Why Arctic Watch

The Most Northerly Lodge on Earth

 

A world class beluga whale observation site, Cunningham Inlet is of particular interest to naturalists, photographers and travellers looking to experience the high Arctic. As many as two thousand whales come to the inlet to nurse their young and molt their skin in the relatively warm water of the Cunningham River. While also home to Arctic animals such as muskox, polar bears and Arctic foxes the terrain offers easy passage to both hikers and sea kayakers.

Located 500 miles (800 km) north of the Arctic Circle and 50 miles from the nearest town, Arctic Watch is a permanent wilderness resort that offers hotel-like accommodations in a remote Arctic setting. Our guests experience the beauty and wonder of this fabulous place, while enjoying the comforts of home and delicious dining experiences.

In operation since 1999, Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge is located at Cunningham Inlet on Somerset Island, Nunavut. Canada’s twelfth biggest island, Somerset Island has no permanent residents on its 24786 square kilometers (9570 miles sq).

Richard Weber and Josée Auclair have owned Arctic Watch since 2000. The pair have been trekking in the Arctic since 1985. Richard is the most travelled North Pole explorer on the planet.

Team

Three Generations of Polar Exploration

Arctic Watch team

A family of polar explorers. Richard, Josée, Tessum and Nansen have spent the past 25 years exploring the polar regions. Having lead some of the first polar expeditions to successfuly reach the North Pole, set speed records at both poles, recipient of the Order of Canada, renowned Arctic Wildlife photographer and worldclass polar guides, the Weber family knows Arctic. They've skied, kayaked, hiked and explored across Canada's far north.

As founders of Arctic Watch, Richard, Josee, Tessum and Nansen host guests from across the globe to the internationally recognized destination called Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge. Meet a few of the team members at Arctic Watch: 

Richard Weber

Founder and Host at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, Richard Weber started working in the field of arctic tourism with the world’s first commercial North Pole trek in 1993, and conducted hiking and kayaking trips on Baffin Island. Richard

Read morefrom Richard Weber's bio

Founder and Host at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, Richard Weber started working in the field of arctic tourism with the world’s first commercial North Pole trek in 1993, and conducted hiking and kayaking trips on Baffin Island. Richard has a distinguished, unparalleled polar pedigree spanning decades, with a history of polar “firsts” and record-breaking accomplishments.

Richard is a renowned polar explorer, having completed more than 60 Arctic, North and South Pole expeditions, and more successful treks to the North Pole than anyone in history. He has achieved diverse polar “firsts”, including the first surface crossing of the Arctic Ocean from Russia to Canada, and in the North Pole; the first snowshoe trek; first guided unsupported trek; first commercial trek; and the only trek to the North Pole and back without resupplies.

Richard Weber has recently been appointed to the Order of Canada for his "pioneering work as an explorer, adventurer and advocate for Arctic research and preservation" by the Governor General of Canada. This honor recognizes Richard's 30 years of polar exploration, two arctic lodges and countless expeditions across all Polar Regions. 

Other Accomplishments

Member of the Order of Canada
Co-authored two books on his polar adventures – Polar Attack: From Canada to the North Pole, and Back – and – Polar Bridge, The Soviet Canadian Trans-Arctic Expedition
Completed his 7th journey to the North Pole, starting from land, 2010
Completed the Steger International Polar Expedition in 1986
Completed 1988 Polar Bridge Expedition
Completed 1993 North Pole Dash,  first commercial North Pole Expedition
Completed 1995 Weber-Malakhov Expedition; first and only unsupported trek to the North Pole and back
Completed North Pole classic 2006, unsupported
2009 Guinness World speed record to the South Pole; 2010 Guinness World speed record to the North Pole
Two Meritorious Service Medals 
Three medals from Russian and Soviet governments 
Member of Canada’s National Cross Country Ski Team for seven years
Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Vermont

