We started our second full day exploring Arctic Canada by navigating south alongside the southeastern portion of Baffin Island. National Geographic Explorer, our beautiful and reliable home away from home, sailed smoothly through the Davis Strait, accompanied by fulmars and other seabirds. Occasionally, the big iceberg on the horizon showed a distorted shape. This is caused by Fata Morgana, an optical illusion produced by a layer of cold air above the ocean, a phenomenon that makes us think of distant castles from faraway lands. We admired the rugged Lady Franklin Island as we passed it on the way to our destination, Monumental Island, Nunavut.

Eventually, we arrived to the remote Monumental Island, named by Arctic explorer Charles Francis Hall in memory of his friend Sir John Franklin, whose famous expedition in search of the mythical Northwest Passage ended tragically. Located at 62° 45’ N and 63° 51’ W, the island is small and very rugged. It was surrounded by several icebergs that reminded us, as if the frigid air weren’t enough of a reminder, that the Arctic Circle isn’t far. We decided to explore with our Zodiacs. Black guillemots nest at Monumental, and we saw numerous individuals. These handsome birds have a jet-black body, a pure white patch on the wings, and coral-red legs.

We know that walruses frequent the island and searched for them along the shoreline, finding a group of females and youngsters swimming close to the rocks. Their huge bodies were a pale tone due to reduced blood flow close to their skin while in cold water. We all got great views from a respectful distance. The impressive tusks of the adults and their bloodshot eyes caught every photographer’s attention. The cute, small, young ones delighted us with their frolicking in the surf. After a while, we parted ways with the walruses to meet another group of even stranger creatures: Vikings! The Vikings (staff members dressed in costume) offered us cups of hot chocolate that really hit the spot, making us forget the cold Arctic air for a bit. What a delicious treat and a great way to end to another wonderful day exploring the fabled lands of the north!

Photo caption and photographer: A couple adult female walruses with some youngsters at Monumental Island, Nunavut. Photo by Carlos Navarro