26 Jul 2019
Epic 24 hours of Whales, Walrus and Polar Bear Encounters
It all started with a wake up call at 0600hrs as the Captain dropped the anchor off Kolyuchin Island and we boarded the Zodaics for a morning cruise along these spectacular bird cliffs. Just as we were reaching the end of our Zodiac cruise an excited call came across the PA: "Polar Bear, Polar Bear" and our first Polar Bear sighting of the voyage - little did we know what was to come in the next few hours.
As we lifted anchor and started our crossing towards Wrangel Island, Expedition Leader Nathan Russ explained that we would be heading along the coast north of Kolyuchin Island - a region where we have been very lucky with whale spotting on previous voyages - and the start of an unforgettable experience. After breakfast the fog lifted obligingly and we could see our first ice complete with a 200-strong walrus haul out on the port side of Kapitan Khlebnikov.
As we approached, the call came across the PA that we had our first Polar Bear on the ice - stalking the Walrus. Moments later, multi-talented zoologist, conservationist and presenter Mark Carwardine spotted Bowhead whales across on the starboard side. Heading for the Whales, a magical hour followed where we enjoyed the company of 6 Humpback and 8 Bowhead whales feeding around the vessel. As we sat with the engines idling, a Bowhead whale came up right under the bow - an encounter so rare even Mark, in 30 years of whale watching, hadn't experienced before. As everyone picked up there jaws from the deck, it slowly passed the bow with great views enjoyed by all.
Returning our attention to the Polar Bears on the ice behind us, we watched as they fed on an old kill just 60 metres away.
Needing to stay on time for Wrangel Island, Nathn made the hard call to keep moving north, and, just after lunch, we encountered a pod of 25 Humpback whales feeding with one breaching clear out of the water for the cameras.
Calling it a night guests discussed the day's activities over dinner and pored over their photos wondering what tomorrow would bring.
They didn't have to wait long with first ice around Wrangel Island found at 0330hrs, amazing light and sea ice at 0500hrs prompted a wake up call across the vessel and by 0545hrs we had spotted our first Polar Bear. By the time breakfast was called at 0745hrs we had seen 16, including plenty of females and cubs, and some amazing interactions with them. The highlight being the female and her two cubs that came right up to the vessel to check us out and then start rolling and playing in the ice right in front of us. That's what Wrangel Island is all about.
Images © M.Carwardine, Heritage Expeditions
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