Paddling with whales in Disko Bay - Greenland

 Humpback in Disko Bay - Photograph: Chris Kirby.

Humpback in Disko Bay - Photograph: Chris Kirby.

In summer 2019 we are going on a kayaking expedition to Disko Bay in Western Greenland. Roger Chandler is leading the group through one of the most beautiful and impressive places on the planet. The area around Jakobshavn glacier - the largest in the northern hemisphere - is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It calves enormous icebergs that float north or south depending on the currents and winds.  Whales come to feed in the rich summer waters of the bay providing an excellent opportunity to for spotting them. This beautiful place turns gold and blue in soft light of the midnight sun.

Filmed during out 2018 expedition to Disko Bay.

Although paddling among these giant bergs and along the stunning coastline of Greenland is a very unique experience, the place comes into its own when the whales appear. During our expedition, we will be whale watching both from our kayaks and our campsites. There are several species of whales in the area that come to feed in the rich arctic waters in the summer months. The whales are huge and powerful and probably not aware of the presence of kayakers in their vicinity, so it is us who must be watchful at all times. Specially when paddling very close to the coast where a whale might surface between the kayakers and the shore. Also, it is important to keep a healthy distance: If you can smell the fishy breath of the whale, you are too close!

 Icebergs in the midnight light.

Icebergs in the midnight light.

The most common whales to spot in Disko Bay are:

The Atlantic Humpback Whale - Up to 18 metres long and weighing around 30 tons. They are an amazing sight to behold. Before you see this whale, you will for sure hear the sound of its blowhole as it expels a plume of water. After taking a large breath, it will curve its back, show its dorsal fin and dive. As it dives it will expose the underside of its tail with its typical black & white pattern. Sometimes, you can see them beating the surface of the water with their pectoral fins to communicate with others or let out huge screams that remind us of a primeval world. From one of our campsites in 2018, we spotted many whales of this type. In summer, they have young calves with them and one day three of them came right into our small bay to have a long snooze.

 One of our paddlers photographing a humpback north of Ilulissat.

One of our paddlers photographing a humpback north of Ilulissat.

The Minke Whale - The minke is much smaller weighing only 10 tons and being 10 metres in length. They are not as common to spot as the humpback, but you can recognise them by the shape of their dorsal fin. We also saw many of these, specially moving very close to the shore. One day, one surfaced right between one kayak and the shore which made for a very exciting time for the paddler who was attempting to film the encounter. The water got a bit turbulent but slowly the whale went on its way after sending a huge plume which engulfed our paddler on its fishy breath.

 Minke whale.

Minke whale.

The Bowhead Whale - This is a leviathan of a whale! It can reach weights of 100 tons and grow to 18 metres in length. It can live to 250 years and is one of the largest animals that has ever existed. Those are some very respectable stats!

The Beluga - This is a medium sized-whale and moves around in small pods of 5 to 10 animals but there are stories of herds of several thousands individuals!

There are other whales, including orcas and narwhals, but these are much harder to see. Narwhals are hunted to make tourist trinkets, so if you spot one, don’t tell anyone!

 Whale watching from camp - Picture: Laura Belton.

Whale watching from camp - Picture: Laura Belton.

Both whales and ice make Greenland’s seascape extraordinary. On land, the feeling is very different. The place is covered in very delicate tundra that has taken decades to build into a soft cushion of vegetation where minute plants thrives. There are ferns, lichens, trees, flowers - all tiny and very fragile. From this tundra, raise strong granite mountains with lakes and hillsides dotted with round boulders deposited in place sometime ago by the retreating ice-cap. In many places, viking corn still grows wild.

 Whale watching from my kayak.

Whale watching from my kayak.

The environment is so extreme that life just about holds on and the balance is very delicate. It is a contrast between sterile ice and life in some of its smallest and largest expressions - from the magnificent whale, to the minuscule flower. From the barren granite slopes, to the seashore where thousands of fish slowly trace its shallow contour to avoid deeper waters where the whales lurk.

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For more information on our 2019 expedition, please contact adriana@exploraexpeditions.com or go to https://www.exploraexpeditions.com/greenland/

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