Narwhals & Polar Bears: Arctic Bay

7 Days from
$8,495 CAD | $7,150 USD
Canada
Land Tour
Highlights

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
Map

Map

Tour 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

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

Departures

What's Included

Tour 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 Does Not Include

  • Round-trip airfare from Ottawa to Arctic Bay (2022 price is $2,775 CAD / $2,330 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
  • Additional expenses in the event of flight delays.

What to Expect

Every year at the floe is different because the ice reforms every winter, but this is a very 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 cot and a warm sleeping bag for the nights camping. We sleep in “Arctic Oven” tents. Single travelers get their own tent. You can stand up in these tents and you sleep on a cot that is about 18” (45 cm) off the floor. 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. 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 should have a chance for an excursion on land if we have already had a great day of wildlife viewing.

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. Our groups may overlap in the camp, but each group will have a guide. 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.

Featured Wildlife

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.

  • Narwhal
  • Polar Bear
  • Thick-billed Murre
  • Gyrfalcon
  • Northern Fulmar
  • King Eider
  • Pomarine Jaeger
  • Long-tailed Jaeger
  • Northern Wheatear
  • Common Ringed Plover (mid-June tour only)