Seeing animals in their natural habitat is incredible. One morning we woke to "polar bear off the starboard side" This bear put on quite a show, walking on the ice floe, stamping to break through a bit of the ice, starting at us, then swimming to another flow.
We often saw birds, the thick billed murres who take several tries until they manage to take off from the water. Their wings are too small for their round bodies so they have to flap them very fast and fly at tremendous speed in order to stay aloft. We saw them nesting on the cliffs of Bylot Island. The cliff side was packed with murres, kittiwakes and guillemots.
Fulmars and other birds often flew near our ship.
On a sunny day off Devon Island we saw a walrus sunning himself. He did not seem perturbed by our ship, though when we were very close he slipped into the water and kept his head below the surface while his back stuck out.
In the zodiacs we came near seals, once surprising a group of about 15. Andrew Qappik, a wonderful artist from Pangnirtung and a hunter was always the first to spot the animals and would know where they would resurface. You can see some of his work here.
Many of the animals in the arctic depend on the lemmings which have years when they are plentiful and then the population drops to start the cycle again. This was definitely a year of sparse rodent population and so the predators were also less abundant - both the mammals and birds that prey on them.
What will happen as the temperature warms in the Arctic? There are already concerns for the polar bears as the sea ice melts and the ice floes are not thick enough to support their weight. Polynyas (areas that stay open in the polar oceans) may not open or may be blocked by ice jams making it impossible for whales to find places to come up and breathe. Will they move further south or will their numbers decline? The polynyas are areas with a lot of nutrients as the water cycles naturally from the bottom of the sea bringing nutrients to the surface. Losing them could be disastrous. The Arctic is a fragile place. Permafrost melt can mean major changes. The climate has always changed on Earth as the continents have drifted, but now we are contributing and the changes seem to be happening faster. Walk gently on the Earth.
More photos: click here