Wildlife Climatology The Expedition Peoples Of The North The Global Issues The "Making Of"



The Expedition

Peoples Of The North

The Global Issues

The "Making Of"

Caroline Underwood Writes from Pond Inlet, Baffin Island

Caroline Underwood Parcourez la galerie photo



June 12, 2002, Pond Inlet

I thought I'd just send a quick hello from the floe edge since I have a few hours whilst we re-provision. My temporary home is a tent on a 1.5m-thick floating platform of ice - give or take a metre or so. We are east of Pond Inlet, Baffin Island, 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The floe edge is the place where the ice meets the open sea and it is where the Inuit of Pond Inlet come to hunt narwhal at this time of year.

This is an amazing place - one minute you are roasting in the sun (we all have racoon tans - white eyes and brown faces) and the next minute it is like a nasty winter's day in Toronto. The snow surface is crystalline under the sun. Today it looks like someone has thrown large iridescent fish scales all over the ground. The Inuktitut word for this kind of snow is "kavisirdlak." In places the ice is covered with brilliant turquoise meltwater puddles that can merge to form lakes on top of the ice - this can make our snowmobile and komitic (sled) travel a challenge. The ice at the floe edge is constantly changing shape and consistency, and we rely on our guides to determine where it is safe to travel.

We are camped about 20 minutes away from the actual floe edge. The hunters camp at the edge but you have to be prepared to move quickly if your piece of ice decides to head out to sea. We camped a bit further away as I didn't want to come back after a day of filming to discover that my bed was on its way to Greenland. Living in a tent surrounded by snow and ice presents a few challenges - getting fresh water being one of them. It takes a lot of snow to make tea for six people. Our tents are anchored by large rocks that act as heat sinks. They gradually melt down into the ice, so we have to move all the tents every four or five days - otherwise it is a bit like living in a paddling pool.

There is 24 hours of daylight so most days we work from 10 a.m. to midnight and have our lunch and dinner at the floe edge. The floe edge is where all the action is - narwhals, bowhead whales, ringed seals, thick-billed murres, guillemots (the Arctic's version of the penguin), eider ducks and polar bears all come here to feast. Our hydrophone (an underwater microphone) sends out a steady stream of ethereal whistles (ringed seals), clicks (walrus) and a sewing machine-like clatter from the narwhals. We like to leave it on, especially if there is nothing to see on the surface - it reminds us that we are not alone and to be patient.

The images captured by my underwater cameraman, Mario Cyr, also show that there is a very busy world under our feet. We can see some of it in the leads - places where the ice has started to separate and you can see down into the water. It is full of beautiful, translucent zooplankton that comes in all shapes and sizes. Some of them emit red or bluish-white phosphorescence. There is so much zooplankton, phytoplankton and tiny shrimp floating on the current that the seawater in the leads looks more like soup than water. At the floe edge, bowhead whales scoop up hundreds of litres of it and filter out the zooplankton with their baleen plates. Last week we filmed a bowhead whale repeatedly diving under the floe edge to feast. She/he was only 40 metres away from us!

The morning after our midnight adventures with the bowhead we spent an hour or so with a curious polar bear. She (a female according to our Inuit guides) came over from a couple kilometres away to check us out. She eventually decided to lie down about 30 metres away from us and wash her paws. My cameraman was getting pretty nervous, but I suspect that it was because she was filling his camera frame! Eventually she'd had enough of us - perhaps it was because none of us had had a shower in the past week!


La faune