Northwest Passage, Canada: going with the floe

Robin McKie finds life in the high Arctic a surprisingly chilled-out experience – even when a polar bear pays a visit…
Journey through the Northwest Passage – in pictures

It was the sight of a beached whale that provided us with a hint that we might soon get up close and personal with one of the planet’s greatest predators. Our party was drifting – in Zodiac power boats – over the icy waters of Coningham Bay, on Prince William Island in Canada’s high Arctic – when the beluga was spotted lying on the shore. A couple of others were seen minutes later. Stripped of their skin and blubber, the beluga carcasses were the leftovers of an Inuit hunting party and they were providing irresistible enticement for another set of locals: two large male polar bears.

The pair appeared over a sand dune and lumbered down to take a munch or two of whale before wandering off, clearly having already gorged themselves earlier. One bear – a huge hill of an animal with white and yellow fur, a battered nose and dainty cottonwool-like ears – swam to a nearby ice floe, where he sat staring at us. For the next quarter of an hour, he contemplated our tourist-filled boats – a feast in the making from his perspective. Our pilots kept their engines revved for a quick escape, though the bear was obviously in no mood for action, just a bit of eyeballing.

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