BAFFIN ISLAND - WHAT TO DO
WHAT TO SEE & DO
With over 100 bird species, Baffin Island is a must-visit for avid bird-watchers. Most of them are migratory and the island comes alive when they return each year to the place where they were born. From May to August, they come here to raise a new generation of chicks, before continuing south for the winter. Migrating from Antarctica each summer, the arctic tern travels approximately 44,100 miles (70,000 km) to return to this fragile and pristine environment. Breeding here is thought to reduce the risk of predation on eggs and chicks, and is therefore worth the enormous physical effort it
takes to migrate here. It helps to ensure the survival of species such as auks, gyrfalcons, cranes, gulls, geese, buntings, loons, plovers, larks, ducks, sandplovers, pipits, ducks and many other arctic species.
The magnificent breeding grounds of these diverse avian species ranges from colorful flowered expanses of gently rolling tundra to steep rocky cliffs, which shelter tens of thousands of squawking, hungry nestlings perched high above the arctic surf. During this breeding season you're likely to see snowy owls, falcons, rough-legged hawks, ptarmigans, ravens, and several seabird species including gulls and puffins.
The only permanent residents are the raven, the snowy owl and the ptarmigan. Inuit storytellers recount many ancient legends featuring these birds, but it's the trickster raven who's is adored by both young and old.
Baffin Island's largely untouched landscapes provides safehaven to a wide array of wildlife. And is home to many amazing creatures both on land and below the surface of the water. Regardless of the time of year there always are many magnificent animals to be seen in the Arctic Canada. The extraordinary diversity of native wildlife species is one of Nunavut's major attractions, and respect and admiration for arctic wildlife is deeply rooted in the Inuit culture. The ancient hunter-gatherer people who originally came here in pursuit of the abundant wildlife resources recognized their responsibility to conserve wildlife for coming generations, and protect the eco-systems. This traditional value is known as 'Avatittinnik Kamatsiarniq', which means 'respect and care for the land, animals and environment'.
Common species that are found year-round on Baffin Island include arctic foxes and red foxes and their food sources, lemmings and arctic hare. Wolves are also found in these Northern Territories and tend to aggregate in places that are less frequented by humans. Other carnivores include wolverine and the Canadian Lynx.
Polar bears are the largest terrestrial carnivores and can weigh more than 1,700lbs. These iconic creatures are the most popular amongst visitors. They feed on Ringed seals, which frequent the coastal waters throughout the year. The Canadian Arctic is home to more than 60 % of the worlds Polar bears and they are present here throughout the year.
Another resident is the walrus with measures around 7 - 11 feet in length and up to 3,000lbs in weight. Walrus are seriously enormous creatures and one of the most majestic and recognizable animals in the Arctic. They are adored by wildlife enthusiasts from around the world.
The caribou and musk oxen inhabit Arctic Canada. Caribou tend to migrate to warmer climes when the weather begins to change.
Harp seals migrate to Baffin Island in summer, as do beluga and bowhead whales and the narwhal.
Whale watching is one of the most popular experiences for travelers to Nunavut, and the coast, with its numerous inlets, fjords and bays provides a perfect location for this activity. There are several whale species to be found here, the most likely to be spotted are the white beluga, the unicorn-like narwhals, and the massive bowhead.
The floe edge of Lancaster Sound, at the northern reaches of the island, is world-renowned as offering some of the best whale watching in the Arctic – including the narwhal! The elusive Narwhal with its iconic unicorn-like tusk is one of the most sought after species.
Igloolik and Qikiqtarjuaq are good locations for seeing Bowhead whales. Scientists have estimated that bowheads can live from 100 to over 200 years, making them the longest living mammals on earth. They use their massive heads to break through sea ice, up to 23 inches thick. Their skull makes up one-third of their total body length.
The beluga, or white whales, are a smaller species ranging from 13 to 20 ft in length and weigh between 2,000 and 3,000 lbs). They are distinguished by their white color and the distinctive bump on their heads, called melons. Beluga have diverse communication skills including mimicking human speech and an unusual ability to turn their heads without rotating their body! They are often seen at the floe edge, during the annual migration to their summer feeding grounds.
Greenland sharks and killer whales also periodically inhabit the waters around Baffin Island.
FLOE EDGE TOURS
In the springtime, from April to July, arctic wildlife gathers at the Floe edge - where the open sea meets the frozen ice. Whales and seals are attracted by the fish and krill feeding in this nutrient rich water, while polar bears are attracted by the seals. This area becomes one of the most dramatic and dynamic ecosystems on earth, were walruses, seals, polar bears, narwhals, bowhead and beluga whales, as well as a variety of bird species all congregate. Tours to witness the incredible wildlife spectacle are offered in Arctic Bay, Clyde River, Igloolik, Pond Inlet and Qikiqtarjuaq.
