We're pleased to announce that Dr. Valeria Vergara of the Vancouver Aquarium will be returning to Cunningham Inlet this July, to continue her research on the beluga whales that visit Arctic Watch every season.
Every summer, nearly two thousand beluga whales call Cunningham Inlet home. An important nursery for the Baffin Bay beluga population, the whales spend the months of July and August within the inlet with their young socializing, nursing and moulting. The location, is a-one-of-a-kind environment for beluga whales, and one of the last on earth.
Valeria's research focuses on mother-calf contact calls. Utulizing a hydrophone, rugged field laptop, acoustic recording software, video camera and iPad to jot down the behavioural observations she's observing, her research is part of a multi-year study in the inlet.
As a behavioral ecologist, Dr. Vergara brings her curiosity for captivating beluga whale population at Cunningham Inlet, and will share a wealth of knowledge for guests witnessing the beluga whales.
We're proud to host Valeria at Arctic Watch, during the following experiences:
- July 9th, 2015
- July 16th, 2015
- July 22nd, 2015
The Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation, a charity dedicated to supporting longterm sustainable research within Cunningham Inlet, is delighted to be supporting Valeria again this season. A big thank you to our friends at Quark Expeditions for their support in making this a reality!
More information on the project:
A small group of five to eight adventurers out on the tundra with their guide for the day and only pristine arctic landscapes to explore and wildlife to find. That's what an Arctic adventure is all about! A gourmet meal awaiting your return, and a comfortable lodge to recharge. We're proud to give guests nothing but the best of Arctic adventure at Arctic Watch. Every day, guests are invited to sign up for an adventure of their choosing. Tailored to desires and abilities, daily weather and wildlife patterns, we craft that perfect adventure! We typically offer three excursions per day. No itinerary is set - remember; this is your adventure.
This week on our blog, we're showcasing one of Tessum's favorite excursions: "Polar Bear Point, Nansen's Ridge and Exploring the Northwest Passage".
This excursion leaves Arctic Watch on ATV, heading north to the mouth of Cunningham Inlet and to the shoreline of the Northwest Passage.
The first stop on this excursion is at the mouth of the Cunningham River. A short drive from the lodge and guests are invited to park the ATVs and wander down to the mouth of the Cunningham River. Here, where the Cunningham River meets the ocean, beluga whales congregate in large numbers to frolick, rub and socialize in the shallow, warm water. Generally the shallower waters are frequented by mothers and calves nursing - Cunningham Inlet is recognized as a unique beluga nursery! Standing on the shoreline, one can be no more than a few feet away from these highly social, and curious animals. Burps, farts, squeeks, tail splashes, "banannas" are all part of their behaviors! See the Arctic Watch Beluga Video.
(Aerial photograph of beluga whales in the Cunningham River, Image taken by Gretchen Freund)
Continuing along the shoreline by ATV another 3 kilometres, we stop at a local Thule site. These archeological sites dot the shores of Somerset Island. The Thule culture, the ancestors of modern Inuit came from coastal Alaska about AD 1000 and expanded eastwards across Canada, reaching Greenland by the 13th century. Evidence supports the idea that the Thule (and also the Dorset) were in contact with the Vikings, who had reached the shores of Canada in the 11th century. A whaling culture, the Thule lived primarliy off bowhead whales until the "mini-ice age" from 1400-1600 AD. With cooling temperatures during this time,the bowhead whales no longer came to the arctic. The Thule people shifted their hunting towards caribou, muskoxen and other species, becoming the "modern inuit". The Thule lived in sod, bone and stone houses, with tent roofs, and skin-tents during the summer. These beautiful houses, called Thule sites, remain unspoiled. Careful not to disturb the site, we continue onwards towards Polar Bear Point.
(Thule site, Image taken by Gretchen Freund)
We're now in polar bear territory. As we approach the shores of the Northwest Passage, we enter the realm of polar bears, icebergs and the fables of the european explorers. These shores are the very same where many a european explorer came past, in search of a route through the Northwest Passage to Asia! This is also a great location to scout for polar bears. During the winter months, poalr bears spend their time hunting seals on the pack ice. Upon the arrival of spring and the summer melt, polar bears head to shore, patrolling the shorelines while they await the return of the autumn sea ice in October. Keep your binoculars out, and cameras ready! A short hike to the local peak provides stunning views of the sea ice while we look for bears and marine birds (king eider ducks, eider ducks, pintails, long tailed jaegers, parasitic jaegers, guillemots, herring gulls, sand pipers, brant geese and more). Keep an eye out for the curious Arctic fox! By mid-july, adult foxes begin to scroung the shorelines in search of edibles for their young kits.
