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Baffin Island (Canadian High Arctic)

AT A GLANCE

FOCUS

Bird & Wildlife Cruise:
birds, whales & dolphins, mammals, scenery, historical sites & photography.

WHERE

Iqaluit (Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada) – Arctic Circle – Isabella Bay – Pond & Navy Board Inlets – Prince Leopold & Beechey Islands – Resolute

SAMPLE WILDLIFE

Polar Bear, Musk Ox, Walrus, various Arctic seals, Bowhead, Narwhal, Beluga, Gyr Falcon, geese, ducks, auks, waders etc.

CLIMATE

summer Polar.

ACCOMMODATION

90+ passenger comfortable expedition ship. Cabins with, and without private facilities. 

Ice Whales and Polar Bears

While the history of the 300-year search for the Northwest Passage, which links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, is well documented, travellers in search of a polar adventure may be less aware of the huge variety and numbers of wildlife to be enjoyed during voyages through the Canadian High Arctic. WildWings have taken groups up here in the past, and in recent years some of our leaders have worked on ships in the region to gain us more experience.

Polar Bears, Musk Ox, Arctic Fox, Walrus, other seals, and the true Arctic whales, Bowhead, Beluga and the almost mythical Narwhal call this region home in summer. Add millions of breeding seabirds, geese and shorebirds, spectacular scenery, glaciers and icebergs and you have the recipe for a really memorable experience. With a little luck we should also encounter other High Arctic birds such as Sandhill Crane, Gyr Falcon, Snowy Owl plus Thayer’s, Ivory and Sabine’s Gulls.

Aaron Lawton, one of the ship’s Expedition Leaders, says it is possible to be truly inundated and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of marine mammals, polar bears and birdlife that can appear during these voyages.

“One afternoon at Beechey Island a few years back, we saw three Polar Bears; two white morph adult Gyrfalcons taking turns feeding their chick; three Beluga Whales swimming along the shoreline; a Bearded Seal poking its head up from time to time; hundreds of Harp Seals, thousands of Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Brunnich’s and a few Black Guillemots.  Plus, about a dozen Arctic Hare were easily visible even from the ship’s anchorage.”

 

This plethora of wildlife sightings is by no means an isolated experience as passengers on board the impressive ice-strengthened Vavilov will discover.  Using Zodiac inflatables, with the quietest of outboard motors, travelling upwind of a Polar Bear, it is possible to safely get within yards of these magnificent predators as they stroll along the shoreline.  And, with a real chance of seeing pods of Beluga and Bowhead Whales, a raft of Ringed, Harp or Bearded Seals, a herd of Walrus and staggering numbers of birds, many with chicks in various stages of fledging, it is certain to be a wildlife experience to remember. There is also a good chance of seeing the ‘unicorn of the seas’, bear in mind however Narwhals are notoriously shy, and will normally avoid any kind of human mechanical noises, ie engines. They are known to very occasionally come towards ships however, when being pursued by one of their main natural predators, Orcas. We have gained more recent information on these almost mythical animals to greatly increase our chances of having a good encounter with them.

We will sail along the east and then north coasts of Baffin Island before heading northwest towards the entrance to the legendary Northwest Passage, which also provides us with a fascinating opportunity to follow in the footsteps of a host of courageous polar explorers, including the ill-fated Sir John Franklin and Roald Amundsen, the first to successfully traverse the Northwest Passage.Ioffe’s sister ship, Vavilov, was part of the 2014 expedition which finally found the wreck ofHMS Erebus.

Additional highlights of this voyage include majestic, steep-sided fjords and massive tabular icebergs; the chance to visit remote Inuit communities and meet traditional peoples; and the opportunity to participate in hiking, kayaking (available for a supplement, please enquire), photographic and birding expeditions in the company of expert guides. The opportunities for wildlife and landscape photography are normally superb. Our ultimate wildlife success will be determined by ice conditions, which are of course in Mother Nature’s hands……

Our vessel for this expedition cruise will be one of our favourite ships, the Vavilov, built in 1989. With a maximum passenger capacity of 96, we can expect to make up to two landings and/or Zodiac cruises each day. She is very stable and a ‘scope and tripod can often be used on deck, whilst at sea. Originally built for scientific polar exploration, she has lots of open deck space in all directions, ideal for sea-watching and photography and is very quiet too, allowing for closer encounters with cetaceans. This ship has a high ice-class rating, and her experienced staff and crew are dedicated to ensuring that you have a successful, comfortable, safe and enjoyable trip and that you see as much of the wildlife as possible.  The Zodiac drivers will take us safely ashore, and also on more leisurely cruises as well, so we gain an even more intimate and unique perspective of the seabirds and mammals that live in this stunning wilderness.

