Wednesday 23 October 2019

Wrangel Island: Polar Bear heaven.

#expeditioncruising .

Neil Nightingale and Karen Bass have been making wildlife films around the world for more than 30 years. But there are locations so remote and so rich in wildlife that still surprise them. Wrangel Island in the Russian Arctic is one of those.

Polar bears are intensely curious animals (Neil Nightingale)

The swimming polar bear sensed our presence from quite a distance away. Immediately, he turned and paddled towards us. Climbing onto a patch of ice resting against the ship, head turning this way and that, nose lifted to smell, he gave us a long and searching look.

Over the next hour he wandered and swam back and forth, round and round the ship, never more than a few metres away, seemingly trying to work out what or who we were - friend, foe or food? Of course, we were all as curious about him as he was about us. It was a photographer’s dream, against a beautiful backdrop of shimmering water and ice. Finally, with curiosity satisfied, he took off, leaving us all buzzing with excitement from such a long and intimate encounter.

RELATED STORY: Wrangelling Wrangel

We were enjoying an Across The Top Of The World voyage to Wrangel Island, with Heritage Expeditions. This was just about as remote as it gets, high above the Arctic Circle in Siberia. But worth the long journey because of its special reputation for polar bears and other Arctic wildlife. The island has the highest density of polar bears on earth and during our journey we spotted over a hundred. 

Karen Bass and Neil Nightingale (R Eime)
Wrangel is heaven not only for polar bears. It is one of the most ecologically diverse places in the entire Arctic, a specially protected nature reserve and United Nations World Heritage site. We found it bursting with life: towering cliffs stacked with thousands of noisy, nesting seabirds; a colourful tundra teeming with lemmings, arctic fox, herds of musk ox and half a million snow geese; beaches crowded with walrus; surrounded by icy seas full of feeding humpback, grey and bowhead whales. Here you can still feel the scale and raw power of nature.

Heritage’s experienced crew and guides brought us close to all this wildlife action, sometimes from the comfort of our icebreaker, the Kapitan Khlebnikov, but often cruising much closer to the coast in small Zodiacs, or ashore, walking across the island itself. During our journey, they introduced us to wild scenes as breath-taking as anywhere on earth, a wonderful experience across the top of the

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