(A polar bear wandering on the shoreline at Polar Bear Point, photo credit: Nansen Weber)
Icebergs, birds, whales and more! Continuing along the coast by ATV, we stop along the shoreline to explore the pack ice. Belugas, eider ducks and polar bears are some of the animals we can spot along the way. Hiking up Nansen's Ridge, we get the perfect views of the Northwest Passage.
(Views from Nansen's Ridge, overlooking the Northwest Passage, photo credit Courtenay Oswin Risager)
(Souting for wildlife and exploring on the Northwest Passage)
A full day's adventure brings guests back to the lodge near dinner with a glass of wine and gourmet meal awaiting them upon arrival. Chef Justin, Josée and the Arctic Watch team create the perfect menu - fine dinning with a european flare. 5-star cuisine that you'd traditionally find at some of the best urban eateries on the globe. Recharge and get ready for the following day - the adventure continues!
Our friends at Quark Expeditions sat down with Arctic Watch Executive Chef Justin Tse to chat fine dinning in the Arctic:
When you think of the meals you might enjoy on your arctic expedition, what comes to mind?
Traditionally, arctic fare might include local meats like caribou, arctic hare, ptarmigan and fresh lake trout (if you could catch any of the above!). Hikers and those on expedition might enjoy the odd fish shore lunch, but would have packed a variety of canned and dried, easy-to-prepare meals.
At Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, 800 km above the Arctic Circle on Somerset Island, guests feast on the same fresh, chef-prepared 5 star cuisine you're just as likely to find in the best urban restaurants as at the top of the world.
Executive Chef Justin Daniel Tse finished up his third summer this year at Arctic Watch. He spoke with Quark Expeditions about what our guests might expect as they join us at Arctic Watch as our first land-based expedition in 2015.
Meet Executive Chef Justin Daniel Tse
Tse, a graduate of Culinary Arts & Management at St. Lawrence College, hails from the Kingston area in Ontario, Canada. His interest in culinary arts was piqued long before college, though. The son of a restauranteur (his grandfather owned several successful restaurants), Tse kicked off his kitchen career early in his teens.
An ambitious talent, Tse is a rising star in the Canadian culinary scene and takes his lead from successful chefs before him. He was recently profiled in an Ottawa Citizen feature, Go North, Young Man.
"My first real chef mentor was Michael Hay, former Chef at The Courtyard Restaurant in Ottawa – and now current Chef at popular Toronto restaurant Canteen, of the O&B Restaurant family," Tse shared. His most recent mentor is Kyrn Stein, of Ottawa restaurant Social.
Tse needn't worry about his employment with Arctic Watch being seasonal; he holds two chef titles, one in the Arctic and another in Ottawa. He is the Executive Chef at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge; Pastry Chef at the restaurant Social.
On his food philosophy, Tse said, "I typically like to prepare food that will please more than just your obvious senses such as taste. Of course, the most important factor in successful food is taste, but there are many other key factors that, if used correctly, can take food to the next level. From the smell of the food to the way it’s plated, food can be so much more than just tasty things on a plate. It can bring emotion and memories, and make connections to seasons and locations."
Dining at Arctic Watch
Arctic cuisine invokes thoughts of rustic, family-style fare. Not so at Arctic Watch.
Guests usually have the opportunity to enjoy fresh arctic char sushi (pictured above), prepared from the fishing daytrip catch. French Canadian cheeses are a staple; beef from Northern Alberta, B.C. greens and Quebec pork are also popular at the lodge. Arctic Watch takes pride in showcasing the best of what Canada has to offer, with a European influence. Prosciutto, for example, is flown in from Northern Italy.
"Guests at Arctic Watch are typically blown away that almost everything we serve is made completely from scratch," Tse said. "From the pickled veggies to the jams, hot soups served on the wild tundra, gravlax and pickled fish – even our desserts and snacks, right down to the ice cream and the freshly made breads – all are made with the freshest ingredients from across Canada and Europe."
People don’t expect these things to be created from scratch in an extremely secluded area like Somerset Island, where the only population outside of those staying at Arctic Watch are the many species of wildlife and its populous beluga whales. "Most restaurants in major cities don’t even make all these things from scratch," Tse noted.
