Bowhead whales at 11 o’clock, more at 9 o’clock. They were appearing everywhere around us, with bursts of air from their heavy breath, mist spraying a dozen feet in the crisp Arctic air sparkling in the summer sun. A powerful noise made by a dozen whales surrounding you. The sound of a giant grumbling while stirring in his disturbed slumber followed by the blurting noise of an exasperated horse. Staring out at the Arctic mirage on the horizon across the vast expanse of nothingness, these mammoth beasts bring a sense of calm as they break the silence temporarily by their slow movements as they rise and sink below the surface. There were dozens around the edge of the ice blockade waiting for it to break away at any moment and allow passage through to continue on their migration. We were lucky to see such a spectacle and then to add to the more than memorable experience I’m sure everyone will always cherish, one loan whale began breaching and slapping his tail. It appeared to just be frolicking as it leapt out of the water creating quite the splash followed by the smack of his tail, the noise carrying for hundreds of meters. By the next day, they had gotten what they wanted and the majority had disappeared finding their passage through.
Onwards to the next King of the Arctic. It was the third day, my second out on the boats. The wind had picked up creating quite choppy waters compared to the placidness of a couple days prior. I was beginning to nod off even as the waves slammed us up and down, exhaustion setting in tremendously. Sure enough a wave came over the side sending the icy water straight down my back doing a fine job of waking me up. Now shivering, it wasn’t long before we had spotted a polar bear on a large chunk of sea ice and I had forgotten about the cold.
He noticed us as well and in no time he vanished. Knowing he couldn’t have gone too far, we took the boat around the ice to see if we could spot him again. He seemed gone until our guide saw his head bobbing in the water as he was attempted to escape unseen. We crept up closer than I thought possible since I had heard of these huge animals being able to launch themselves out of the water. Ultimately he simply just wanted to get away from us and continue in peace. He swam directly for the closest mass of ice, climbed up exposing his true size. Once up he gave us a disgruntled look and without another thought was running out of sight. I thought I had gotten as close as I ever would to a polar bear in Pond Inlet on my previous expedition, but now within a few meters proximity, I guess you never know. Now it was like a challenge… how close could I get?
Now the fifth and final day for the excursions out on the boats and a long day it would become. Everyone was bound and determined to find some walrus, but no matter the determination that really means nothing to the wildlife. It’s all about putting yourself in the prime location and the rest is primarily luck. The waters were rough today and it had been nearly 7 or so hours already with nothing but an ass pounding ride. I think everyone’s hopes were wearing thin, so we had stopped for a late lunch to hopefully boost some moral on a small island. Around it was a mine field of sea ice so the guides were hopeful. One last shot at searching them out as it was already a 3 hour ride back to camp as is. Beginning to nod off again on the front of the boat, I was in between slumber and reality when a buzz of excitement brought me to. Sure enough, success. There they were. A couple dozen of the prehistoric looking beasts all huddled together on a single piece of ice.
Slowly approaching before turning off the engines so as not to rouse them, our guide then began paddling inch by inch closer and closer. As we crept closer it was like walking close to a cow barn, the smell entering your nostrils however faint, but upon entering it the stench took over as we got within mere meters of these unique mammals. The ivory tusks gleaming in the golden hue put off by the sun, their bloodshot glare piercing as they stared at as with discomfort of our proximity. Letting out irritated groans and blurts they slowly became agitated enough to steam roll into the waters where thet felt they had more control of their situation. They began splashing and moaning as one almost like creating a small wave pool in an attempt I only assume to intimidate and exert their dominance. Not wanting to disturb them more than we had, we began to move away. The ice left brown, they remained in the water until we were far enough away. The whole time they made me think of them as the Homer Simpson of the animal kingdom. Lazy, obese, smelly, but potentially aggressive if provoked.
Initially not being signed on for this expedition, I couldn’t have been happier to be a part of it. Not only because from my side of things the food was a success with my good friend helping me in this aspect, but more importantly I got to experience another place in the Arctic that was so different from the places I had the pleasure of exploring previously. Wildlife encounters that I would never have believed possible before working with Arctic Kingdom and I only look forward to future expeditions in 2017 and the years to follow. Until then, I will cherish the experiences I have been given in all my expeditions thus far.