John Whittles Wildlife

The Arctic

I love the Arctic, whether it’s driving a dog sled through the forest at night, at -30° C, or enjoying an onboard barbeque on the aft deck of an ice strengthened survey ship as it cruised around icebergs in a Greenland fjord. The unpolluted air and the amazing quality of the light are a joy for any artist or photographer.
Blue banding in Shore Ice, Grise Fiord

2008 was our fifth journey to the arctic. We had previously been to northern Sweden and Finland, Svalbard (Spitsbergen) and to Somerset Island in Northern Canada.

In Sweden we stayed overnight in an isolated cabin in the middle of a forest. Going out at night to, watch the northern lights, the total silence was broken only by the crunch of the snow underfoot and the occasional chink of one of the chains to which the dogs were tethered. The “facilities” were about 30 yards away through the trees. At -30 it gave real meaning to the phrase “I’m just popping out…” It was bad enough for the men but at those temperatures, even in the shelter of the shed, there was a very real risk of freezing to the seat. Still, one shouldn’t laugh!

I Svalbard we spent three nights in a sailing ship frozen up in a fjord. This was a base for touring the mountainous interior, fjords and glaciers on snowmobiles. We saw plenty of polar bear and arctic fox tracks but not the animals themselves.

On Somerset Island we had hoped to see the Beluga whales swim into the estuary to rub off their old skin on the gravel in the shallows. Unfortunately, that year, the thaw came a couple of weeks late and although we could see the whales an the other side of the ice blocking the mouth of the river, it was too wide and too shallow for them to dive under. They made it a few days after we left. We did however see an arctic fox den with cubs and musk ox.

In 2008 we went by ship from Arctic Bay, on the northern part of Baffin Island and cruised to Devon Island, Cobourg Island, Ellesmere Island, north west Greenland, Wellington Sound, Lancaster sound, Prince Leopold Island, Somerset Island (again), Beechy Island and finally Resolute on Cornwallis Island. Landings were made on most of these places by zodiac. Animals, apart from birds, are difficult to see, given low densities and the vast areas. Most animals are very wary of humans as most are still hunted. We did however see twelve polar bears, two walrus, seals and several herds of musk ox. The trip was however worth it for the scenery alone.