The Perfect Pair: Gourmet Canadian Cuisine Alongside a World-Class Wine List
Arctic Watch works with select suppliers across Canada to provide out of this world dining experiences against the backdrop of the breathtaking arctic landscape.
Among its extensive Northwest Passage Wine & Spirits List (that's right, you'll find a better selection here than in many city restaurants!), you'll find cabernet sauvignon and more from Painted Rock Estate Winery, an award-winning Okanagan winemaker. The small family estate is located in Canada's most coveted wine region and was recently the recipient of the Lieutenant Governor General's Award for Excellence.
In its quest to bring the best Canadian beef to the table, Arctic Watch turns to Heritage Angus, a group of Canadian ranching families in Alberta and British Columbia. Its philosophy is that treating animals, land and water with great respect results in a savory, wholesome and ethical product. Heritage Angus is also the only beef supplier in Canada audited and certified by the Prairie Wise and Verified Beef Production national third-party programs for beef quality.
Another preferred Canadian supplier is Pine Haven Colony Meat Shop, producers of organic free-range beef, chicken and pork.
Quebec cheese is notable across Canada for its unique and distinct flavors, but Quebec is becoming a world-renowned cheese producer, as well. At Arctic Watch, you might enjoy Chemin Hatley Road, a firm, pressed cheese from Quebec's eastern townships, or Alfred Le Fermier, with its woodsy aroma and flowery hazelnut favor. Oka, Cendrillon and Pied-de-vent are other guest favorites at the lodge.
Dining at Arctic Watch promises to change what you think of arctic cuisine, and is also a fantastic opportunity to sample the finest foods Canada has to offer, prepared fresh and enjoyed in stunning scenery among friends and fellow travelers while on your arctic vacation.
BBC Highlights Dr Vergara's research in Cunningham Inlet: http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150120-mystery-squeaks-of-beluga-whales
This past summer, we launched a partnership with the Vancouver Aquarium to bring long-term research back to Cunningham Inlet. The nearly two thousand strong beluga whale population that visits Cunningham Inlet every summer is one of the largest concentrations of belugas left on earth - and one of the last unspoiled environments. Cunningham Inlet has no motorized boat traffic, no human disturbances that affect this population. This is a rare occurance in our ever-populated world. What's more: Cunningham Inlet is now being identified as a nursery - a vital location to the herd's survival. We're proud to have hosted Dr Vergara during her studies on the beluga population:
Dr Vergara with guests at Arctic Watch, listening for beluga calls
Dr. Vergara, from the Vancouver Aquarium spent five weeks studying the contact calls made between mothers and calves. These calls, as Valeria is beginning to understand, are essential to the survival and development of beluga calves. The high density of mother and calf belugas in Cunningham Inlet serves as the perfect test location for the research.
Beluga whales playing in the midnight sun in Cunningham Inlet, with Arctic Watch in the background
As Valeria explains: "they form kindergarten groups, with 10 to 15 young calves playing and socialising under the care of a few watchful adults. They all talk non-stop. It is not just the mothers that take care of the calves. They get lots of help from "all mothers"; a community of sisters, cousins, aunts, and grandmothers. Many of these females start producing milk when another female's new baby is born, even if they themselves have no nursing infant. So baby belugas have a veritable buffet of milk at their disposal."
"Cunningham Inlet is one of the most pristine beluga watching areas in the world, says Vergara. As a result its belugas appear to be holding their own. Scientists now suspect that noise is one of the factors contributing to their decline"
Dr Vergara is returning to Arctic Watch for the coming 2015 July season, to continue her research: interested in learning how to help make a difference? Contact us: Mail@ArcticWatch.ca
See images and videos of the beluga whales frolicking in Cunningham Inlet: http://www.arcticwatch.ca/photo-gallery
Nansen Weber has had access to the Arctic as his photography playground his entire life. Spending most summers in his youth exploring Baffin Island with his family and Inuit friends, he grew up with the spectacle of the Canadian Arctic as his muse.
In 2000, Weber's family acquired Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge on Somerset Island at the Cunningham River estuary. Nansen is now the lead wildlife photographer at the 5-star lodge, a world-renowned adventure lodge and beluga whale-watching destination.
