Chasing narwhal: Top Arctic wildlife sightings

Last August, WWF’s Jacqueline Nunes joined a research expedition to Ellesmere Island to study narwhal, the “unicorns of the sea.” Read about her journey throughout Polar Bear Week. (Read the whole series here.)
So now you know: Our research team didn’t see any narwhal. While that was disappointing, I did see lots of other wildlife, and even got to capture and attach satellite tags to another mysterious Arctic marine species (two at once!). Read on to find out which species, along with my other top five wildlife sightings.

Arctic fox

© Jacqueline Nunes / WWF-Canada

You might recall that I saw this little fox during my second day in the Arctic, waiting in Resolute Bay for the weather to clear so we could fly to Grise Fiord. He was hanging around the research base, looking for food scraps.

Greenland shark

2014-08 Greenland shark (c) Jacqueline Nunes WWF-Canada
© Jacqueline Nunes / WWF-Canada

We didn’t get to tag narwhal, but we were successful in tagging Greenland sharks—we caught two at the same time! It was tough to get a good photo because I was assisting our lead shark researcher. Both sharks were about eight feet long and very slow-moving. They didn’t thrash, like you’d expect. Instead the sharks rolled, trying to escape the fishing line (and getting more tangled!)

Arctic hare

© Jacqueline Nunes / WWF-Canada

These giant white rabbits visited our camp every night. It was the funniest thing—we’d used white sandbags to secure our tents against the wind, and seeing them from far away, these local hares thought the sandbags were rabbits. They came every night to make friends! Of course, my campmates didn’t help with the hares’ confusion…
2014-08 Arctic hare 2 (c) Clint Wright Vancouver Aquarium
© Jacqueline Nunes / WWF-Canada

We saw lots of muskox herds through binoculars. But one day, a lone muskox wandered practically into our camp. Our Inuit guide, Tom, believed it was a female, and he said that often muskox separate from their herd and head towards water when they’re old and ready to die. Even at a safe distance, we could see its long shaggy hair (looked like dreadlocks!) and horns.

Canadian Inuit Dog (Qimmiq)

© Jacqueline Nunes / WWF-Canada
© Jacqueline Nunes / WWF-Canada

In every Inuit community we visited, we saw Inuit dogs, which often have the important jobs of warning of approaching polar bears or pulling sleds. We saw lots of puppies, and I so badly wanted to bring home a little brother or sister for my dog, Daks.

The night we returned to Resolute Bay, one of my teammates came running into my room—a massive pod of narwhal had been spotted in the bay. We grabbed our cameras, found a truck and drove off. The sight was unreal: The twilight sky was orange and purple, and the water was black with hundreds of whales. It turned out that these whales were belugas, not narwhal, but it was still one of the most incredible moments of my life.
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