Insight into Arctic Experience
The Arctic region is regarded as one of the most enchanting wilderness regions of our planet. It is also regarded as being under severe threat from the warming of the world’s climate.
The Arctic has been high on my list of “must visit” places. With scientists predicting the loss of sea ice habitats causing our polar bear population to decrease by up to 65% by 2050 – if I was to come face to face with and photograph one of these magnificent animals, time was running short for me.
I was lucky enough to be a part of the Elysium Artists for the Arctic Team – a team of 60 international scientists, photographers and videographers. Inspired by Sir Hubert Wilkins, the last explorer of the Great Age of Polar Exploration, we were to spend three weeks in the Arctic with the mission to capture the panorama, flora and fauna of the high Arctic in a perspective no one has ever seen before. To top it off, Michael AW was awarded the Explorer Club flag 101 for the Elysium Artists for the Arctic expedition.
The vision of the trip was to try to educate the way people worldwide see and understand the arctic. Hopefully, with imagery, we can help promote polar conservation before the ice shelf of the arctic disappears over the next few decades causing extinction of polar bears and many other species.
Our planned expedition route was from Longyearbyen to North Spitsbergen, North and East Greenland and finishing at Keflavik, Iceland.
Our voyage was one of continuous adventure with stunning scenery and wildlife. Day one was an incredible experience confirming why I had come and why the arctic is such a special place. A pod of belugas whales swam in the shallows, they were hunting for food. These ice whales (white in colour) are also known as “sea canaries” due to beautiful song and they also lack a dorsal fin. Arctic fox, reindeer, bearded seals and kittiwakes were all sighted from our zodiac rides. With a soft orange glow around us whilst the afternoon light faded, viewing icebergs reflecting on the water and cracking sounds echoing and reverberating, we sat in almost silence absorbing the scenery, never wanting to leave.
Day four and we still had not seen any sea ice yet but the scenery and some of the wildlife was breathtaking. One of my most memorable was Svitjobreen glacier in Fugle Fjord where a mum and pup walrus entertained us along with the thundering sounds as parts of the glacier fell into the water. We managed to get very close without disturbing them for some great photography.
Our guides on the trip were highly experienced in the area after many years of traveling there. They had not seen a polar bear cub all season on the ice flows in this area, only Greenland. The ice flows we were experiencing are just single year ice not multi year ice so no build up – it is melting. We went for a walk on the ice flow that had bear tracks. It was amazing to be walking here with one eye on the look out for bears and the other on the ice to make sure we did not fall through any.
Day ten was spent looking for bears again and the weather was not the kindest it was cold with limited visibility. Around 18:00 hrs the sun finally broke through. Not only did the sun break through but also we got a call on deck from the bridge that a polar bear had been sighted in the distance. I was so excited, this was part of the reason I had come on this trip and hopefully my dream was about to come true. We are not sure if the bear smelled dinner cooking or us but slowly he came closer and closer. He swam across a break in the ice and ambled up to the ship, he was so close that you could look into his eyes. He put on the most incredible performance for us for the next hour or so jumping across pack ice and rolling in the snow. The light and the water conditions were perfect and we even got his reflections. It was one of the best hours of my life seeing my first polar bear at 81.5 degrees North and well worth waiting for. I hope that polar bears and the arctic will survive and will be around for many more years to come.