See wildlife in the coldest places on Earth

Dig out the thermal underwear and locate your scarf and gloves for the very best places to experience wildlife in the Arctic and Antarctic.

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BBC Wildlife Magazine travel supplement, March 2014.

South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

Landings at Point Wild on Elephant Island are often aborted, and it’s not just because of the crashing surf. The sheer mass of chinstrap penguins and southern fur seals thronging the beach means there’s simply not enough room.

Nearly a century ago this island offered comfort to the crew of Ernest Shackleton’s shipwrecked ship Endurance.

The archipelago of 150-odd islets, 120km north of the Antarctic Peninsula, hosts millions of penguins, seals and seabirds.

The volcanic Deception Island is the place for teeming chinstrap rookeries of some 50,000 birds or more, while Livingston Island’s beaches bulge with elephant and fur seals and chinstrap, gentoo and Macaroni penguins.

 

Paradise Bay, Antarctic Peninsula

For wave-battered wildlife watchers seeking calm seas after a turbulent voyage across the Drake Passage, Paradise Bay is just that.

A vast amphitheatre of glaciated mountains reflected in the berg-studded waters creates a captivating backdrop for a show with a cast of thousands. The chorus includes blue-eyed shags, giant petrels and gentoo penguins, with crabeater seals lolling on ice floes filling the supporting roles. And the big stars – humpbacks, minkes and killer whales – aren’t usually shy in taking a bow. Expect to see flukes, dorsals and blows regularly punctuating the water’s surface.

The performance is best viewed from close to the waves in a Zodiac or paddling in a sea kayak, or from the mountainsides above the bay from where the action plays out in a spectacular widescreen panorama.

 

Disko Bay, Greenland

Here be giants – and not just the icebergs calved from Ilulissat Icefjord that feeds Disko Bay with some 20 million tonnes of fresh ice each day.

In summer watch for humpbacks erupting from the water as they gorge on krill, fish and squid. But in winter and spring it is the domain of ancient bowheads, equipped with the thickest blubber of any whale for life year-round in Greenland’s waters.

You can spot both species from a kayak, or from the port of Qeqertarsuaq (‘the big island’) on Disko Island.

 

Baffin Island, Canada

The national park called Auyuittuq takes its name from the Inuit word for ‘the land that never melts’ – and no wonder. On and around Baffin Island it’s cold – very cold. But that’s how its inhabitants like it, notably belugas, narwhals, polar bears and walruses.

The island’s sparse population and inaccessibility are also part of the attraction.

An icebreaker cruise up the east coast is the best (okay, pretty much the only) way to experience the icily beautiful landscapes and the wildlife that inhabits them.

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