Title graphic Bowheads & Icebergs
Bowhead whales
Minke whale
The icebergs
Arctic sun
Whooper swans
The ship
The bowhead was the last big whale species on my wildlife 'bucket list'. It is a true Arctic ice whale - the animals follow the ice edge as it advances and retreats with the seasons, so the only way to see bowheads is to get on a boat and follow them. That's what I did in May/June 2012, living on board a schooner in Greenland's Disko Bay for a week.
Our encounters with the bowhead whales were against a backdrop of amazing icebergs, (mostly) blue skies and midnight sun. However with indigenous hunting (including a legal annual take of two bowheads) still common in Greenland, the other wild mammals - from harp seals to Arctic hares - were all wary of boats and people and seen only at a distance.
Bowhead whales
Statistically the bowhead is a whale of superlatives. It has the longest baleen plates (13 feet or 4m), the thickest blubber (20 inches or 50cm) and is the longest lived. A spearhead embedded in one newly-killed animal aged it at around 130 years, but recent studies on the eyes of bowheads (the structure of which continues to change as the animal ages) suggest that the species could commonly live to be 200.
The bowhead's thick blubber makes it so buoyant that it has to raise its tail flukes high with every dive and, despite weighing 60 to 100 tonnes, this species can also breach right out of the water. So bowheads are fat, happy whales and a delight for whale-watchers and photographers.

Bowhead whale flukes
Bowhead whale flukes & iceberg
Bowhead whales - heads
Bowhead whales - head & flukes Bowhead whales & iceberg
Bowhead whale flukes & Disko Island
Bowhead whales - head & flukes
Bowhead whale flukes Bowhead whale flukes
Bowhead whale
Bowhead whale flukes
Bowhead whale flukes
Minke whale
Greenlandic hunters can kill a quota of almost 200 minke whales annually and these animals, not surprisingly, have learned to avoid boats as a result. This was the only minke we saw, against a backdrop of icebergs and mountains.
Minke whale near Flakkershuk
The icebergs
For much of our voyage we were surrounded by spectacular icebergs taking on all sorts of shapes and forms, from reptiles to ships. We took dozens of photographs of icebergs - here are a few 'highlights'.
Iceberg melting in the sun
Icebergs near Flakkershuk
Long iceberg
Iceberg & Disko Island
Reptile-shaped iceberg near Flakkershuk
Close-up of 'reptile' iceberg near Flakkershuk
Iceberg near Qasigiannguit
Boat-shaped iceberg near Flakkershuk
Long iceberg
Close-up of ridged iceberg near Flakkershuk
Disko Fjord
Disko Island
Ice near Disko Island
Arctic sun
The sun never set but was at its lowest point at around 1:30am. One night when there was a bit of cloud around, this created the effect of a beautiful 'sunset' in the middle of the night.
Arctic sun Midnight sun
Midnight sun
Whooper swans
We travelled to Greenland via Iceland, and on our first stopover we went for a walk to Lake Tjörnin in Reykjavik where these whooper swans loitered hopefully in case we had some food for them.
Whooper swan Whooper swans
Whooper swan Whooper swan

The total population of Greenland is less than 57,000, and even the capital Nuuk (Godthåb) has only 15,500 inhabitants. We visited some of the settlements, and the colourful houses can be picturesque but sadly the scene was often spoiled by rubbish and litter.

At Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn), the strange black sand on the beach contrasted with the white icebergs just offshore.
Black volcanic sand at Qeqertarsuaq
Black sand beach & icebergs at Qeqertarsuaq
Seashore at Aasiaat
Museum house at Qasigiannguit
Brightly coloured houses at QasigiannguitIn Qasigiannguit (Christianshåb) our visit started with blue skies, but note the vague wisps of grey cloud forming above the houses...

The ship
... and by the time we set off for the ship in the zodiacs, a thick fog had descended! We were actually lost for a short time, but eventually found our way 'home'. You can just about make out the first zodiac in front of the schooner here.
For most of the trip, the weather was thankfully much better for whale-watching.
Schooner & zodiac in the fog
Bow of schooner Schooner in Disko Fjord

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Last updated 22 July 2012