Read morefrom Richard Weber's bio

Josee Auclair

Founder and Host at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, Josée Auclair has a distinguished, polar pedigree and has pioneered and led multiple women’s polar treks and expeditions to both Poles. Josée has traveled extensively in the

Read morefrom Josee Auclair's bio

Founder and Host at Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge, Josée Auclair has a distinguished, polar pedigree and has pioneered and led multiple women’s polar treks and expeditions to both Poles. Josée has traveled extensively in the Arctic since 1988 and has assisted her husband Richard Weber on several of his expeditions. She has skied to the North Pole, to the South Pole and actively participated in preparing and outfitting seven major expeditions to the North Pole. Richard and Josée have over 20 years of experience and more than 45 arctic expeditions to their credit (13+ of them to the North Pole). She has sea kayaked and hiked on Baffin Island and has spent two summers with a nomadic Inuit family in an outpost camp on Baffin Island. 

Notable accomplishments:
- From 1999 to 2004, led and conducted annual treks covering the last degree to the North Pole
- Led Woman Quest; an all-woman trek to the North Pole in 2001
- Led an all-woman trek covering the last degree to the South Pole in 2007
- Competed for Canada on the National Cross Country Ski Team
- Earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Botany from the University of Vermont; a teaching certificate from the University of Quebec
- First arctic expedition in 1988 - the first crossing of the Penny Ice Cap on Baffin Island

Read morefrom Josee Auclair's bio

Nansen Weber

Nansen Weber has grown up in the arctic, 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

Read morefrom Nansen Weber's bio

Nansen Weber has grown up in the arctic, 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; he’s seen it. When he’s not photographing in the Arctic, Nansen devotes his time to photographic projects across the globe - most recently with National Geographic. Be sure to visit his wildlife photography website - www.NansenWeber.com
 

Read morefrom Nansen Weber's bio

Tessum Weber

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

Read morefrom Tessum Weber's bio

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. Tessum holds an undergraduate degree in commerce and devotes his time to working in the family business, Arctic Watch and sister lodge Arctic Haven while also holding 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.

Read morefrom Tessum Weber's bio

Drew Nylen

Guide at Arctic Watch, Drew was born in the interior of British Columbia. Having been brought up in the mountains and indulged in their riches from a young age, a road trip with friends to Yosemite National park at 17 crystallized his love

Read morefrom Drew Nylen's bio

Guide at Arctic Watch, Drew was born in the interior of British Columbia. Having been brought up in the mountains and indulged in their riches from a young age, a road trip with friends to Yosemite National park at 17 crystallized his love for wild places. Climbing was his first endeavor and that soon developed into a love of skiing, cycling, and long distance mountain running. He's cycled across North America twice, climbed abroad in Spain, Switzerland, and the United States. Ski guiding in the winter months and running Ultra marathons, Drew finds his love for wild places has never been stronger and is happy to talk about his wonder. His pursuits have had him working in the territories for five summers and is now a self proclaimed "cold water enthusiast". Polar passionate and lover of all things adventure, we're proud to have Drew on our team.  

Read morefrom Drew Nylen's bio

Alexandre Deschenes Philion

Polar guide and kayak enthusiast. Alex Deschenes-Philion was born to be outdoors. In the outdoor industry from a very young age, Alex began exploring the wild regions on foot, bike and kayak. He's cycled across Chile, guides in the high

Read morefrom Alexandre Deschenes Philion's bio

Polar guide and kayak enthusiast. Alex Deschenes-Philion was born to be outdoors. In the outdoor industry from a very young age, Alex began exploring the wild regions on foot, bike and kayak. He's cycled across Chile, guides in the high Arctic, Antarctica and shares a deep passion for the environment. A regular "polar" paddler, Alex guides paddling on the eastern Northwest Passage and central Arctic regions of Nunavut and in Antarctica. In the shoulder seasons, you can find Alex snowboarding, white-water kayaking.

