimony before Congress only a few years before, and as we all know it had not received the attention it deserved.
But, of course, in those days, our understandings were at a pretty low level. The observational record of sea ice change was short, and the causes of observed changes were only beginning to be understood.
The major declines in perennial sea ice that occurred in 1989 and 1990 were thought by many of us to be the result of a coincidence of natural factors, and it has been only with the benefit of our retrospective views and the increasing knowledge base that we can put those losses into proper perspective.
Similarly, climate modeling has improved by leaps and bounds in subsequent years.
To be the most effective advocate for polar bears, PBI needed to have its own polar bear expert. After almost 40 years as a researcher and 30 years studying polar bears, I wanted a pulpit from which I could effectively share and interpret the wisdom I have gained during that time. This seemed a very good fit.
Sled dogs on a 2006 expedition to Qaanaaq, Greenland
According to the International Federation for Sleddog Sports, the dog sledding tradition may stretch back “almost as long as the relationship between dogs and humans” in areas with predictable yearly snowfalls. As a dog person, I love that idea: Traveling along traditional Inuit hunting routes, we’ll be experiencing the old Arctic, following paths that have bound man and dog together for thousands of years.
The trip is also a photographer’s dream: Baffin Island is located along one of the richest marine areas in the Arctic Ocean. Though our routes and the wildlife we encounter will depend variables such as snow and ice conditions, we’re likely to travel along steep-walled fjords, along inland lakes and possibly even out to the floe edge, the border between ice and sea where marine animals congregate.
A pair of sled dogs near Lancaster Sound
Are you as excited as I am? Check out the expedition’s trip page for more information, including rates and a sample itinerary.