After leaving Devon Island yesterday, National Geographic Resolution navigated west in Lancaster Sound during the night. Early this morning, we encountered a large extension of pack ice off Cornwallis Island. Frozen sea water covered large areas and made a most spectacular and picturesque sight under the low, early morning light. Sea ice is not only pretty but a very important component of the Arctic region. It provides a distinct habitat and platform for algae to grow underneath and feed numerous microorganisms, starting a food chain that ultimately include seals, polar bears, and humans. Many eager eyes searched the ice for some of those creatures. Black-legged kittiwakes and thick-billed murres tried to capture small Arctic cods in the open water while numerous harp seals swam, and a few bearded seals rested on the ice to enjoy the sun. Conditions were perfect, and it was only a matter of time before someone shouted the words that we were all waiting for: “Polar bears!” Yes, a female and her cub were sleeping way ahead of the ship. Everyone headed to the bridge or the observation deck with binoculars and cameras, some still half asleep and trying to wake up with a cup of coffee. The ship approached the bears very carefully. Slowly, that creamy spot in the distance eventually grew into not two but three bears! A second cub was discovered sleeping behind mom, and we all had excellent views as they continued their nap. They looked at us every once in a while but were completely unconcerned with our presence. After getting our fill of such a wonderful site, we backed away slowly and left the trio napping on the sea ice. What a beautiful way to start the day! Shortly after leaving them, a fourth bear was spotted, and many of us had the chance to watch it from Two Seven Zero during breakfast!
Eventually, we reached our destination in Resolute Bay in Cornwallis Island. We arrived shortly after noon and welcomed a couple Canadian officers on board to clear customs so we could officially enter the country. After being cleared, we went ashore to explore the hamlet where a small population of less than 200 hardy souls live, making Resolute one of the northernmost communities in the Canadian Arctic. It is one of the coldest inhabited places on Earth during the winter. Today was quite the opposite, and most of us took off our jackets and parkas shortly after going ashore. We wandered around the small settlement and visited the store, talked with the locals, and learned about the way of life in such a remote location, expanding our knowledge of the Arctic. What a great day we had exploring the fabled Northwest Passage!