The seventh and southernmost continent was the last to be discovered and remains a source of fascination and inspiration to all who encounter it.
As a premier provider of Antarctic expeditions, we consider the Quark team and our passengers stewards of the incredible environments we are privileged to visit. As such, we take great pride in supporting the work of organizations like South Georgia Heritage Trust, caretakers of the historic Grytviken church and leaders of the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project.
The ambitious £7.5 million Habitat Restoration Project aims to reverse the ecological destruction caused by invasive rodents, which were introduced by sealers and whalers to South Georgia over the last two centuries. Climate change is also wreaking havoc on the delicate island, causing the retreat of its glaciers, which in turn allows rats to gain a stronger foothold in the area.
Photo credit: Samantha Crimmin
They may be remote, but there’s plenty to see on the Antarctic archipelagos of South Orkney and South Shetland Islands.
Vacations aren’t supposed to be stressful. Yet sometimes we create stress for ourselves by planning an overly elaborate trip at an overly crowded destination, going to great lengths to please everyone.
Here’s a solution: reward yourself by traveling on your own with Quark Expeditions, to one of the most remote (and fun) locations on Earth – Antarctica!
Image credit: Fokus
Beechey Island in Canada's high Arctic is a small island rich in history and a favorite landing for Quark Expeditions passengers. Part of the Canadian Arctic archipelago of Nunavut, it's actually a peninsula connected to the larger Devon Island. The peninsula was named for famed explorer Sir William Beechey and is a stop on several of our expeditions including In the Footsteps of Franklin, Northwest Passage: Franklin's Legend, and Epic High Arctic: Baffin Island Explorer.
High above the Arctic Circle, the inlet at the mouth of the river running through the barren tundra on Somerset Island, Nunavut, comes alive each summer. Pods of hundreds of beluga whales, from the air, resemble something out of a science fiction movie.
It's an almost unbelievable sight: close to 2,000 majestic white belugas, nicknamed "sea canaries" for their high-pitched whistles and clicking, play and parade for visitors at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, a beluga whale watching hotspot.
Belugas are an Arctic whale species, distinct in their white color and absence of a dorsal fin. They live in the Arctic and subarctic waters along the northern coasts of Canada, Alaska, Russia, Norway and Greenland. Though their habitat of choice is certainly isolated, belugas are social and playful creatures with few natural predators.
Cunningham Inlet, at Somerset Island, Nunavut, is one of the best places on earth to watch belugas, which return every summer and stay until August. Whale watchers can get up close and personal with the creatures, often within mere feet while standing on the shoreline. They pay no mind to their snap-happy, camera-toting visitors – in fact, many even put on a show for their human friends.
What makes Cunningham Inlet such a hotspot for beluga whales? They come to mate, raise their young and bask in the Arctic midnight sun, but researcher David St. Aubin discovered a more compelling attraction for the wales. St. Aubin spent decades traveling back and forth from Cunningham Inlet to his work in the south and other research projects in the tropics. He was the first to document that a whale could moult and that this was the reason for the belugas’ attraction to Cunningham Inlet. Every July, he noted, they came to rub their old, yellowed skin in the shallows of the inlet, revealing the snow-white epidermis beneath. Belugas have incredibly thick skin, about ten times thicker than that of dolphins.
Experts estimate that approximately 72,000 to 144,000 belugas live in Canadian waters, between the Beaufort Sea in the western Arctic, Baffin Bay in the high Arctic, the eastern Arctic waterways including Hudson Bay, and in the St. Lawrence Estuary.
In summer, belugas gather for several weeks in estuaries, where a river and an ocean meet, and congregate in the warmer, shallow waters. In winter, they must stay with the open water, keeping ahead of shifting ice in order to maintain access to air.
Viewing belugas at Cunningham Inlet is a once in a lifetime opportunity, especially since they travel such great distances in deep water each spring and fall. Some migrations take the whales over 2000km, diving deep and often – typically up to 800 metres – for food.
Belugas arrive at Cunningham Inlet as soon as the first ice breaks, which is usually around the second week of July, and stay until mid-August. You'll see plenty of mothers with their newborn or yearling calves as well as a juvenile, who seems to serve as an attendant to the young family.
Research into beluga biology and behaviors continues at Cunningham Inlet, through the non-profit Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation. On top of scientific research, the foundation has created a unique research program for young adults, which invites young adults including Inuit youth from Nunavut to participate in research conducted by Mystic Aquarium.
Beluga watching from the shores of the Cunningham River, whether for research, photography, or recreation, is a unique and joyful experience. Our 10-day Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge expedition gives you ample time and opportunity to sit alongside these incredible creatures and observe them in their natural Arctic habitat, just a 15-minute walk from the lodge.
Contact us to learn more about beluga watching at the top of the world in 2015 and beyond!