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FIELD REPORT: POLAR BEAR ON THE FLOE EDGE

We just said goodbye to our first group of guests of the season. Already, the wildlife seen from around the lodge and on the tundra has us excited for what the summer has to offer. Here is a quick snapshot of a day out on the floe edge at Arctic Watch.

The season here at Arctic Watch is already in full swing. The first staff members arrived nearly a month ago, in early June, as the midnight sun slowly coaxed the grips of winter to retreat. For just a few months of the year, Arctic Watch welcomes guests from around the world to experience the Arctic at our lodge on Somerset Island.

Arctic Watch in early July
Arctic Watch in early July

Our first week of guests was a success with great wildlife sightings right from day one. Before noon, we had already seen muskoxen, rough-legged hawks, and an arctic hare darting along the snow followed shortly after by an arctic fox. Our first polar bear sighting of the year was made by Tessum and Nansen when out guiding a group on the floe edge. In early July, the ice of the Northwest Passage breaks free from land and the floe edge which forms along the north shore of Somerset Island is a great place to observe wildlife (birds, polar bears, seals).

Scouting for polar bears
Scouting for polar bears

The two Webers’ left camp on ATV’s with an eager group keen to cover long distances and see wildlife. With the ice in Cunningham Inlet still three meters thick, it was possible to drive the ATV’s onto the frozen ocean and across the inlet.

Crossing the ice, the group saw dozens of seals as they basked in the sun outside their holes. In the distance, big pans of ice floated lazily along the Northwest Passage and eider ducks swam along the floe edge. With an abundance of wildlife, it is no wonder that ancient Thule sites line the coastal shores of Cunningham Inlet. Well preserved after 500+ years exposed to the elements, the group visited some of these historic sites which offer an entirely new appreciation of the reality of survival in the Arctic.

Turning the corner around Gifford Point, the white plumage of a snowy owl stood out against the stark grey backdrop. Less than fifty feet away, the snowy owl looked on. Already this year we have been lucky to see several snowy owls, foxes and a flurry of tracks and activity. A great sign that a healthy lemming population is sustaining these iconic animals. While the group turned their back to the passage and observed the snowy owl on land, Nansen kept his eye on the ice. With a new pair of Swarovski Optik 12x50 binoculars he quickly spotted a light yellow head bobbing through the pressure ridges. A few hundred meters away, the young polar bear was healthy and clearly had no trouble hunting seals. For nearly forty-five minutes the group watched the polar bear as he would drift in and out of the fog.

Observing a curious polar bear near Arctic Watch!
Observing a curious polar bear near Arctic Watch!

Tessum: “The spring floe edge on Baffin that forms in early July is fantastic for wildlife. We had the perfect polar bear sighting: We started at several hundred meters, watching the bear through our binoculars. The bear ended up approaching in a curious manner but stayed a safe distance from our group. She was likely a four or 5-year old female. We spent quite a while watching the gorgeous young bear on the ice, as she slept, stretched out, rolled around and eventually walked off!”

Our second group of guests have just arrived and are back on the ice again today. They have already seen belugas and two polar bears- all before noon!

Photo credits: Nansen Weber

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