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A Polar Bear and Beluga Whales

The Northwest Passage Day 6

“The land returns an identity of its own, still deeper, and more subtle than we can know. Our obligation to it then becomes single. To approach with an uncalculating mind and an attitude of regard.”  Barry Lopez

When I woke up today, I looked forward to taking a watercolor workshop from Canadian landscape artist Andrew Sookrah. After breakfast I ambled up to the top-deck lounge and settled in with art supplies. Andrew was in the middle of his introductory lecture when our trip leader’s voice came over the intercom to announce our first sighting of sea ice and a polar bear. Do I run or do the polite thing and stay in the workshop? When the captain announced that he would turn the ship so we could get a good view, I decided to stay in the workshop for a least 10 minutes. The ship had to obey the laws of physics, so I knew it would take some time to change course. Still, half the workshop participants ran out the door immediately. After a few minutes the lure of the polar bear was too strong for me. I apologized and left. Andrew ended up on deck as well. He was kind enough to reschedule the workshop for a later time.

The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is classified as a marine mammal but they are as comfortable on ice and swimming as they are on land. This bear was on a huge chunk of blood-streaked ice eating a seal. The blood either indicated that the seal put up a fight or that the bear likes to play with its food.

Everyone was on the top deck with eyes glued to the bear and fingers pressing cameras. The bear ripped off chunks of the seal as sea gulls kept a respectful distance. Would the bear share its catch with them? No! They would have to wait until the bear moved on and left the carcass.

Looking for Whales in Conningham Bay

There are regulations about how close a boat can get to a bear and how long the boat can linger. Our time was up before the bear finished eating. We set sail for Conningham Bay, a place were Belugas frequent.

The entry to the bay is narrow enough to allow polar bears to catch beluga whales. It’s also not reachable by ship. We hopped into Zodiacs to explore the bay. We saw many whales, a few whale skeltons on shore, but no bears. Whales are elusive creatures. It’s easy to spot the disturbance they make in the water and to see an occassional back, but these whales weren’t hopping out of the water to greet us.

The Elusive Beluga

his day, like most, ended with a spectacular sunset.

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