23 November 2016
2016 Expeditions

Nansen’s recent photo journey on Lancaster Sound

In August, I (Nansen Weber) left the Arctic Watch Lodge to pursue my goal to film orca predation on narwhal in the Canadian High Arctic with my DJI Inspire 1 drone. We planned to spend two weeks chasing the ocean’s top predator on Lancaster Sound.  The journey didn’t start smoothly because just before departure, I crashed my drone on the shores of the Northwest Passage near Arctic Watch. It is really difficult to get drone parts to the High Arctic quickly! On a chartered boat, I set out with my companion who photo identifies the orca that visit the High Arctic. 

(A large male orca breaching the surface. A male orca’s fin doesn’t  "sprout" to full size, until the age of 18) 

 

Only thirty to fifty transient orcas visit the High Arctic each season to profit from the rich abundance of food; seals, narwhals, beluga, walrus, and bowhead whales.  The orcas travel in family groups of five to twenty-five individuals. It has been confirmed using photo identification that the same family groups that return year after year. The orca travel to the High Arctic for approximately one month when the ocean is ice free and the orca can chase their prey.  Orca can travel up to two hundred and fifty kilometers in twenty-four hours. Spread a small number of whales over thousands of square kilometers of ocean with no plane to scout, it is a challenge to find the pods and stay with them. On top of that, boating during August in the High Arctic is a challenge to say the least; fall storms start to roll though, temperatures are dropping as sunlight hours get shorter.  The season can turn from fall to winter in a few hours. We were stranded on the shore for seven days during our two-week period, with 80 km/h winds battering us for days.  Polar bears visited us in the middle of the night, whom I had to chase away.  Our zodiac was thrown ashore by the waves and almost destroyed! Not an easy mission!

(The rugged shore line were I was able to video narwhale using my drone) 

 

The goal was to intercept family groups of orca and follow them and observe them corralling the narwhal into shallow water where they are able to pick out individuals to kill.  We photographed the orca for five days, this was a record number of sightings! I managed to film the pods with my drone on three occasions. We were extremely lucky, stumbling upon an orca pod finishing a narwhal carcass. There were chunks of blubber floating on the surface of the ocean.  The carcass had sunk below the surface and the orca would dive down to feast on the dead whale. It was an incredible wildlife scene! We had another close encounter when a pod corralled a group of narwhal on to shore. They were about to go in for the kill, when a local Inuit hunter entered the scene to take advantage of the narwhal in shallow water. This frightened the orca frightened off. It was very disappointing and the last time we saw the whales.

  

(Curious male polar bear we encountered during our search for the orca) 

I did not manage to film the orca hunting however we certainly had an exceptional time viewing the hundreds of narwhal migrating the coast. I had the opportunity to swim with narwhal, it was an amazing experience. Lancaster Sound offers stunning scenery; cliffs, ice, polar bears, seals, bowhead whales, narwhal and birds. I look forward to returning for the photographic hunt again! 

Stay tuned for a video! 

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