The atmosphere on board is relaxing and informal and meals are taken at a single open sitting in the spacious dining room.  Western chefs produce an international choice of cuisine throughout the voyage. The cabins are comfortable and all have an outside view (porthole or window), desk and chair plus storage space and power points. All cabins (except the triples) include bathrobes, toiletry kits, a hairdryer and a tea/coffee maker. In addition, the suites also have a CD player/mini-stereo with Ipod dock (and use of the ship’s CDs), snack basket and bottle of wine on embarkation, vanity kit plus use of binoculars and a wildlife book. Other on board facilities include an fitness room, sauna and polar plunge pool, lounge, presentation room, multi-media room, gift shop and a well-stocked library.  The mud-room allows boots and outdoor coats to be kept by the Zodiac gangways. The spacious bridge is usually open for those who wish to learn about navigation, see the ship's charts, or simply sea watch in comfort and is stocked with wildlife ID guides. Your WildWings guide will be glued outside on deck, during the long hours of daylight when the ship is at sea, scanning and searching for wildlife. You will be welcome to join them for as long as you wish. 

Note we deem each participant should bring their own fieldscope and tripod for maximum wildlife enjoyment.

Close to Ottawa is Gatineau National Park, largely woodlands and wetlands, a great contrast to the lands further north. Subject to demand we can arrange a pre-cruising birding excursion, potential species include herons, ducks and waterfowl, woodpeckers including Pileated, thrushes, Cedar Waxwing, flycatchers, warblers and much more. Potential mammals include Striped Skunk, Woodchuk, Eastern Chipmunk and Racoon.

Our recce voyage was very successful. In addition to 19 Polar Bears (including one at very close range), we enjoyed watching Narwhals, several Bowheads, plus a variety of other cetaceans, 1000s of Harp Seals and an excellent selection of High Arctic birds. Our illustrated trip report and species list can be found above. A great day’s birding was also undertaken in Gatineau Park (again featured in the report) 

The 2017 sailing encountered some very heavy sea ice pushed onto the entire coast of east Baffin Island, plus thick fog for the first few days. In spite of these frustrations (that’s why these type of voyages are called Expedition Cruises….) our party enjoyed some superb Polar Bear encounters, especially a mother with two young very healthy cubs on a kill, floating on sea ice (see photo gallery) plus 20+ Narwhals were seen for some time in the North Arm of Coutt’s Inlet (like last years, ‘scopes were required for best views) but Bowheads were only briefly seen on three occasions by a few people. Both Sperm Whales and Orcas were seen this year however. The latter part of the expedition yielded some great Walrus and on the last landing, a nesting family of Gyr Falcons were enjoyed. Both Ivory and Sabine’s Gulls were recorded this year, which we missed last year. (Next year’s sailing is a little later, and should be less affected by early summer pack ice……)

This remote wilderness region is still one of the most least-visited parts of the world. Why not come and explore it with us?

Day 1:  We depart Ottawa on our scheduled flight to Iqaluit, Baffin Island. Upon arrival into Iqaluit we enjoy a walking tour of the town and board our expedition ship, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov in the afternoon. Excitement is in the air as we enjoy a welcome cocktail and cast off to explore one of the most remote places on earth – Baffin Island.


Day 2:  Situated in the Davis Strait, Monumental Island is a well-known location for walrus. We explore by zodiac along the shoreline looking for these fascinating creatures. We sometimes encounter polar bears around here as well – they have been known to chase walrus off their haul into the water.


Day 3:  Nestled in the heart of Cumberland Sound and the western gateway to Auyuittuq National Park, the village of Pangniqtuuq (Pangnirtung) is beautifully situated between the mountains and the sea. This remote community is a well-known centre for traditional and contemporary arts and crafts – including carvings, prints and textiles. The Angmarlik Visitor Centre has a wonderful interpretive display sharing the lifestyle and history of the Thule and the modern Inuit.


Day 4:  Sunshine Fjord straddles the Arctic Circle at 66 degrees, 33 minutes north of latitude. Depending on the weather, we might cruise across the Circle on the ship, by zodiac boats, or maybe by foot. Whichever way, it’s a thrill to be above the Arctic Circle. Sunshine Fjord offers terrific hiking opportunities, from long routes that offer wonderful views of our surroundings to less strenuous options along the shoreline. For the sea kayakers, the sheltered waters of the fjord provide great conditions for paddling.

Day 5:  On the eastern coast of Baffin Island lies one of Canada’s most spectacular National Parks: Auyuittuq. The landscape is dominated by steep and rugged mountain scenery, extensive glacial systems and powerful rivers. In partnership with Parks Canada, we venture into the park with skilled local guides who are able to interpret the flora, fauna, geological and glacial systems. It’s a fascinating place, experienced by only a few fortunate visitors every season. We also plan a visit to Qikiqtarjuaq, a small settlement which is home to several Inuit families. After an inspiring day of exploration we continue north along the coastline of Baffin Island, venturing deeper into the Arctic wilderness. 

