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Narwhals & Polar Bears: Arctic Bay

  1. 2022
    Monday, May 23, 2022 to Sunday, May 29, 2022
    Tour Duration: 
    7 days
    Tour Price:
     $8,495 CAD, $7,150 USD
    Tour Starts/Ends: 
    Ottawa, ON
    + 5% GST Flights are additional (see below). The deposit for this tour is $1000 CAD/USD.
    Number of Persons Limit: 
    7
  2. 2022
    Monday, May 30, 2022 to Sunday, June 5, 2022
    Tour Duration: 
    7 days
    Tour Price:
     $8,495 CAD, $7,150 USD
  3. 2022
    Sunday, May 29, 2022 to Saturday, June 4, 2022
    Tour Duration: 
    7 days
    Tour Price:
     $8,495 CAD, $7,150 USD
  4. 2022
    Thursday, June 2, 2022 to Wednesday, June 8, 2022
    Tour Duration: 
    7 days
    Tour Price:
     $8,495 CAD, $7,150 USD
Highlights

• Watching narwhals, the unicorn of the sea, at close range

• Seeing many other unique and fascinating mammals and birds

• Travel through a stunning mountain landscape under the midnight sun

• The opportunity to learn about life in the far north from our Inuit hosts

Overview

Stark landscapes, shimmering ocean fiords, seabirds, shorebirds and songbirds, narwhal, beluga, polar bear and more, enjoyed amid a warm Inuit culture – these are the highlights of our new floe edge tour at the far northern tip of Baffin Island.

Arctic Bay is the third most northerly community in Canada. Located at the entrance to Sirmilik National Park, this community is sandwiched between ocean and mountain environments. The tundra here harbours birds that are not found regularly farther south: Common Ringed Plover, Purple Sandpiper, Red Knot, Rock Ptarmigan and more. Out at the floe edge, we have a chance to see all three species of jaeger, and possibly even Ivory Gull. More regular species are Thick-billed Murre, Black-legged Kittiwake, and King and Common Eider.

Mammals are common here, with narwhal, polar bear, Ringed and Bearded Seals being the most likely. Beluga Whales are also possible. The action is focused at the floe edge, where the “fast ice” ends and is brushed by chunks—some large, some small—of moving floe ice driven by wind and rich upwelling currents. Normally, we sit very close to the edge and wait for wildlife to pass by, however we are reminded to turn and face back toward land from time to time to marvel at the peaks and glaciers at the flanks of Admiralty Inlet.

This tour involves comfortable camping on the ice and we get you there directly upon arrival, so you waste no time seeing all the floe edge has to offer!

See our other Narwhal & Polar Bear tours: Narwhals & Polar Bears: Pond Inlet, Narwhals & Polar Bears: Naujaat.

Read Lev Frid's blog post about birding at the floe edge.

We also have a Narwhals & Polar Bear tours to Naujaat and a Narhwals & Polar Bear tour to Pond Inlet.

Itinerary View Short Itinerary

Day 0: Arrival in Ottawa

We’ll all arrive to Ottawa at various times but will rendezvous for dinner this evening at or near our airport hotel. This will give us a chance to go over expectations (most of which we’ll try to meet!) for our impending floe edge trip. Night in Ottawa.

Day 1: Travel to Arctic Bay and the floe edge

We’ll board our flight with guests and cargo (we bring up the food, too!) for a flight to Iqaluit, at the south end of Baffin Island, and will have a short layover there. There may be enough time for a walk around town for some birding. Next, we fly northwest to Arctic Bay, at the northern extreme of Baffin.

This tour is unique as we head directly to our camp near the floe edge, making for a longer day but with the 24-hour daylight we usually have a surplus of energy. Plus, we arrive more quickly to our objective! There may be some time to spare while the guides load and sort the final gear piles, so guests can mingle with the locals or walk on the near-shore ice. As soon as possible, we will depart on a four-hour journey north on Admiralty Inlet, to where the currents of Lancaster Sound create the floe edge. Cameras should be at the ready for this commute!

We use komatiks, or sledges, expertly towed by our Inuit guides on their snowmobiles. Once we arrive at camp, they’ll will set up the sleeping tents and mess tent if they are not up already, while we take in the surroundings. This includes some fairly multi-hued mountains carved by ancient glaciers. The massive Brodeur Peninsula looms to the west and we are near, but not quite at, the floe edge. Once we’re finally situated we can really get to know our guides and hear their stories over a filling, warm meal. Our tents are equipped with propane heaters to keep you cozy even if the temperate dips below freezing (it usually hovers at or just above zero C).  

Days 2–5: Floe edge

This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Once we’re fed and geared up, we’ll set off on a short trip to the floe edge itself, just off Cape Crawford. This will be our morning routine for five days: Wake up, drink coffee, eat breakfast and gear up for an exhilarating day trip. Oh, and maybe watch a polar bear stride past camp. We’ll follow our guides’ lead, as they understand best how to read the wildlife and ice movements to get us in the best position between the “fast” ice and the “pack” ice or open water. Since ice conditions are dynamic we may be in different areas each day. Once in place, we set up chairs, an underwater microphone, an outhouse and snack trays for a day of wildlife wonder. We may share the area with local hunters and see firsthand how it is to make a living of the land up here. Generally, it’s a far out place.

Narwhal move through on migration, and so do belugas, which are less common. Narwhals, with their lance-like “tusks” are about as close as it gets to spotting a mythical creature, so we can be forgiven for feeling like we’re in a fantasy! Soon enough, a brisk breeze coming off the arctic ocean no more than a metre away will bring us back to reality. A polar bear will have the same effect, and we hope to get good views of them at a respectable distance!

Bird-wise, we’re watching for Northern Fulmar, Black Guillemot, Thick-billed Murre, Common and King Eider, Long-tailed Duck, and Black-legged Kittiwake. These will be our most prominent fly-bys. However, we’ll be watching for other species, including smaller white and pink gulls. Ivory Gull is likely and they make for a great photo subject backlit by blue skies. Another possibility, albeit exceedingly rare, is Ross’s Gull if we get one of those cool northern breezes. For terrestrial birds, we’ll have a chance to explore the shoreline, where Purple Sandpiper, Snow Bunting and Long-tailed Jaeger can be found nesting.

Our activities will depend on the location of the floe edge and weather conditions, but will involve a short commute from camp. Each evening (you’ll have to look at your watch, because it won’t be getting dark), we will recount the day’s sightings in our cozy group tent where we’ll enjoy some warming fare. We may have a chance to try “country food:” Goose, seal or whale meat depending if any local hunters have had success.

Day 6: Return to Arctic Bay 

After one quick foray back to the floe edge, we’ll depart from this amazing landscape and return to Arctic Bay. But the excitement is not over, as the journey takes us past looming cliffs, deep-blue cracks in the ice, and powder-blue pools of water that create a mirage-like landscape. It will have a lasting memory for all, but may seem like a dream.   

We arrive back in town in time for dinner and the opportunity to walk around town in the evening. Arctic Bay has some nice birding around the town. Located on an isthmus with cliffs, shoreline and tundra, there is a variety of habitats to explore. One bird we’ll be on the lookout for is Common Ringed Plover, a Eurasian species that breeds in the northeastern Nearctic. Northern Wheatear is a possibility here, too. Night in Arctic Bay.

Day 7: Travel to Ottawa and onward

We have breakfast then catch our flight back to Ottawa, via Iqaluit, Nunavut, arriving in the evening. We recommend you plan for a night in Ottawa before returning home.

 

Map
Featured Wildlife