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Niki Trudeau

Niki's love and passion for the outdoors was born from adventures in Canadian lakes and forests at a young age. Since 2008, she has been coordinating and guiding educational expeditions for youth in the Polar Regions. In her role at Students on

Read morefrom Niki Trudeau's bio

Niki's love and passion for the outdoors was born from adventures in Canadian lakes and forests at a young age. Since 2008, she has been coordinating and guiding educational expeditions for youth in the Polar Regions. In her role at Students on Ice, she worked with over 600 high school and university students from around the world to explore and understand the Arctic and Antarctica. Niki was heavily involved in the International Polar Year, a collaborative effort to research and communicate about the Polar Regions. Most recently she calls Ushuaia home, while teaching at Portland Institute of languages. Niki has worked in the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Iceland and Antarctica including with our friends at Quark Expeditions. Niki works as a guide at Arctic Watch & sister lodge Arctic Haven Wilderness Lodge.

Read morefrom Niki Trudeau's bio

Justin Tse

Justin Tse is a Canadian Chef who grew up in Kingston Ontario. Most of his childhood and adolescent years were spent learning and growing at his family's Chinese restaurants, run by his father and grandfather. After graduating from both the

Read morefrom Justin Tse's bio

Justin Tse is a Canadian Chef who grew up in Kingston Ontario. Most of his childhood and adolescent years were spent learning and growing at his family's Chinese restaurants, run by his father and grandfather.

After graduating from both the Culinary Arts and a Management program at St. Lawrence College, he moved to Ottawa gaining work with some of Ottawa’s best Chefs. Proving rapidly to be a creative and skilled young chef himself, Justin has since garnered great recognition for his hard work. These accomplishments include a nomination for the Canadian Premieres Award for Creative Arts and being named a Canadian Semi Finalist in the S. Pellegrino Young Chef Competition.

Justin has spent the last five years directing culinary experiences at high-class resorts in the some of the most remote, northerly parts of the Canadian Arctic. Since 2012, he has taken on the role of Executive Chef at both Arctic Watch and Arctic Haven Wilderness Lodge. Between cooking, fishing, and keeping an eye out for polar bears, he is always looking for ways to combine new and old techniques with the raw Canadian Fauna.

According to Justin, “Josée sources only the finest ingredients, making my job easy. The Weber’s have always had a passion for great cuisine. The kitchen becomes the heart and soul of the lodges. When clients aren’t out on the land or water, it’s all about the food.”

Read morefrom Justin Tse's bio

Ciara Roberts

Ciara is an avid traveler, cyclist, and theater fanatic. She is in involved in the many aspects of guest services at Arctic Watch. Graduating from the University of Ottawa with a degree in International Development and Globalization, her passion for

Read morefrom Ciara Roberts's bio

Ciara is an avid traveler, cyclist, and theater fanatic. She is in involved in the many aspects of guest services at Arctic Watch. Graduating from the University of Ottawa with a degree in International Development and Globalization, her passion for adventure and exploring new places brought her to the Arctic for the first time last summer. Having worked in the restaurant industry and culinary world, Ciara brings a unique energy, passion and enthusiam for guest experience to the Northwest Passage! Be sure to ask her about her fishing skills! Ciara loves to fish remote rivers and lakes in the Candian Arctic! 

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Pyper Aller

Born into a Canadian family who thrived on the outdoors, Pyper began her adventures in the Arctic as a youngster. Her first adventure in the Arctic began at 5-years of age! Pyper is engaged in all aspects of guest services and hospitality at Arctic

Read morefrom Pyper Aller's bio

Born into a Canadian family who thrived on the outdoors, Pyper began her adventures in the Arctic as a youngster. Her first adventure in the Arctic began at 5-years of age! Pyper is engaged in all aspects of guest services and hospitality at Arctic Watch. Currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in biology at the University of Victoria, Pyper has a deep passion for all wild creatures - especially Arctic animals! 

