11 Aug 2019

Bold Polar Bears and Dizzying Heights on Wrangel Island

Wrangel Island: Across the Top of the World #1928

After last night's encounter on our 'Wrangel Island: Across the Top of the World' voyage with a female Polar Bear and cubs it was hard to imagine a more intimate experience, but this morning turned out to be very special. We were slowly navigating through the open pack ice to the west of Wrangel Island, in wonderfully calm conditions. Polar Bears were dotted all around, hanging out on the last of the ice in the hope of one final meal of seal before the summer sun finally melted it all.

Anyone who has worked closely with Polar Bears will tell you they have different personalities. We certainly saw that today. Some were shy, others indifferent, but one was as bold and curious as can be. He sensed the ship from a distance, swam directly to us and climbed onto a patch of ice resting against the hull. Head turning this way and that, nose lifted to smell, he gave us a long and searching look.

Over the next hour he wandered and swam back and forth, round and round the ship, never more than a few metres away, seemingly trying to work out what or who we were. Of course, we were all as curious about him as he was about us. It was a photographer's dream, against a beautiful backdrop of water and ice. Finally, with curiosity satisfied, he took off, leaving us all buzzing with excitement from such a long and intimate encounter.

After that, could the afternoon be anything but an anti-climax? However, the variety of Wrangel Island's wildlife and scenery lifted the day's experience - literally - to new heights. We took a stunning walk up to a viewpoint high on the towering cliffs at Ptichy Bazar and watched atmospheric clouds roll over the mountain tops behind us. In front of us, patches of ice floated in a shimmering blue sea, while below a blizzard of seabirds, thousands of them coming and going from their noisy colony. Close inshore we watched a Gray Whale feeding, visible through the water from our vantage point. This was a wild scene as breath-taking as anywhere on earth.

Image from file (c) R.Rudland

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