His extensive portfolio also includes incredible shots from Peru, Chile, and Botswana and he has worked alongside professionals from Ocean Futures and the BBC. His work has appeared in The Daily Telegraph and in Canadian museums and aquariums. Weber was a finalist for 'Rising Star Portfolio' in the Natural History Museum's Wildlife Photographer of the Year – 50th Anniversary competition.
As guests prepare for their Arctic Watch immersion in the Canadian Arctic in 2015, we spoke with Nansen to get his expert advice on photography in this unique destination.
We recently shared tips on packing for your arctic adventure – now, prepare to capture stunning photos of arctic expedition seascapes, tundra and wildlife, with these tips from photographer Nansen Weber.
Ideal Arctic Photography Equipment
Nansen shoots with the Canon 1DX and equips himself with a wide-angle lens, the EF 16-35 mm f/2.8L II, which is mainly used for scenery shots.
He also uses telephoto lenses, including the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II and the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM. He notes that he likes to use the Extender EF 1.4X. "It allows me to get closer to my subjects in certain circumstances," he said. "For the wildlife enthusiast, I recommend at least a 200mm, but preferably a 400mm."
Which one can you leave at home? "I do not recommend the Extender EF 2X," Nansen shared. "I find you start to lose the sharpness and quality of the image."
Nansen recommends that arctic photographers bring an array of neutral density filters, circular polarizers, and gradated neutral density filters to capture the many great waterfalls, streams and landscape shots.
There are a large range of fantastic products out there at reduced cost, he notes.
"In the past I have used both the Canon EOS 5D and Canon EOS 7D; they are both great cameras," he said. For those looking for a point-and-shoot option, Nansen recommended the PowerShot G1 X or the PowerShot SX50 HS, which he said has a remarkably strong zoom and great video capabilities.”
The Shot of a Lifetime in the Arctic Wilderness
The beluga whales are a huge attraction at Arctic Watch, with pods of hundreds or even thousands gathering in the estuary to parade and play.
"We truly have the best beluga whale watching in the world," Nansen said. "Nowhere else in the world have I seen beluga whales perform like they do here."
Nansen recently completed his Advanced Open Water Diving Certification in Honduras. It's the first step, he said, towards diving for underwater photography in the Arctic.
But fear not, you can stay perfectly dry and capture incredible shots of the wildlife around Arctic Watch.
"We have polar bears, musk ox, and arctic fox – some summers they have pups in the local den," he said. "Arctic fox are great fun to watch and photograph. Some of my best moments were watching the arctic fox family nearby. We also have snowy owls, and a variety of other arctic birds. If you look closely, you'll find a large variety of arctic flowers, as well."
Nansen told us he tries to shoot with a shutter speed of 800. "That way, I am certain I will stop the animal or bird and have a sharp image," he said. [Arctic Fox]
"Always shoot with your lowest possible ISO – in my case, that's ISO 200 – if conditions allow. There are no trees to cause shadows and we have twenty-four hours of sunlight. Unless it's raining, lack of light usually isn’t an issue. These days, cameras have amazing ISO capability, so you can shoot almost all the time without worrying."
Combating the Challenges of Arctic Photography
The Arctic may be one of the harshest locations in the world to photograph, Nansen cautions.
"I think it's the unreliable weather that makes it so challenging," he said. "Weather really controls all factors up here in the Arctic. Harsh winters can mean low lemming populations, and lemmings determine how many foxes, owls, rough-legged hawks, peregrine falcons and jaegers are going to be in the area. They all depend on lemmings; no lemmings, no birds and foxes."
Patience is key when photographing in the Arctic, he shared. Keep your expectations in check and be prepared for anything.
"In general, the Arctic is made up of many rivers and streams, so when it rains, flooding is often a challenge and can constrain our movements. It's all part of the challenge though – it makes it that much more rewarding when you do get a fabulous picture!"
His greatest tip for arctic photographers and visitors: "Your story is just as important as the image. Don't expect an award-winning photo in every image captured."
Nansen may take thousands of photos, he said, just to get three or four he calls winners. With the capabilities of digital cameras and memory cards, this isn't an issue.
As you prepare for your arctic vacation, take Nansen's tips to heart! You would be hard-pressed to find a more passionate or experienced polar photographer to guide you through your week at the top of the world.
All images courtesy of Nansen Weber Photography.