Read morefrom Pyper Aller's bio

Virginie Pichard Jolicoeur

An avid traveller who has roamed all 7 continents, athlete and adventurer,  Virginie has been a member of the Arctic Watch team since 2007 and Arctic Haven since 2010. A polar adventurer at heart, Virginie has spent numerous years guiding,

Read morefrom Virginie Pichard Jolicoeur's bio

An avid traveller who has roamed all 7 continents, athlete and adventurer,  Virginie has been a member of the Arctic Watch team since 2007 and Arctic Haven since 2010. A polar adventurer at heart, Virginie has spent numerous years guiding, travelling and exploring remote regions of the Arctic. Formerly a nationally ranked cross-country skier, Virginie combines her passion for fitness and the outdoors with adventure. Virginie is engaged in all aspects of hospitality at Arctic Watch. When she's not guiding an adventure on the tundra, paddle boarding the Cunningham River or hiking the tundra, Virginie devotes her time to pursuing her other passion - her career as a physiotherapist in Vernon, British Columbia. 

Read morefrom Virginie Pichard Jolicoeur's bio

David Allcorn

Dave moved to the Canadian Arctic almost a decade ago and now calls this wild region his home. He has worked for many years as an interpretive guide in prime polar bear country and regularly guides trips throughout the north, be it on land or on

Read morefrom David Allcorn's bio

Dave moved to the Canadian Arctic almost a decade ago and now calls this wild region his home. He has worked for many years as an interpretive guide in prime polar bear country and regularly guides trips throughout the north, be it on land or on water. He has been involved in continuing Arctic research projects, including flora surveys, bird counts, snow sampling, ice-coring and monitoring the polar bear populations to name a few. He has has completed many voyages through the Northwest Passage to East and West Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard. A passionate naturalist, Dave loves the vastness and silence of these magical places and he has a great respect for the North, its fauna and flora, as well as its people, culture and climate - he is a big fan of the challenging conditions of the Arctic winters! He is always looking forward to being out on the tundra and sharing his Arctic antics through stories, exploration, and infectious enthusiasm.

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Keenan Dennehey

Mechanic at Arctic Watch: Keenan hails from the sub-arctic being born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. As a youngster, the vast expanses of uninterrupted northern wilderness lay just beyond the back gate of Keenan's childhood home.

Read morefrom Keenan Dennehey's bio

Mechanic at Arctic Watch: Keenan hails from the sub-arctic being born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. As a youngster, the vast expanses of uninterrupted northern wilderness lay just beyond the back gate of Keenan's childhood home. This environment fostered a strong love and respect for the wild and the lessons to be learned by spending a life outside. After high school, the sirens song of deep snow led Keenan to British Columbia where he now lives in Nelson. Having been previously employed in BC's Heli-skiing and sport fishing industry, Keenan searched for the next working adventure and found Arctic Watch. Education in the mechanical trades and a love for the most remote environments made Keenan a great fit for Arctic Watch. Find him tuning up your ATV in the morning and paddle boarding down the Cunningham in the afternoon.

Read morefrom Keenan Dennehey's bio

Jagjit Dhillon

Jagjit, native of Ottawa, ON, has been in the restaurant industry for 8 years. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Jagjit's passion for food arose during his childhood. He was raised on the food of northern India prepared by his mother. His

Read morefrom Jagjit Dhillon's bio

Jagjit, native of Ottawa, ON, has been in the restaurant industry for 8 years. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Jagjit's passion for food arose during his childhood. He was raised on the food of northern India prepared by his mother. His appreciation of quality ingredients and different styles of cooking have lead Jagjit to many culinary experiences including working at some of Ottawa's finest restaurants.  When Jagjit is not in the kitchen, he also enjoys crafting leather goods, hiking in the beautiful outdoors, reading, and of course, eating delicious food.

