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Narwhals and polar bears on an Arctic expedition cruise

This story first appeared in Escape

“Can we push the spa treatment back? There’s a polar bear outside with a narwhal!” After a quick double take, the spa therapist, Lani, throws on her jacket and we both head back to the bow to watch the scene unfold.

The unicorn of the sea, narwhals are notoriously difficult to spot, and for an hour or so almost everyone had been out on deck as we slowly cruised through the stunning cliff-lined fjord of Buchan Gulf on the coast of Baffin Island in the Canadian High Arctic.

As we watched bubbles in the water and hoped to be lucky enough to see one of the whales’ long horns, or rather, extremely long teeth, break the surface, our attention was drawn to a polar bear on a rocky shore.

The bear was fixated on something in the water, and when it leapt in and started swimming towards our ship I had just enough time to realise I was seeing a polar bear swim for the first time before it reached its target, and the full awesomeness of the moment was revealed.

Polar bear drags a narwhal to shore in Buchan Gulf, Canada, image Michael Jackson

There was no struggle, suggesting the narwhal was already dead, but the polar bear still had its work cut out for it. After swimming the carcass back to shore, the bear struggled to pull more than 500kg of narwhal up onto a rock.

Read: Walking with polar bears in Manitoba

It was a David Attenborough documentary come to life as we watched the bear try different angles, admit defeat on one rock, swim with the narwhal to an alternative landing spot, realise that was even worse, and swim back to try it all again.

When I describe the scene to Lindblad Expeditions’ founder and CEO Sven-Olof Lindblad, he says no matter how many times he goes to the Arctic, Galapagos, and other places he’s been to many times before, nature always surprises him.

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