We're proud Canadians. We believe in serving the best of Canada at Arctic Watch. Working with select suppliers from across Canada, we strive to bring the best of Canada to the Arctic Watch dinner table. After all, being in the Arctic and experiencing the adventure of a lifetime necessitates the best of Canadian pride. Here are just a few of our authentically Canadian colleagues that we've incorporated into our menus at Arctic Watch:
Painted Rock Estate Winery - www.Paintedrock.ca
The Painted Rock Estate Winery, located in the Okanagan. In Canada's most famous wine producing region, this small family run estate creates some of the finest wines in the new world. The Skinner family's passion and belief for truly spectacular Canadian wines began in 2005 with the planting of the winery. Since then, they've "come out of the chute with all barrels blazing", producing one of Canada's finest Cabernet Sauvignons, winning silver at "Syrah-du-monde", winning "Winery of the year 2014" at Intervin Awards, receiving the Liuetant Govenor's Awards for Excellence in BC Wines, and more. An internationally recognized estate, We're absolutely thrilled to incorporate their wines into the Northwest Passage Wine & Spirit List at Arctic Watch.
Painted Rock Estate Winery
Heritage Angus Beef - www.HeritageAngus.ca
Comprised of a group of western Canadian Ranching families who are committed to working together to produce quality Canadian Angus Beef. Heritage Angus ensures that their land, animals and their water are treated with the highest level of respect, to better promote that wildlife and agriculture can co-exist in harmony. We're proud to serve the best Canadian beef from Heritage Angus.
Pine Haven Colony Meat Shop - http://www.phmeatshop.ca/
Part of the Heritage Angus Beef group, this hutterite colony (located in alberta) produces some of the best 100% organic, free range beef, chicken and pork in Canada. Chef Justin and Arctic Watch co-owner Josee Auclair incorporate their 100% Canadian product into our gourmet menu.
French Canadian Cheeses
Quebec's cheese industry is thriving, producing some of the most unique and distinct cheeses. Gaining momentum on the international scene with cheeses such as Oka, Cendrillon and Pied-de-vent, we're thrilled to source and incorporate some of Quebec's finest cheeses into Arctic Watch gourmet meals. To name a few:
- Chemin Hatley Road: produced in the eastern townships of Quebec, this firm pressed cheese is ripened for three months; carrying distinct floral and fruity aromas.
- Brie Paysan: "French-Canadian brie at its finest". This grassy, creamy brie is a whole milk cheese wrapped in a fine bloomy rind. Young and delightfully smooth, the brie is aged 30 days and exudes flavours of warm cream and light vegetal notes. Produced in central-Quebec.
- Alfred Le Fermier: Protruding notes of nuts, this heavy yet delightfully smooth cheese has a woodsy aroma, flowery hazelnut flavour and distinct character through its organic raw cow's milk maturation of 8 months. Produced in the eastern townships of Quebec.
A cheese course served at Arctic Watch
Freshly Baked Breads
Served daily and made from scratch every day. Arctic Watch co-owner Josee Auclair has spent the last 20 years perfecting bread-making at Arctic Watch. Using a combination of old-world and pioneer french Canadian recipes, Josee's breads are made in-house 100% everyday.
Arctic Watch staff member pulling fresh bread out of the oven at Arctic Watch
Evening dinner-rolls at Arctic Watch, made in-house.
Captain Sir John Franklin and the mystery surrounding his 1845 lost expedition have been of interest for well over a century. The doomed expedition recently made the headlines again when a canadian search team located the 105 ft long HMS Erebus, one of the two vessel that participated in the Northwest Passage expedition, in the waters of the Victoria Strait, west of King William Island, Nunavut. Franklin’s expedition left England in 1845 with the objective of navigating the Northwest Passage to reach Asia, a goal to which Europeans had been striving for four centuries. Franklin’s expedition encountered numerous difficulties and both the vessels, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, disappeared. Quite literally vanished. Search efforts commenced in 1848 but to this day, the mystery of what really happened to the Franklin’s expedition remains.
The H.M.S Erebus and H.M.S Terror, used by the Franklin Expedition
Before becoming icebound near King William Island, it is known that Franklin and his crew of 128 men spent their first winter on Beechey Island. All but three men survived their first harsh high Arctic winter. The crew set sail again in the spring, leaving behind them the graves of their three fallen crew members. The site would later be recognized as a Canadian National Historic site.