Read morefrom Jagjit Dhillon's bio

History

Polar Passion Since 1985

The Arctic is a vast and amazing region, one that we’re passionate about. That’s why we feel that everyone should visit the Arctic at least once in their lifetime. We started travelling in the Arctic in 1985. In 1993, we ran our first commercial trip to the North Pole. Between 1993 and 2000, we ran ski trips, hiking trips and kayak trips throughout Nunavut. We made many treks to the North Pole and even visited the South Pole. In 1998, we set up and ran a summer tourism camp in Jackman Sound at the mouth of Frobisher Bay. Our sons, Tessum and Nansen, have spent every summer of their lives in the Arctic. The experience has taught them independence, resourcefulness and much respect for the environment.

In 2000, we purchased Arctic Watch Lodge. We felt that Somerset Island was special because it offered much of what the Arctic holds, all in one location. It was possible to travel across the land and there was a wide variety and an amazing density of plant life. We felt that this corner of the Arctic offered a great place to do what we love the most and raise our children.

In the beginning, the lodge was a vacant structure that had been sitting empty for several years. In the early years after purchasing it, despite the short summer, we strive to make improvements to Arctic Watch. Initially, visitors to Arctic Watch would have to take a commercial flight to Resolute Bay, and then charter a twin otter aircraft to fly to Arctic Watch. Due to busy aircraft, on-going problems with the Resolute Airport and bad weather, all our guests spent at least 24 hours in Resolute Bay and sometimes longer.

In 2007, we took a big risk. We drove a small bulldozer across the ice of the Northest passage from Resolute Bay to Arctic Watch. This difficult and dangerous journey (we removed the cab and the driver wore a lifejacket!) that took us a week. That summer we built a 3,500 ft airstrip, which means we can now charter planes directly from Yellowknife. Our guests get on a private plane in Yellowknife and four and one half hours later, after a comfortable flight, they are at Arctic Watch. So very many people have, both financially and physically, contributed to the establishment and growth of Arctic Watch. Without them, it would not exist. While it’s impossible to name them all, we are indebted Tim Goodsell, Adamee Itorcheak, Tim and Audrey Kenny, Jeff Mantel, Vince McConnell, Michel and Lise Perron, Jean-Claude Savard, and Jim and Louise Wholey for their significant contributions. After more than fifteen years of learning and challenges we still love Arctic Watch. We have met so many very special people… and it still feels wonderful to go out on the land.

Book your trip now, and discover everything that Arctic Watch has to offer.

Partners & Sponsors

 

Nunavut Tourism

With 25 years experience in the Nunavut tourism industry, the Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge team is proud to work with and support the growth of the booming tourism industry in Nunavut. Tessum Weber, Arctic Watch's operational manager, sits on the board of directors of Nunavut Tourism, working hand-in-hand with the not-for-profit organization on a volunteer basis. 
www.nunavuttourism.com

Swarovski Optics

Guiding at Arctic Watch necessitates quality optics. Glass that will enable guides to locate and track wildlife faster translates into guests seeing the best wildlife viewing opportunities possible. The job description of our guides often necessitates the need for binoculars or a spotting scope. We're proud to work with Swarovski Optik to provide our guiding team with the finest optics available on the market. 

Canadian Signature Experiences

The Canadian Signature Experiences Collection distinguishes the top tourism experiences in Canada. Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge is proud to be recognized as part of the collection and one of Canada's premier experiences.
We actively work with travel industry partners, and welcome all travel trade and media inquiries. 

Suunto

We're always testing equipment, in search of the best available gear on the market. We're proud to partner with Suunto to have the best wrist-watches for our guides: watches that provide up-to-date information while we're out on the tundra, and allow us to make better decisions. 
www.suunto.com

Blundstone

The kitchen team at Arctic Watch requires footwear that is sturdy and comfortable. Our culinary team works long hours on their feet to perfect culinary experiences that rival urban eateries in southern Canada. Proper footwear is essential. Blundstone is the perfect fit. 
Blundstone.ca

Osprey

The reality of the Arctic is that our staff work in rugged conditions in which we need the best gear - Osprey supplies our staff with the best possible equipment for polar conditions. Check out their packs and equip yourself today - www.Ospreypacks.com​

Sprung Structures

The Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge facility was custom built by Sprung Structures in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The permanent structures are the perfect design for the Arctic climate. We're proud to work with the firm for all our construction needs. 
www.Sprung.com

Are you a travel agent or company? 

