We had planned to sail into Hoare Bay this morning and explore shore side at some opportune landing site in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island’s Cumberland Peninsula. We never made it. This eastern region of Baffin Island is a seasonal concentration point for sea ice that drifts southward in the Davis Strait with the Labrador Current. We love the ice, and this particular ice pack sometimes remains intact here through much of the summer. And, as we soon discovered, it is an excellent region to search for polar bears.
Before breakfast, we reached loose pack ice and an announcement was made informing everyone of walruses sighted on an ice floe. That was a great start in the morning, but before long we had our first polar bear of the day…then another…and another. Conditions could not have been better with partly cloudy skies, glass-smooth water with beautiful reflections, brilliant ice floes, and bears! Lots of bears. At one point in time, we could see nine bears scattered about, including a mother and cub, two swimming bears, and one on a seal kill. It would be hard to imagine the number of digital images produced this day. Every time we pulled away from a bear, we soon sighted another one doing something equally interesting. It was astounding to have two separate bears both approach the ship on ice floes one right after the other in mid-morning. Another one actually slid into the water off its floe and swam over to investigate the ship. Everyone found his or her favorite spot on the ship from which to sight and photograph bears…many were on the foredeck, some liked the outside vantage from in front of the chart room (just below the bridge), quite a few were in the bridge itself, and a bunch of us went for the higher view from the sundeck (right above the bridge).
During lunch, the vessel set off in anticipation of reaching the Cape Mercy region sometime in the afternoon. But, as you might suspect, we encountered more bears in the ice. Our wonderful ship showed what she does best, that is, pushing her way through the pack ice and then gently maneuvering about the floes to get good views of the bears. By mid-afternoon, we made our way back out of the pack ice and continued southward to a small island named Saxe-Coburg located just off Cape Mercy. We had it on good authority there could be walruses hauled out on it, so it seemed the perfect place for a late afternoon Zodiac cruise. Well, guess what. The first thing we discovered when approaching the rocky island was a large, very white polar bear relaxing on a steep slope. He had chosen the top of a wide, vertical quartz vein exposed in the surrounding gneiss for his lookout post. We wondered if he had done this on purpose in order to hide himself or if it just happened to be a convenient spot. No walruses were sighted, but there were lots of beautiful little black guillemots flocking around the shoreline, many of whom carried single capelins in their beaks. It had proven to be a spectacular day of ice, scenery, and wildlife… what more could a person ask for?