Last summer, I had the privilege to visit one of the most significant places in the history of Canadian Arctic exploration: Beechey Island, which is located across the Northwest Passage from Arctic Watch. A forty minute flight took us right from our private landing strip at Arctic Watch to Beechey Island. The flight gave us a unique view of the turquoise waters of Cunningham inlet and its playful beluga whales as well of the diverse marine wildlife of the Northwest Passage. As we were flying over the mouth of the Cunningham, we spotted a bowhead whale surfacing. Bowhead whales generally measure about 60 ft long and weigh more than 60 tons! Still amazed by the sight of this enormous creature, we later spotted a group of narwhal whales, the “unicorns of the sea”. I literally could not take my eyes off the window of the De Haviland Twin Otter, the spectacle of dancing whales and floating icebergs hypnotizing me. The Arctic viewed from the air never ceases to astound me.
After stepping onto the mystical Beechey Island, we payed our respects to the graves of the three fallen crewmembers from Franklin’s expedition. The fourth grave is that of Thomas Morgan of the Investigator, who died aboard the North Star in May 1853. A short walk from the graves, during which we observed a polar bear right across the small bay from us, led us to the remains of "Northumberland House", the original supply depot constructed of the wooden masts and spars from a wrecked whaling vessel. It was established for the members of the Franklin expedition in 1854, in the hope that survivors would return to Beechey Island. It was later known that Franklin and his 128 crew members all perished in their attempt of navigating the length of the Northwest passage.
After a scrumptious lunch on the tundra, we spent the afternoon exploring the remains, taking in the breathtaking scenery and realizing how serious of a task it would have been to simply survive in this bare environment on a winter day, over a century and a half ago.
Flying over the Northwest Passage and visiting Beechey Island was definitely one of the highlights of my time at Arctic Watch last summer. A mix of stunning scenery, amazing wildlife and visiting a key destination of such great contribution to the history of Canadian Arctic exploration made a perfect day. We were back at the lodge in time for another delicious dinner from Chef Justin and I could not stop thinking how of privileged I was to discover the Arctic from the warmth and luxury of Arctic Watch, in comparison to those courageous men who spent the winter of 1845-46 on Beechey Island...
(B&W Beechy Graves by Arctic Watch guest Mark Garbutt www.GarbuttPhoto.com)
For the 2015 summer, we are very excited to offer an exclusive optional day excursion to Beechey Island, every week during the Arctic Watch season (weather dependent). Stunning ice formations, untamed landscapes, and one of the Arctic's most historical places are all part of this incredible day trip.
Available weekly on every Arctic Watch Discovery Program. Minimum 8 guests, maximum 12 guests, $895 USD per person, from Arctic Watch. For details : http://www.arcticwatch.ca/arctic-adventures/franklin-lost-expedition-beechey-island
Virginie Pichard Jolicoeur: An athlete, physiotherapist and avid traveller, Virginie has been working at Arctic Watch and sister lodge Arctic Haven for the past 6 years. A former cross-country ski racer, Virginie runs, bikes and skis in beauitful British Columbia. When she's not on an adventure at Arctic Watch or planning her next trip, Virginie works as a physiotherapist. Working as a manager and guide at Arctic Watch, Virginie is truly passionate about the Arctic.
Arctic foxes have to be one of my favorite arctic animals to photograph. The process of photographing Arctic foxes starts long before I arrive at Arctic Watch. I think of the foxes several times a year. Will there be foxes this year? How many? Has the winter been harsh or mild? What kind of personality will each pup have? What kind of image would I like to get his year? As a result, when I step off the plane for the first time each season and look out towards muskox ridge, I am always anxious. The time has finally arrived.
(Arctic Fox pups and a mother at the local den - notice the pups feeding from her milk (image captured by Nansen Weber))
There is a fox den near Arctic Watch, about thirty minutes by ATV. From a far, the den simply looks like a big green mound protruding out of the tundra. As you approach the den, you can’t help wonder how many generations of foxes have spent the summer here. The excrement and skeletal (prey) remains left from generation and generations of foxes dwelling in the same location have created a sort of fox paradise. Covered in grass, wildflowers and lemming holes, there cannot be a more perfect place for a fox to raise a family.