Day 6:  Isabella Bay (Niginganiq) is an important summer habitat and feeding area for endangered bowhead whales. These remarkable marine mammals are able to break sea ice with the crown of their head. Polar bears, ringed seals, Canada geese, snow geese and narwhal are also commonly sighted in this area. 

Day 7:  This morning we enter the spectacular Gibbs Fjord with towering cliffs all around us. Our expedition ship will be dwarfed by the giant peaks and snowy glaciers as we cruise slowly along the dark waters. 

Day 8:  Nearing the far north of Baffin Island, we enter a broad channel which is home to the remote Inuit community of Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet). A highlight is a visit to the Natinnak Centre, where a fascinating cultural exhibit showcases the daily life, culture and history of the people of the North. Inuit carvings, jewellery and other traditional craft are on display. Mittimatalik is also the main access point to the pristine wilderness of Sirmilik National Park. This jewel in the crown of Canada's Arctic Park system features the most spectacular scenery, with rugged mountains, ice fields, glaciers, coastal lowlands and large seabird colonies. 

Day 9:  Leaving the wild landscapes of Baffin Island, we cross Lancaster Sound to Devon Island. Lancaster Sound, which separates Devon and Baffin Island, has been named the wildlife ‘super highway’ of the Arctic. Waters from the Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Ocean, and the northern archipelago of islands meet here, combining to create a rich source of nutrients and food for an abundance of Arctic wildlife. We plan on visiting the old Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) outpost at Dundas Harbour. In the afternoon we reposition the ship into Crocker Bay, home to a substantial glacial system.

Day 10:  Prince Leopold Island is an important migratory bird sanctuary, home to thick-billed murres, black guillemots, northern fulmars and black-legged kittiwakes. A population of several hundred thousand birds makes this one of the most significant bird sanctuaries in the entire Arctic ecosystem. Given the abundance of food found in the nutrient-rich waters here, we often sight beluga, narwhal and bowhead whales, several species of seal, as well as polar bear.

Day 11:  Our final shore landing - Beechey Island, is a place of great historic significance and a suitable finale to our voyage. It is here that Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition spent its last ‘comfortable’ winter in 1845 before disappearing into the icy vastness, sparking an incredible series of search expeditions that last almost three decades. The mystery of what happened to Franklin was partially solved in September 2014, when a joint Parks Canada and Royal Canadian Geographic Society expedition found the HMS Erebus in the Victoria Strait. One Ocean Expeditions played a vital role in the discovery by carrying underwater search equipment on our ship as well as scientists, historians, researchers, dignitaries and sponsors. A trip ashore at Beechey Island to visit the grave markers on a remote windswept beach is a thrilling experience for history buffs. This evening we enjoy a special dinner attended by the Captain. It’s a great time to reflect on the wildlife, history and dramatic scenery of the High Arctic.  

Day 12:  Our expedition comes to an end as we arrive into Resolute and then take our flight to Edmonton. A transfer is provided from the airport into a central downtown location

 

NB: The exact voyage itinerary is subject to ice, weather and local conditions at the time. Please be aware the local peoples still hunt much of the local wildlife.  

Please note: All itineraries are subject to weather, local conditions and final approval by the relevant authorities.

Dates: 3rd – 14th August 2018

Leader:    Dick Filby (as a member of the ship’s expedition team and naturalists).

£6129      Triple with washbasin (upper & lower berths)
£6965      Twin with semi-private facilities (lower berths)           
NB Bathroom shared between two cabins only. 
£8299      Twin with private facilities (lower berths)
£8729      Twin superior with private facilities (lower berths)
£9989      Shackleton Suite (double & single berth)
£11,335   One Ocean Suite

Single cabins 1.5 twin share price. 

£1 = US$1.25  US Dollar prices available for non-UK residents. 

Price includes:  Accommodation and all meals aboard ship (with free tea and coffee 24 hours), port taxes, Canadian GST, Zodiac landings, services of WildWings leader & ship’s expedition staff including lecture and film programmes at sea, WildWings pre-voyage information pack and day-by-day checklist of mammals and birds, group transfers to and from ship, souvenir voyage CD log plus free onboard wet weather gear, rubber boot, binoculars and walking pole use. 

Price excludes: Charter Flights from Ottawa and to Edmonton £839 incl GST, Flights UK – Canada (available from approx. £950 return including pre-paid taxes and current fuel surcharges), pre and or post cruise hotel nights (Ottawa from £40pppn, Edmonton from £30pppn), other drinks, laundry and items of a personal nature onboard, crew gratuities (we suggest $10 per passenger per day aboard ship), passport fees & travel insurance. Optional pre-cruise full day bird and mammal excursion to Gatineau National Park c£120pp.

Deposit: 20% 

Our 2016 recce voyage report and species list can be found above, click the tour report tab. 

Our 2017 voyage report will be posted in August.

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