Nunavut is a world class sea kayaking destination and this is an ideal way to experience Baffin Island's majestic landscapes and wildlife. Kayaking close to rocky shorelines in protected inlets, leads through pristine arctic landscapes, and offers a unique vantage point for sighting magnificent herds of caribou, musk oxen, walrus and polar bears.
The tundra- and coastal waterways around Baker lake, Cambridge Bay, Igloolik, Iqaluit, Kimmirut, Kugluktuk, Ranking Inlet and Resolute, offer thrilling rapids and beautiful waterfalls. While gliding beneath the towering peaks of Baffin Island Fjord is an awe-inspiring experience. Kayaking the Black-, Dubawnt- and Then flow will take your though parts of the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary.
Unforgettable paddling adventures of up to 120 miles are available. Always exercise caution in your kayak and dress appropriately in protective neoprene clothing. Even in summer, the sea is dangerously cold, tides are large, currents are strong, and the weather can be unpredictable, ice floes can drift quickly and whales sometimes appear unexpectedly.
Take fantastic photographs while traversing arctic waters as Inuit have done for thousands of years.
Baffin Island offers numerous hiking opportunities. Hiking trails lead around the shores of tranquil glacial lakes, through narrow inlets and alongside streams set against a breathtaking backdrop of some of the highest snow-capped peaks in eastern North America.
Auyuittuq National Park offers some of the best hiking, especially near Mount Thor, a towering granite peak. It's vertical cliff is the world's tallest with a drop of 4,100ft, making it very popular with mountain climbers.
In the Northwest Passage Historical park near Gjoa Haven you can enjoy the historical Nunavut hike, which commemorates Amundsen and Franklin, two great Arctic explorers.
Hikes vary in difficulty and skill level, ranging from easy guided walks to challenging treks up and across the rugged and often mountainous terrain. Be sure to bring good quality hiking shoes/boots for trekking across bare rocks, talus slopes, icy patches and gravel beaches, as well as softer soled shoes for tromping around delicate tundra camping sites.
WILDLIFE/LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHYThe arctic sun and long hours of daylight in summer, provide excellent natural lighting conditions for photographers. A wide-angle lens (18 mm) and a telephoto lens (70 mm or greater) will help you capture more of the incredible landscape, as well as home in on arctic fox, caribou, musk oxen, or even the elusive polar bear.
The mountains, cliffs, weather and other factors can wreak havoc with light levels. Depending on the area you’re exploring, you may want to experiment with lowlight settings even in broad daylight. While cruising in the shadows of Sam Ford Fjord, for example, a higher shutter speed can help reduce shake and blur when the steep rock walls naturally block some of your light.
NORTHERN LIGHTSThe Aurora Borealis, is best witnessed during the dark winter months. Created by the glow of molecular gases in the atmosphere activated by charged particles from the sun, the aurora normally occurs in a broad 500- to 1,000-kilometre-wide belt known as the auroral oval, which is centered on the North Magnetic Pole.
DOG SLEDDING/MUSHINGQimmiit, Eskimo dogs, or canis familiaris borealis have been pulling qamutiit (sleds) across the arctic ice and snow for more than 2,000 years.
Travelling across the snow and ice with a pack of powerful dogs that live to run, is a thrilling experience and more intertwined with arctic history and culture than any other form of transportation. It is one of the truest ways to experience the raw beauty of this frozen land.
Though many sleds have been replaced by snowmobiles, dog sledding is still an integral part of life in the Arctic, and a variety of dog team adventures are offered in almost every community throughout Nunavut.
EXPERIENCE THE LOCAL CULTURE
Baffin Island, perceived to be one of the most challenging places on earth, has been home to various groups of Inuit for more than 5,000 years. Their knowledge, customs and teachings have been passed down from generation to generation through storytelling. Their artistic styles are influenced by thousands of years of this knowledge, as well as by the materials that have been accessible to them. Soapstone, a relatively soft sculpting material, has been used by the Inuit to portray scenes of local animals and people for over 7,500 years.
Explore the history of Nunavut, hear stories of ancestors who risked their lives in small skin boats hunting whale in ice-packed waters. Listen to accounts of the Tariassuit (shadow people), or enchanting memories of lives lived in close-knit Inuit communities.
See Drum Dancing, where women sit in a circle and chosen men are coaxed to dance by the messages in the ayaya songs that the women are singing. Hear throat singing, usually performed by two women who stand face to face, with one singer leading the song and the other repeating the sound of the first. The cyclic sounds mimic bird calls, animals and sounds of nature, in a fast rhythm.