(The local fox den at Arctic Watch, (photograph by Nansen Weber))
When I approach the den for the first time of the season, I put my ear to one of the wholes and listen to hear the sound of the pups. This year, the chatter of pups could be herd through the different holes. Always an exciting moment! Some summers, usually when the lemming population is down, the den will be vacant. Once I am convinced that the foxes are living in the den, I will sit a few back, a safe distance from the den and wait. It always takes a few times for the mother fox to habituate herself to our presence. She will not call out the pups if she feels threatened.
(Fox pups, sleeping in the midnight sun, notice the blue eyes (photograph by Nansen Weber))
One would think, with 24-hour sun light, the foxes would come out to play during the day. Well that theory is to be wrong! After two days of sitting and see nothing, I decide to try the night shift. This proved to be much more rewarding. The pups turned out to be active at night. It was also matched the mother’s return with food. It was such a special moment to be sitting out on the arctic tundra at 11:00 pm at night and witness the mother fox bring a mouth full of lemmings to the den, seeing thirteen hungry baby foxes, chasing each other around. When I first spotted the pups, they were approximately 4 weeks old, they still had blues eyes, and were not all familiar with running and jumping. The young pups often fell down the holes or would trip themselves; always very fun to watch them play. They are all just little adorable balls of fur, full of energy chasing after each other. The mother was still in the process of weaning them off her milk; the interactions between the pups and mother where fabulous to watch. One night, with a group of photographers we stayed up all night watching the mother bring bundles of lemmings to the pups. Moments such as those, watching arctic fox pups play in the are summer night are the memories I dream off all year while I wait for the next arctic season to begin.
(Mother fox bringing lemmings to the pups, photograph by Arctic Watch guest Byron)
Nansen Weber has grown up in the north, spending every summer exploring the Arctic. Nansen Weber is Arctic Watch’s lead and professional wildlife photographer. When he’s not busy leading a private photography trip, or working with film crews in the Arctic, Nansen is a lead guide and makes sure guests capture their picture perfect memories of Arctic Watch on camera. Nansen knows Arctic animals and environment - don’t be shy to ask him questions! Arctic wolves, caribou, muskoxen fights, sleepy polar bears, curious arctic foxes and playful belugas; ten years of Arctic photography and he’s seen it all happen. When he’s not photographing in the Arctic, Nansen devotes his time to photographic projects across the globe - recently with National Geographic. Be sure to visit his wildlife photography website - www.NansenWeber.com
Cameras used for photographing Arctic foxes at Arctic Watch, by Nansen:
- Canon 1Dx
- Canon 70 - 200mm Mark II F2.8
- Canon 400 D/O
Any Arctic experience necessitates proper equipment. If you're travelling in anyone of the four arctic seasons, you are simply at the mercy of mother nature. The Arctic is a beautifully untamed environment, one that offers sights unseen anywhere else on earth. Virtually every Arctic adventure necessitates much of the journey to be outdoors. I'm constantly surprised by how people do not properly prepare for travelling in the Arctic. You can't prioritize fashion forward clothing over practical and warm.
I've been extremely fortunate to spend the last 25 years exploring and living in remote parts of the Arctic. Here are a few tips I've learnt over the years:
Leave the cotton and silk at home: Cotton is difficult to dry when wet, doesn't continue to keep you warm (when wet), and has very little insulating value. Silk is not warm either. Focus on fabrics that are breathable, have insulating properties and dry easily.
Proper layering is key: A few thin layers will go alot farther than one or two big layers of clothing! Proper layering allows your clothing to wick moisture while on the move, stay dry and warm. I have a simple three step rule that I adopt:
1) Base-layer: thermal underwear that is made from merino wool or polyester blends are best. They keep your core warm, while wicking moisture. I'm partial to the outdoor research baselayer (Men's Sequence L/S Zip Top and Sequence Tights). Reasonably priced, well made polyester/merino wool blends. If one base layer isn't enough, add a second base layer, or increase the insulation value with a micro fleece top (try the Radiant Hybrid Pullover from OR). The important part is to make sure your base layers are fully breathable (avoid thin down or windproof).
2) Insulating layer: This is where your "warmth" is generated. A real insulating layer doesn't neccessarily need to be waterproof nor windproof. By keeping the final layer as your wind/water proof element, you'll have the flexibility to adapt to a greater range of weather conditions. My favorite fleece is the Patagonia R4 Regulator Fleece Jacket. The jacket uses what I call the monkey fleece; a fur-like fleecey fabric that is warm, breathes extremely well and dries quickly (it is not windproof whatsoever). Mountain hardwear also makes a similar jacket. For pants, equip yourself with a good fleece pant, or quick dry pant (depending on the temperature). Simple polyester fleece pants are great, such as the oh-so-very casual Synchilla Snap-T by Patagonia, or Outdoor Research's Radiant Hybrid Tights. You can also consider a light down jacket as an additional insulation layer - just keep in mind that if you're headed for wet weather, you best aim for fleece. I pack an OR Floodlight Jacket - warm, and can withstand a fairly high level of moisture.
