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 this 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 and walrus 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 at the flanks of Admiralty Inlet.
This tour involves camping on the ice and we get you there directly upon arrival, so you waste no time getting out on to the ice!
Day 0: Arrival in Ottawa
We’ll all arrive to Ottawa at various times but will plan to 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 narwhals & polar bears tour to Arctic Bay. Night in Ottawa.
Day 1: Travel to Arctic Bay and the floe edge
We’ll board our flight with guests and luggage 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 an approximately 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 trip to the floe edge itself, just off Cape Crawford. This will be our morning routine for our coming 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 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, ice conditions and weather conditions, but will involve a 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.
Day 6: Return to Arctic Bay
We make a final foray back to the floe edge if it is close enough to allow us to go there and then travel back to the community. 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. Our narwhal & polar bear tour comes to a close, but we'll have many fond memories from our adventure in the high Arctic.
Departures & Prices
Tour Price Includes
- 1 night in the hotel, 5 nights comfortable camping near floe edge (equipment provided)
- Ground transportation
- Travel by komatik (sled) to/from the floe edge
- Includes all meals from dinner on Day 1 to lunch on Day 7
- Eagle-Eye Tours guide plus local Inuit guides
Tour Price Does Not Include
- Round-trip airfare from Ottawa to Arctic Bay (2023 price is $3,795 CAD + 13% tax | $3,060 USD + 13% tax)
- Mandatory Emergency Medical and Trip Interruption Insurance
- Accommodation in Ottawa prior to the start of the tour and after the tour.
- Items of a personal nature
- Taxes (5% GST)
- Additional expenses in the event of flight delays.
What to Expect
What to Expect
Every year at the floe is different because the ice reforms every winter, but this is a relatively reliable tour to see narwhal as the ice is melting back and they are foraging under the ice.
Late May and early June is still cold in the Arctic. Temperatures may not be much above freezing and it could snow, but warm layered clothing along with the waterproof boots should keep you warm. It is usually sunny though and the sun is up 24 hours, so bring sunscreen. We will provide all the necessary camping equipment including a mattress and a warm sleeping bag for the nights camping. We sleep in “Arctic Oven” tents. They are relatively tall so you can easily sit up in them and you may be able to stand, depending on the tent and your stature. Single travellers get their own tent for an additional fee. There are small propane heaters in our sleeping tents. We have larger tents at the camp that we use for dining and cooking. Our toilet is set up inside a tent near the camp and we bring a toilet and tent when we are out for the day on the ice. We aim to make the camping as comfortable as possible. We are happy to accommodate dietary requests for our meals at the camp, but we require this information at least 60 days prior to the tour. There is a generator for charging electronics in the evening when we are back at the camp. Please get in touch if you have any questions.
Our top priority on our Arctic Bay polar bear and narwhal tour is to find narwhal! Often this means we need to sit and wait at the floe edge. In the meantime, we are always happy to watch for whatever other mammals and birds my come by for a visit! We will also get an opportunity to learn more about life in the far north from our welcoming Inuit hosts.
Walking is mostly easy, but you will be walking on ice and on some small hills and uneven tundra. While most of our time is at the floe edge, we may have a chance for an excursion on land if we have already had a great day of wildlife viewing and we are camped close to the land.
Travel from the community to the camp will take several hours and travel from the camp to the floe edge will generally take an hour or more depending on where the floe edge forms and the ice conditions.
While we have outlined the detailed itinerary, this schedule and our daily activities will be very dependent on the daily weather and ice conditions as well as possible schedule changes from the airline. In addition, we cannot guarantee single occupancy in our hotel in Arctic Bay. We reserve the flights for you and pay for them on your behalf. Tour dates are not confirmed until we can confirm the flight schedule.
Please note that the deposit for this tour is $1000 CAD/USD. Due to the remote nature of this tour and the high cost of evacuation, emergency medical insurance is required on this tour.
Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
Both trips are very similar. On both trips you are travelling by komatik each day, (a wooden sled pulled behind a snowmobile), to the floe edge, where you will spend your days looking for wildlife with your Eagle-Eye Tours guide and local Inuit guides. The chances of seeing narwhals and polar bears is the same on both trips. We feel the chance of seeing beluga whales is higher in Arctic Bay. The birdlife is very similar in both locations. The chance of seeing walrus or bowhead whales is equivalent in both locations.
In Arctic Bay, some of the tents you sleep in are taller and have a small propane heater, but not all of them. In Pond Inlet, you are in an expedition dome tent. You can sit up in these tents, but you cannot stand. They are unheated and you need to crawl in and out of the tent under the vestibule. You sleep on a thick mattress on the floor of the tent and we provide warm sleeping bags to keep you comfortable.
Depending on the ice conditions and where the floe edge forms, the travel from the camp to the floe edge is typically longer each day on the Arctic Bay tour (1.5 hrs+ each way).
Even though we cannot guarantee a sighting of the animals below, we feel quite confident that an encounter with the ones listed below is quite likely.
- Polar Bear
- Thick-billed Murre
- Northern Fulmar
- King Eider
- Pomarine Jaeger
- Long-tailed Jaeger
Past Tour Checklists
Past Tour Checklists
View the list of birds and other wildlife we encountered on our past tours.