Helicopter Hiking: Polar Bear Eating Narwhal

Helicopter Hiking: Polar Bear Eating Narwhal

August 20, 2023 | Arctic Watch

Helicopter Hiking: Polar Bear Eating Narwhal

A very special moment on the tundra - a polar bear eating a narwhal.

The helicopter at Arctic Watch provides an excellent means of exploring beyond the lodge's immediate surroundings. While it isn't the sole tool for access (we often enjoy incredible experiences on foot with wildlife and more), it offers us flexibility in adapting to changing conditions.

The 2023 season at Arctic Watch commenced with a delayed ice melt on the Northwest Passage, resulting in shifts in the usual migratory patterns. On a specific day, I opted to use the helicopter to venture further from Arctic Watch, tracing the coastline of the Northwest Passage.

What followed exceeded all expectations. While exploring the strikingly desolate landscape, we stumbled upon an astonishing sight: a narwhal lifeless along the shoreline, surrounded by over a dozen polar bears.

polar bear eating narwhal near Arctic Watch
The lucky male bear eating narwhal while the others wait.

Witnessing these creatures feasting on the narwhal was an awe-inspiring spectacle. From a secure distance, we observed the raw power and elegance of these Arctic apex predators in their natural habitat.

Narwhal carcass
Narwhal carcass - very little is left behind by the polar bears.

Narwhals, often called the "unicorns of the sea" due to their long, spiraling tusks, are native to the Arctic and its frigid waters. Encounters with these enigmatic creatures are not uncommon on the coast of Somerset. However, the circumstances surrounding this narwhal's demise were indeed unique. It had likely met an untimely end due to highly unusual ice conditions along the Northwest Passage that year, ultimately washing ashore in this shallow bay.

In the midst of this extraordinary spectacle, we decided to seize the moment (when a polar bear decided to take a break after its substantial whale lunch) by affixing a GoPro camera to the narwhal's tusk, capturing images of the polar bears as they dined on their bounty.

Polar bear eating narwhal
Polar bear eating narwhal near Arctic Watch
polar bear investigates the GoPro attached to the narwhal tusk
Polar bear investigates the GoPro attached to the narwhal tusk
polar bear GoPro
The curious polar bear investigates the camera with his mouth.

I used a basic GoPro, equipped with an extra battery pack to capture these remarkable moments. Polar bears are curious and opportunistic hunters. One of them playfully nudged the camera, only to release it and return to its meal when it realized it wasn't edible.

As we continued to document this event, we couldn't help but contemplate the delicate balance of nature in the Arctic. The harsh conditions and shifting circumstances of this pristine wilderness demand constant adaptation from its inhabitants, whether they are predators or prey. The narwhal's fate and the polar bears' opportunistic feast served as a powerful reminder of the ever-evolving challenges faced by these remarkable creatures in their unforgiving environment.

Our adventure concluded with a return helicopter flight to Arctic Watch, leaving behind the scene of polar bears and the narwhal, undisturbed on the Arctic shores. As we soared above the summer landscapes of the Arctic, we carried with us a deep appreciation for the wonders of the natural world and the unpredictable yet astonishing encounters that await those who venture into the remote corners of our planet.

Everyday at Arctic Watch is an adventure, no matter what Mother Nature throws at us!


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