3) Waterproof/Windproof layer: This is where you can buy that fancy Arcteryx shell pant and jacket you've been dreaming about. The goretex pro series fabric is best (great abrasion resistance); try avoiding packlite goretex as it tears easily. The Theta and Alpha SV line from Arcteryx is by far the best shell gear I've ever used. Abrasion resistant, great in huge downpours and the jacket cut allows for layering. Keep in mind that you don't have to spend $750 on a goretex jacket. There are many great brands out there that offer reasonably priced, reliable gear. Plan your gear in function with your specific adventure (length, temperature range) and your budget. Remeber to have a jacket big enough that will alow for layers underneath.
For pants, try the OR Furio or Mentor. Arcteryx also makes great bib pants, such as the Stinger bib. My biggest piece of advice is to make sure your pants aren't too tight - remember that you want to put atleast two layers underneath.
Yes, you need a pair of good gloves and a hat: More often than not, I see people buy very thin fleece gloves, or bulky gloves that don't breathe at all. If you're in an outdoor environment that is relatively dry, try the flurry glove from OR. They're probably the most versatile gove I've ever used (I even used them as a base layer to the North Pole!). For snowy environments, focus on gloves or mitts that are leather palmed and waterproof. Getting windy? Use a flurry glove with a shell. Down filled mitts aren't that great - as soon as you begin to move, your hands create moisture and the mitts get wet. In the tuque department, focus on windproof and insulated. Avoid down filled tuques (they don't breathe and are useless once wet) and acrylic based hats (poor insulating value).
Neck tubes: Neck tubes are great - they keep your face, ears and neck warm and also limit the amount of heat coming out the top of your jacket. Buff has a great selection of neck tubes - try the wool, neck warmer pro, or original series.
Socks: This is hugely important - a good pair of socks will keep your feet warm even when wet. Forget cotton and focus on merino wool socks such as the Smartwool hike medium crew. With proper footwear and good socks, you generally don't need more than one pair on your feet at any given time.
Remeber: this is just a guideline - don't be shy to add or shed an extra insulating layer, or base layer while outdoors. Always, always overprepare as you head outside - it's much easier to shed a layer if you're too warm, then suffer being cold or wet.
Tessum Weber, athlete and former ski racer, was born to be an adventurer. In the Arctic from the age of six weeks, he is now regarded as one of the foremost Arctic guides and experienced Arctic travellers. One of the world’s most eligible candidates for leading polar expeditions with international clients, his experience ranges from technical projects that include leading sea kayaking trips, ski expeditions and hiking/trekking trips to logistical projects such as working with film crews in remote regions.
At the age of 25, Tessum has recently graduated with an undergraduate degree in commerce and devotes his time to working in the family business, Arctic Watch and sister lodge Arctic Haven while maintaining a seat on the board of Nunavut Tourism. In 2010, Tessum became the youngest person to ever trek to the North Pole. He accompanied his father RIchard, Howard Fairbank and David Pierce-Jones on the speed-record-setting trek to the North Pole.
As the 14th season at Arctic Watch comes to a close, we're pleased to announce that Dr. Valeria Vergara, of the Vancouver Aqarium joined the team at Arctic Watch for four weeks this summer.
Dr. Vergara spent the four weeks at Arctic Watch, studying beluga whales; specifically mother-calf interactions taking place within the nearly two thousand whales that visit Arctic Watch. Located on the Northwest Passage, Cunningham Inlet is of unique importance for the density of beluga whales, and the non-presence of human disturbance (i.e. boat traffic, diving, etc..).
Dr. Vergara's field notes were recently published in the Vancouver Sun:
Dr. Valeria Vergara with Arctic Watch guests listening for beluga whales in early July, on the Northwest Passage
Beluga whales breaching in the midnight sun at Arctic Watch
A playful beluga whale breaches for the camera!
Photographing beluga whales at low tide in Cunningham Inlet