National Geographic : 1991 Jul
MY FELLOW DIVERS, belugas captivated me with their grace and forwardness. Called sea canaries by whal ers, the gregarious belugas announced themselves with trills and chirps and estab lished my position by echoloca tion. So curious were these gentle white whales that I could almost guarantee myself a group shot. All I had to do was start swimming back toward the floe edge and then turn around. Usually I would find behind me a gang of belugas (far left), twisting and twirling like modern dancers. Narwhals, the fabulous tusked whales, arrive in great numbers in July, shortly after the belugas, having migrated from wintering grounds in the pack ice along Baffin Island. By midsummer the water is usually murky with plankton. Once, however, I chanced upon a rare unobstructed view of four male narwhals swimming in forma tion (left). Their tusks, which are living teeth, were six to seven feet long. The Inuit's spring hunt in Admiralty Inlet has for centuries centered around the narwhal, which they now harvest accord ing to a quota system. Hunted from the ice, the narwhal satis fies a variety of needs: meat for humans and dogs; a favorite food called muktuk, the whale's skin; and, for the cash-starved local economy, spiraled ivory tusks, which the hunters legally sell by the foot to Asian buyers. One marine mammal I avoid ed was the Atlantic walrus (top). Clunky on land, walrus are fast and powerful in water, and they can be aggressive. I contented myself with photographing a pair sunning on an ice floe.