Crusing and Muskox Fjord

Aug 17, 2017 - National Geographic Explorer

Today we woke on the National Geographic Explorer to a brilliant sunny sky cast over a mirror-calm sea. The stark landscape of Ellesmere Island was far off on the horizon, separated from us by miles of drifting sea ice that growled as it scraped against our hull. Walruses lay adrift on several passing floes, while ivory gulls wheeled low over the ice. Our goal this morning was to find polar bears – although hoping to spot one over this endless white horizon might have at first seemed hopeless. Yet by now we were seasoned observers and with so many determined eyes pressed to binoculars it wasn’t long before someone proudly proclaimed they had found a bear!

Our captain slowly and carefully moved the ship towards the solitary animal, which barely seemed to notice us. Instead she sat quietly at the water’s edge gazing ponderously at her own reflection. “It is but a lonely life I have found myself living,” she seemed to be thinking, “and though my spirit is buoyed by the grandeur and vastness of these drifting floes, I often wonder how things might have been had I chosen to wander south rather than north”. Eventually a gentle wind sent ripples over her reflection and, as if accepting her fate once more, she turned and ambled slowly away. With that, we too quietly turned and steamed on.

After spending so much time with the bear we were forced to abandon our afternoon plans for kayaking and hiking. Knowing that we would all enjoy some time off the ship our expedition leader Russ arranged short zodiac cruises for us in a nearby fjord. To our surprise and delight, a large pod of narwhals had chosen to visit the same fjord.  This was not our first encounter with these elusive and fascinating animals, but it was without question our most exciting one. Several dozen animals swam along the shoreline, so close to our Zodiacs that we could hear them breathing and feel the waves they made as they surfaced. We could see the long spiraling tusks on the males, and began to understand why the early explorers believed they were unicorns of the sea. And all of this was set against a backdrop of winding glaciers and windswept mountains.  With all this amazing wildlife and incredible scenery, it was perhaps our most memorable day yet!   

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About the Author

Andy Szabo


Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Andy moved from the whale-impoverished shores of Lake Ontario to the west coast of British Columbia to pursue his passion for marine mammals and marine biology.  Andy received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Victoria, and was subsequently awarded his doctorate through the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University.  His graduate work focused on the maternal behavior and foraging ecology of Southeast Alaskan humpback whales; however, he has also participated in studies focused on other marine mammals, including blue, fin, grey, sperm and killer whales.

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