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Canada Wildlife Holidays which will blow your mind – Number 3

Posted in: Canada, Posted in: Bear Safari Canada

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Canada Wildlife Holidays which will blow your mind – Number 3

A wildlife tour in the Canadian Arctic is not for the faint hearted. This is a very different Arctic wildlife tour than is currently offered by many of the cruise specialists. On a cruise you may very well see some of the signature Arctic wildlife; such as Polar Bears, Seals, Walrus, Bowhead Whales, Narwhal and Beluga Whales – but will you will be able to glimpse the harsh and noble life of the indigenous Inuit? On a Nunavut Arctic tour with Wildlife Trails you will actually stay with the Inuit; try their local food which they have hunted and ‘see through their eyes’ what it means to share the Arctic Landscape with such a myriad of iconic and beautiful marine species. This is as far ‘off the beaten track’ as it goes and is likely to be a joyous, life changing experience.

How we fell in love with Baffin Island and Nunavut.

Back in 2003 we really did feel like pioneers when we started to look at Polar bear tours in Canada that were far removed from the commercial model that had been set up in Churchill, Manitoba. In Churchill, if you are lucky, you see the polar bears sparring and wrestling in mock shows of dominance. They wait for that first part of Hudson bay to become frozen and then they head off on mass to search for food in their icy Kingdom. If you travel to Baffin Island in September/early October, when the fjords are just starting to ice up, then the sense of adventure - looking for polar bears - in a small boat, with your Inuit guide, is intoxicating!

Looking out of the aircraft window on the final leg of the journey to Baffin Island, left us in no doubt that this was going to the biggest culture shock and eye opener of the 6 week trip. Stretched out below, was an massive expansive of snow covered high mountain peaks, as far as the eye could see, which eventually gave way to the most rugged coastline imaginable, where glacier meets fjord and spawns icebergs. A warm welcome awaited us on arrival and with the temperature registering a positively balmy -7C the weather wasn’t too bad either. Over the next 4 days we travelled much of the area by boat and motorised canoe with our Inuit guides, learned about their customs, culture, and way of life, and encountered many of the animals on which they depend for survival as they have done for thousands of years. While wildlife encounters are unpredictable and can never be relied upon, one thing that can be guaranteed in the Canadian Arctic is spectacular scenery, and the fjords, cliffs, and mountains of Baffin Island never failed to leave you speechless.

Polar bear tours on Baffin Island, Canada – what we saw!

During the 4 days we had multiple encounters with polar bears; often mother and cubs swimming between the narrow fjords, in search of food. Sometimes this would be a recently killed whale; with the bones left by the Inuit. Having the opportunity to take photos of polar bears swimming in water is a once in a lifetime experience and will certainly show you how well these bears are adapted for an aquatic life. We also had great sightings of Bowhead Whales – with as many as 20 individuals sighted on one of the day. Finally, we were lucky enough to have sightings of the mythical ‘Unicorn of the seas’’ as we spotted a pod of Narwhal. For us this was one of the most magical Canada wildlife holidays we had ever experienced and it was a privilege to spend time with an Inuit family.

Polar bear tours in Nunavut – the truth about what to expect on the ground!

When you have been running a wildlife company for 20 years and sending people on polar bear tours in the Arctic for 15 years, you get to understand that there are many very different types of tourist out there and that you must be sensitive and careful when selling some of the more unique and special wildlife experiences we have in this wonderful world. As an example of this, it is useful to recollect a couple of important incidents that happened to us, as we travelled from ‘mainstream’ Canada to the High Canadian Arctic. Firstly, on the First Air flight which took us to Baffin Island for the start of our polar bear tour, we encountered two Spanish visitors, who had very different objectives for their visit to the Canadian Arctic. They were hunters and had paid the local Inuit more than 10,000 USD for one the ‘tags’ that allowed the Inuit to hunt a small number of polar bears each year. The local Inuit do not see any issue with hunting all the various Arctic wildlife, for what they regard as subsidence hunting and very much part of their cultural heritage.

The second observation, which was both eye opening and slightly jarring to a wildlife lover, is that as you walk around an Inuit community, you will see various skins of recently killed wildlife out drying; in the main, this will either me Seal or Polar Bear skins. Again, this is part of respecting the wildlife that has been ‘harvested’ and making use of all the parts of the animal. However, for foreign visitors who can’t make the connection with culture and subsidence hunting, this can cause pain and anger.

If you feel that you are the type of person who will be able to disconnect from western perceptions and adopt a non-judgemental approach to viewing how Arctic communities survive and maintain their culture then our Nunavut Polar Bear and Arctic wildlife tours are for you.

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