If you’re researching your upcoming Arctic expedition, you might be asking yourself “what countries make up the Arctic?”Unlike Antarctica, what’s known as “the Arctic” cannot be confined to a single land mass at one end of the globe.
Nansen Weber has had access to the Arctic as his photography playground his entire life. Spending most summers in his youth exploring Baffin Island with his family and Inuit friends, he grew up with the spectacle of the Canadian Arctic as his muse.
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!
Imagine vast expanses of sky, free from air and light pollution, with even low magnitude stars are visible to the naked eye and a dizzying array of lights dance overhead. The polar regions are home to some of the most fantastic and original photography opportunities on the planet. However, conditions can make these areas among the most challenging for photographers, as well.
Feature photo: Bettman/Corbis
After more than 160 years of searching, the Government of Canada announced this week that a Canadian team has located one of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated Arctic exploration ships, just off King William Island.
Written by Colin Stump.
Social media has drowned us in superlatives. Amazing, OMG, fantastic, awesome, etc etc. So, how can I possibly recount a recent adventure in the Arctic without recourse to the same?