Are you a travel agent with a client eager to experience one of the most stunning destinations on earth? We're here to help. Arctic Watch works with a small network of travel agents and industry partners across the globe. We're proud to offer guaranteed, promptly paid comissions or net rates. With over 25-years experience, we can help you create the experience of a lifetime for your client. Contact us for more information
 

Social Responsibility

An enterprise that gives back

We believe that our commitment to Nunavut should not only be founded as an enterprise, but as an enterprise that gives back. Started in 2012, the Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation supports the outreach/scientific programs that take place on Somerset Island. The registered charity supports scientific beluga whale research in Cunningham Inlet.

Our goal is to help protect the beluga whales of Cunningham Inlet through the support of credible and validating research and inspire tomorrow’s leaders to bring forth positive change, one step at a time. Interested in joining the cause? Learn more about our outreach programs, or contact us.

Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation

The Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation (AWBF) is a registerd charity with the mission to ensure a future for the beluga whales of Cunningham Inlet through supporting scientific research at Arctic Watch. The Foundation supports scientific research in Cunningham Inlet on the local beluga population. We believe that climate change, increased traffic in and around the Northwest Passage, and social and economic pressures threaten the future of the beluga whales in Cunningham Inlet. Individuals and corporations can sponsor the research programs. We need your help to succeed with this very important mission. Contact us for more information.
 

Lancaster Sound Marine Conservation Area

The Lancaster Sound Marine Conservation area sits at the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage. Bordering on Somerset Island, the area is internationally recognized as one of the most biologically productive marine areas on earth. The area is home to the largest Narwhal congregation on earth, one seventh of the world's beluga population (including the whales that visit Cunningham Inlet and Arctic Watch every year), bowhead whales, walrus, seals and more. The proposed Lancaster Marine Conservation Area would ensure the survival of a vast majority of arctic wildlife, including several million migratory birds that congregate in the area like nowhere else. Snow Geese, Arctic Terns, Northern Fulmar, Dovekie, Black Legged Kittiwake, Ross and Ivory Gulls, Brant Geese and more. Arctic cod are the mainstay to most of the arctic wildlife in this region; schools in the sound have been known to weigh in at nearly 30-tons. Currently in discussions, the local inuit communties, The Canadian Government and Parks Canada are deciding where to place the boundaries of the proposed Lancaster Sound Marine Conservation Area. The Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation has recently petitioned to the Canadian Department of the Environment, Parks Canada, and The Honorable Peter Kent, Federal Minister of The Environement, to include Cunningham Inlet within the proposed limits. The foundation has also offered their support to the Lancaster Sound Marine Conservation Area Committee. The nearly two thousand beluga whales that congregate in Cunningham Inlet are part of the Baffin Bay herd, and make-up for one of the largest remaining congregations of Beluga whales on earth. Protecting Cunningham Inlet would help ensure their survival. Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge and The Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation support the creation of the proposed Lancaster Sound Marine Conservation Area, and the inclusion of Cunningham Inlet into the conservation area. 
 

