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Bear Necessities

Our journey onboard the William Kennedy keeps going as we are progressing down the East coast of Southampton Island. This side of the Island looks nothing like the flat and mars-looking rocky lands portraying the West side of the Island. Seems like we’ve been teleported to a totally different region of the globe: an interesting bathymetry characterized by fairly steep continental shelves, impressive rock formations and “mountains” (or hills, as my Swiss friends would describe them), ice, pristine waters, fresh water cascades niched into lush(er) valleys, and, on occasions, white sandy beaches are landscapes found along the coast. Crazy!

But even crazier, our research vessel is the first one that has navigated in those waters in the past 15 years

As we entered Frozen strait (which is curiously aptly named) at the very North of the Island, we woke up to some ice floes. It has been our coldest waters so far. Even Nacho, the unstoppable northern diver, admitted that he got “a bit chilly”.

As we came up to the surface, nearly frostbit, Philippe, our Inuit guide pointed out a fluffy furry white ball in the distance: “polar bears”, he said. We might have been (a tad) excited and might have scared away mama bear and her cubs, waddling their way up the hill (oupsi). Oh well 😂!

From this point, we’ve witnessed a polar bear “cascade effect”. Our fluffy friends were everywhere: on the beaches, in the mountains, in the water, etc. The cherry on top: we also got to see walruses, belugas, and the mythic narwhals! According to Captain, who has been navigating in the Arctic waters for the past 6 years and have never seen a single bear before (for the record, we have seen about 50 in less than 2 weeks), this year’s crew has lucked out!

It got to a point where we were grounded under Captain’s orders: “no diving if any wildlife in sight”! We then traded our regulators and tanks for drop cameras (and binoculars) and performed some coastal video surveys (and possibly creeped up on some big mammals while we were at it 😁).

From a scientific side of things, we witnessed tangible changes in the species compositions, ages and abundances of kelps and algal beds from one site to another. Plus, our dives have been very varied: we went from diving on the most boring sandy bottoms to exploring some breathtaking vertical walls, bursting with various forms of life.

As for now, we are cruising towards Coral Harbour, and (as if it wasn’t enough) are heading to bear cove, and then to bear island in the following days!

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