Polar Bear Blog – Seal Dens and Sea Ice

Well, we ended up back in town a bit inadvertantly today. Camped about 60 miles out at Ivitallik on Prince Albert Sound, we woke up to blue skies and no wind. The no wind part being especially exciting. So, we went hunting for polar bear tracks.

My guide, Roland Notaina, is really good – we must have navigated over 100 miles of sea ice today – the latter half in whiteout conditions. There is a small chain of four islands at the mouth of Prince Albert Sound, basically four tumbled ridges of rock amidst even more jumbled sea ice. Rough ice, polar bears’ favourite places to hang out, surrounds the islands – making for good polar bear tracking but a bit tricky for snowmobiling with an alliak, the western arctic word for sled or ‘komatik’.

We followed pressure ridges and rough ice all along the sound encountering seals, young and old, bearded and ringed. At one point, we found an exposed seal birthing den with the bearded cub seal still watching us, wondering what to make of my camera stuck into his home. Better a camera than a bear head, I guess…. but it did kind of explain why young seals are the most common food of bears. He really did let us get super close, like two feet away close.

With some stalking and patience, we snuck up to a mature bearded seal on the ice. On a sunny day, there are a lot of them out, most are pretty skittish right now so finding one that stuck around was a bit unusual. When she finally dove, it turned out that she was watching a pup as well. The pup was hidden, this time in an open snow cave but to its credit, it dove quickly after her mom.

Polar bear tracks were pretty sparse but arctic foxes are everywhere. We have seen a few bobbing along the ice and even snuck up to one that was fast asleep. At one point, we actually thought he might be dead until he snapped his head and we all jumped back together. Life must be good as his face was pretty blood-stained.

Foxes will dig out seal cub dens as well. There are fresh diggings everywhere there are snowdrifts large enough for seals. One den, we counted eight or nine fox holes trying to get at something… or maybe just making its own cache. It was hard to tell.

I have to say that it is easy to feel the thrill of the hunt out here. When Roland sees something in the distance that could be a polar bear, things just speed up and there’s a real energy in the air. So, while I still will never be a sports hunter, I am kind of intrigued to see an Inuk polar bear hunt a bit closer. Watch them chase down the tracks, weaving and bobbing in the rough ice until the bear either esacpes or they skin him out right there on the spot. There’s something about the whole exchange that really seems to be ‘something’… its hard to explain.

So, we’ll see. Its spring weather, a mini-blizzard or piktuak, we are waiting on at least semi-blue skies before heading north to Walker Bay and some bear tracking on the ice between Banks Island and Victoria. Actually, we are waiting on repairs too… the trailing arm (or something – its a pretty significant part of the frame anyway) broke while we were about 70 miles out and we jury-rigged it back together with three wrenches as braces and some rope. So far, its held up for three days… not too shabby. But, for another seven days north of here, maybe not quite doable. Roland is getting it welded tomorrow…

That’s about it… the hunt for polar bears and grolar bears is still on but the ice conditions are actually a little heavy here, surprisingly. Even the hunters up on the northern part of the island are not having a whole lot of luck so they are heading south down the same channel that we are heading towards. Between our two groups, we should get an idea of what’s out there…

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