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Exploring Baffin Island: Wildlife and Mt. Thor

5 min read

Qikiqtaaluk, the Inuktitut name for Baffin Island, means "very big island"—and that it is. At 507,451 square kilometres (195,928 square miles), Baffin Island is the largest island in Canada and the fifth-largest island in the world. It's located in Canada's youngest territory, Nunavut. Most of Baffin Island is north of the Arctic Circle.

Baffin Island wildlife

Baffin Island wildlife is the lure that entices many travelers to this part of the Canadian High Arctic. Baffin Island wildlife includes polar bears, Arctic foxes, caribou, Arctic hares, seals, walruses, Arctic wolves and of course whales—narwhals, orca, beluga and bowhead.

And where exactly can you find Baffin Island wildlife on a visit? The icy waters of Davis Strait sometimes attract beluga and bowhead whales, as well as ringed and harp seals (food for the whales, of course). Further north along the mountainous east shore of Baffin Island is Isabella Bay, an important summer and fall feeding area for the largest concentration of bowhead whales in Canada, which are among the most sought-after Baffin Island wildlife. At the northern tip of Baffin Island, near the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage, is the Inuit hamlet of Pond Inlet, where many members of the community still follow a nomadic lifestyle and hunt for their food. Read our Spotlight on Baffin Island to find out where and when to see Baffin Island wildlife.

Baffin Island wildlife viewing opportunities also includes a wide range of birds, some of which include Canada goose, snow goose and brant goose, sandpipers, Brünnich's guillemot, plovers as well as numerous types of gulls (glaucous, herring and ivory). To learn more about Arctic birds in Baffin Island and other areas within the Arctic, watch our How Birds Survive the Arctic webinar.

Baffin Island polar bear tours

Polar bears top the food chain in the Arctic—and they also top the must-see-lists for many nature adventurers. Experts believe that Baffin Island is home to five sub-populations of polar bears: Baffin Bay, Davis Strait, Foxe Basin, Golf of Boothia and Lancaster Sound. Harp and ringed seals form the primary diet for polar bears—and both seals are plentiful on the shores of Baffin Island. For adventurers seeking Baffin Island polar bear tours, their best option is to join a polar expedition such as Best of the Western Arctic: Canada and Greenland, which provides plenty of opportunities to observe polar bears in their natural setting. The guides working with Quark Expeditions are adept and skillful at spotting polar bears and getting guests off the ships and into Zodiacs so they can get excellent views of polar bears from a safe distance. Quark Expeditions is known for taking guests in its Zodiacs and small polar vessels to remote fjords in the Arctic where larger ships can't navigate.

Mt. Thor in Baffin Island

Mt. Thor, in Baffin Island, known as the world's tallest, steepest cliff

Mt. Thor, in Baffin Island, known as the world's tallest, steepest cliff, attracts climbers from around the world—only a handful
of whom have succeeded in reaching the top. Photo: AdobeStock

In addition to Baffin Island wildlife, the region also offers some of the most spellbinding landscapes. Mt. Thor in Baffin Island, also called Thor Peak, is regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of Canada. Located in the territory of Nunavut, this mountain is known for having the earth's greatest vertical drop at 1,250 metres—at an angle of 105 degrees. While Mt. Thor in Baffin Island isn't necessarily a household name, it is well-known in the hardcore mountain climbing circuit. At least 30 attempts were made to climb this “beyond vertical drop” before a four-person team finally succeeded in climbing to the top in 1985. It took them 33 days in total.

Mt. Thor in Baffin Island is found in the stunningly beautiful Auyuittuq National Park, with the 6,000-square-kilometre Penney Ice Cap in the background. (It's a remnant of the last Ice Age.) Mt. Thor in Baffin Island is located about 46 kilometres (29 miles) northeast of Pangnirtung, which travelers can visit on Quark Expeditions' Northwest Passage: In the Footsteps of Franklin voyage. Pangnirtung is a small Inuit hamlet known for its traditional arts and sculpture. A visit to Pangnirtung is another reason to book a Nunavut cruise adventure.

Baffin Island climbing and trekking

Many outdoor enthusiasts travel to Nunavut for Baffin Island climbing and trekking. One of the most popular climbs is Mt. Asgard, a twin-peaked mountain with two flat-topped rock towers, located Auyuittuq National Park. Of course, those who want one of the most challenging Baffin Island climbing and trekking experiences dream about climbing Mt. Thor in Baffin Island. Baffin Island is known for its “big wall” climbing, especially in the Cumberland Peninsula vicinity within the boundaries of Auyuittuq National Park and the coastal region near the Clyde River where numerous walls rise vertically—and dramatically—right up out of the sea! 
Remote Baffin Island attracts wildlife enthusiasts, kayakers, polar history buffs and other types of polar adventurers.

Towering peaks, many of them snow-covered, form the backdrop to vistas throughout Baffin Island. Photo: Courtesy of Quark Expeditions

Hiking and trekking are popular activities in Auyuittuq National Park. One of the most popular trekking destinations is Akshayuk Pass, a 97-kilometre corridor of mountains and ice. This trek requires a lot of planning and consulting with appropriate park authorities in advance.

Baffin Island and Greenland Expedition & Cruise

For many polar enthusiasts, deciding where to travel in the Arctic can be a difficult challenge—though not a bad one to have. There are so many unique and wonderful places to visit in the Arctic—Spitsbergen in Norway's Svalbard archipelago, the Canadian High Arctic, remote Russia, Greenland, Iceland, even the North Pole. Sometimes travelers are able to combine more than one polar region in a single Arctic expedition cruise. A popular request is for a Baffin Island and Greenland Expedition & Cruise option. Quark Expeditions fulfills this demand with the hugely popular Best of the Western Arctic and Greenland voyage, combing two incredible Arctic regions in one polar cruise.

On this particular Baffin Island Greenland expedition and cruise voyage, visitors will explore the northerly shores of Canada's Baffin Island and the western coast of Greenland, visiting local communities and searching for wildlife that inhabit these remote areas. Zodiac cruising give visitors unique perspectives of icebergs, glaciers and fjords. Community visits provide fascinating insights into traditional and modern ways of life in the Western Arctic. The rugged beauty of these pristine landscapes will leave guests breathless, whether it's the soaring cliffs of Sam Ford Fjord or the sculpted icebergs that dominate the Ilulissat Icefjord. In a wildlife-rich region such as this, it's quite possible you'll spot whales or catch a glimpse of one of the Arctic's most iconic animals—the polar bear.
Guests explore the ice-laden water ways of the Canadian High Arctic on Zodiacs.

Guests explore the ice-laden water ways of the Canadian High Arctic on Zodiacs. These sturdy watercraft enable travelers to get off the ship for immersive polar experiences. Photo: Quark Expeditions

How to get to Baffin Island

Your options of how to get to Baffin Island will differ depending on your departure airport, in other words, where you live in the world. Most visitors to Baffin Island catch flights from Ottawa or Montreal, Canada. That's how to fly there. But how to get to Baffin Island truly requires a seasoned polar operator with lots of experience navigating the Arctic waters, polar ice and rugged, often snow-covered terrain. Quark Expeditions has been traveling to the Arctic for three decades—and only takes guests to the Polar Regions, either the Arctic or Antarctic. Read our How to get to Baffin Island guide.

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