Polar Bear Census and Tracking (Bathurst Island, Canada)

A trip with Ice-Warrior to Bathurst Island and Polar Bear Pass to survey Polar Bears and other Arctic fauna and flora. Included are a few sample photographs from the trip, there are hundreds of others. All photographs are copyright Brendon Grunewald. For high resolution versions or access to the entire library contact Brendon Grunewald.

08 May 2009

Left Brussels for Ottawa via London Heathrow. Met rest of team in Terminal 3, and boarded for Ottawa. Landed 16:00 local time and went to Marriot on Kent. Dinner in the bar (Salmon).

09 May 2009

Woke at 05:30, showered closed bag and checked out of hotel. Went to buy coffee and Boston Creams for all (just coffee for me). 06:30 left for airport for early checking as we had 14 bags of gear and food. Boarded a First Air flight to our first hop, Iqaluit on the southern shores of Baffin Island. Fittingly First Air has a polar bear painted on the tail of their aircraft. 2 hr lay over in Iqaluit, spent looking at the local soap stone carvings. Apparently Iqaluit is one of the best place to find exceptional pieces of Inuit carvings. Iqaluit temperature at mid day -10C. According to Paul (next to me on plane) it gets to <-30C in the winter in Iqaluit and with wind chill colder than that…

Then a turbo prop via Nanisivik to Resolute Bay. The stop over was only 30 minutes, long enough for a few people to get off, and some cargo to be off loaded.

In Resolute Bay we gathered our gear and headed to the hotel (-16C and beautiful sunny weather). Dinner was ribs & salad after which we went for a walk around Resolute.

Resolute is a small village and given that it was well after 9PM very quiet. The sun does not set, hence it was still light. The most striking find on the walk around town were several Polar Bear skins stretched out to dry outside a few houses, we also came across two seal skins, stretched to dry and a headless seal still lashed to a sledge. The realities of indigenous peoples rights, which seem very academic in Brussels, were suddeenly in sharp focus (hopefully the photos too).

On our return we discussed plans for the next day which mainly involved gear check and packing.

10 May 2009

After getting most of the gear and food sorted and packed, it was decided to spend another night in the Hotel at Resolute so that everyone could rest out and be fresh for an early morning start in the morning. Food mainly consisted of freeze dried packs. Breakfast was egg and bacon (just add boiling water), Lunch was nuts and dried fruit and dinner was almost without exception some form of chicken and rice dish (just add boiling water). Gear was checked to ensure everyone had Base Layer, Mid Layer and Outer Layer gear as well as down jackets etc. In the kitchen at the hotel is “Randy” the famous arctic chef. Randy came to Resolute from Barbados many years ago and has kept many and expedition fed over the years.

11 May 2009

Woke up to a magnificent day, sunny, blue skies, -8C, what more could one ask for… Breakfast at 7AM, followed by final gear preparations, saftey drill check, loading up of sledges, lunch and go. Not sure when next update will be but it will be via satellite phone from camp in Freeman’s Cove on Bathurst Island.

12 May 2009

Left Resolute, and headed toward Bathurst Island in beautiful sunshine. After 2 hrs of traveling we reached Brown Island and decided to stop for tea. We had our first close encounter with a polar bear there as, whilst drinking our tea, we were approached by one. He came right up to us ! (10m or so). After he left, we started out again for Bathurst. However, the sea ice started to worsen as did the light, so we returned to Brown Island to set up camp on the sea ice just off the island.

13 May 2009

This morning we spotted an arctic fox close by and a few polar bears on the horizon. We decided to camp 2 more nights here and explore the island in more detail. In all we saw ptarmigans, gulls and various polar bears and seals at a distance.

15 May 2009

Today, we packed up and headed toward Bathurst again. Made it to Baker Island where the sea ice again got rough, so we set up camp on the sea ice just off the beach. Tomorrow we hope to reach Freeman’s Cove on Bathurst, where according to the Inuit, we may find muskoxen and a few other interesting animals.

16 May 2009

Jim and Brendon set out to recon a route to Bathurst through the sea ice around the south western corner of Baker and then North to Bathurst. The route was relatively flat and we were able to return to the Baker Island camp, pack up and make it to Freeman’s Cove on Bathurst in time for dinner. An additional bonus was the fact that there were 3 huts which we could use for shelter.

17 May 2009

Team (except for Jim who remained at camp) headed north up Freeman’s cove to scout the area and see what wildlife was in the area. We also stopped for a couple of hours on a frozen lake to try some ice fishing. After nearly 2 hours of digging with an ice-pic we were still not able to reach water, so we decided to press on further north with the hope of spotting additional animals. As a result dinner was tinned Tuna instead of fresh Arctic Char. (Note to self: Next time you want to go fishing take the proper ice drilling equipment.)

18 May 2009

Weather was poor today with a strong wind. As a result it was decided to have a camp day. However during a walk around the immediate vacinity of the camp some fresh wolf prints were spotted, but unfortunately not the actual wolf.

19 May 2009

Headed south west from the huts today toward a series of valleys which may have musk ox, arctic fox, arctic hare etc. After travelling for several hours we reached the furthest point on top of a hill where one of the snow mobiles stopped working (suspected fuel pump failure). As a result Ian and Jim ferried the 3 ladies back to camp on the remaining snow mobiles before returning to pick up the broken snow mobile and Brendon who remained behind. The snow mobile could not be repaired in the field and thus needed to be towed back to the huts, arriving after 10PM. All in all a long and frustrating day with no animals sighted.

20 May 2009

Most of the team headed out to walk in one of the near by valley’s just north of the huts, while Jim and Brendon remained at camp and started to sort out some of the gear for the next days trek back toward Resolute via Intrepid Bay. The team did not spot much wildlife, but on a trip after dinner to photograph an ice pond, Ian and Merel returned with some interesting photos of bubbles and cracks in ice, as well as some photos of an Arctic Fox.

21 May 2009

Spend the day travelling back from Bathurst via the south of Baker island and on to Intrepid Bay for the night. We had hoped to make it into Intrepid Bay as we had heard that there were Musk Ox in the area but the sea ice was too rough to make progress onto land in the immediate area. As a result we decided to stay in camp and hope for a last Polar Bear encounter. We had spotted 2 bears at distance while travelling between Baker and Cornwallis Island, but no bear came within sight of the camp that night.

22 May 2009

Up at 4AM to pack camp and head to Resolute Bay. Weather was not ideal but we made it to Resolute before 10AM, in time to unpack, sort the gear and have a much needed shower / bath before lunch. That afternoon we went to the other side of Resolute Bay to see the old Thule site and returned to the South Camp Inn hotel for Arctic Char for dinner and then bed.

23 May 2009

Up at 4AM for a 06:30 flight from Resolute Bay via Nanasivik to Iqaluit and then on to Ottawa and our connection that evening to Europe. A day in the plane thus and a chance to catch up on some sleep in a vertial position.

Thanks

Thanks to Jim McNeill (Ice-Warrior) for organising the trip, picking the route in challenging conditions at times, and Ian McCarthy whose eagle eye, exceptional wildlife experience from all over the planet and good nature made the trip something to remember.