Scientific Research

Cunningham Inlet is unique for the number of beluga whales that congregate in the inlet every summer. Undistrubed by human presence, the inlet is one of the last locations on earth that is truly unaffected. The inlet has a very high number of beluga mothers and calves visit every summer, pointing to the inlet as a nursery. There are very few nurseries left on earth for beluga whales. During the 1990s the whales of Cunningham Inlet were studied extensively by researchers Tom Smith, David St Aubin and others. The last scientist left in 1999. The climate has drastically changed over the last decade. Temperatures are warmer, including water temperatures, and new birds and insects are coming to Somerset Island. Now there are winters when no ice forms on the Northwest Passage on Somerset island. Years ago, the ice would freeze 2 meters thick. We don’t know how this affects the whale population. Climate change has also led to increased ship and aircraft traffic in the area, which in turn has led to more people attempting to approach the whales in a negative manner. The number of whales that visit the inlet is unknown. Estimates from the late 1990's are approximately two thousand whales. We don’t know if the population is stable. We have noticed whales with increased marks of human interaction such as a whale with a rubber inner tube around its body, a whale with a propeller wound and whales with significant old injuries (gun shots?). We feel that the whale population needs to be monitored. Arctic Watch has partnered with the Vancouver Aquarium to support credible, concrete scientific research on the beluga population. Arctic Watch is proud to host researchers at Arctic Watch during their stay. Resident scientists also serve as resource personnel to visitors at Arctic Watch. During the summer of 2014 Dr. Valeria Vergara, Research Associate at the Vancouver Aquarium, initiated a multi-year study in Cunningham Inlet in collaboration with the Arctic Watch Beluga Foundation. The aim of the project is to establish a baseline for this species’ acoustic behavior in undisturbed areas, against which the effects of boat noise on communication and behaviour can be measured in the future in areas already facing the challenges of new development. Central to this study are contact calls, critical vocalizations identified during Vergara’s previous work at the Vancouver Aquarium, used primarily for maintaining group cohesion and to regain or maintain contact between mothers and their dependent calves. The use of these contact calls by wild belugas has since been documented by Dr. Vergara in the Nelson River and St. Lawrence Estuaries. Her research was also the first to show that calves initially produce an under-developed, low-energy, low-frequency version of this call type; gradually developing the adult version during their first two years of life.  This makes masking by anthropogenic noise a particularly dire problem for young calves. Valuable initial acoustic data in 2014 indicated this is an area of prolific vocalization for the belugas, with contact calls prominent. Temporary stranding events at the site also provided invaluable information on the use of distress vocalizations, and ‘kindergarten’ groups of calves, which have been reported in passing in the literature but never before studied in detail or recorded acoustically, were observed and recorded. In addition, there were unexpected findings implying a much greater degree of high frequency echolocation activity (inaudible to humans) than previously believed. Underwater noise might mask such echolocation, thus disrupting the belugas’ ability to locate prey, or to navigate in the shallow canals of the inlet amongst sand banks. The best areas in the inlet where to focus recording efforts in future seasons, and several logistical requirements for future field work, were also identified in 2014. Valeria returned to Arctic Watch in 2015, continuing her research. After one season, she now has two years worth of data to begin studying! We're proud to have helped her acheive this. A big thank you to our friends at Quark Expeditions for their support in the project! We're currently working on supporting a new research project for the coming 2017 season.  Come to Arctic Watch to meet the whales up close. Interested in joining the cause? Contact us.
 

Cunningham Inlet is unique for the number of beluga whales that congregate in the inlet every summer. Undistrubed by human presence, the inlet is one of the last locations on earth that is truly unaffected. The inlet has a very high number of beluga mothers and calves visit every summer, pointing to the inlet as a nursery. There are very few nurseries left on earth for beluga whales.

During the 1990s the whales of Cunningham Inlet were studied extensively by researchers Tom Smith, David St Aubin and others. The last scientist left in 1999.

The climate has drastically changed over the last decade. Temperatures are warmer, including water temperatures, and new birds and insects are coming to Somerset Island. Now there are winters when no ice forms on the Northwest Passage on Somerset island. Years ago, the ice would freeze 2 meters thick. We don’t know how this affects the whale population. Climate change has also led to increased ship and aircraft traffic in the area, which in turn has led to more people attempting to approach the whales in a negative manner.

The number of whales that visit the inlet is unknown. Estimates from the late 1990's are approximately two thousand whales. We don’t know if the population is stable. We have noticed whales with increased marks of human interaction such as a whale with a rubber inner tube around its body, a whale with a propeller wound and whales with significant old injuries (gun shots?). We feel that the whale population needs to be monitored.

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