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Arctic “Floe Edge” Expedition 2006

JUNE 19th, 2006

 

Student Journals
Students at the Floe Edge!As the afternoon is coming to a close, heavy fog has sunk down from above the mountains and has created a ‘white out’ effect. It’s difficult to grasp the enormity of where I am- though all around me is a great expanse of either white or blue- primarily white- and everything (from the physical landscape to the way of life) is simply so different than my Toronto city life - that I don’t think my mind can quite comprehend where I am. In fact, it is quite probable that it won’t quite click until I get home and reminisce and digest – something that could take months and years with the monstrosity of the land and experience- however something did ‘click’ yesterday when, with toes frozen together, I gawked over cliffs followed by turquoise and teal pools in an immense white landscape…and meanwhile, off in the distance, we were able to sight a polar bear, trudging along as the king or queen of the North.

This experience is unreal. Sitting here, wearing exactly eight layers on my top, one that includes a large down jacket- and still feeling cold (!)- I am able to detract my mind from my freezing toes and communicate with the ‘civilized world,’ – technology has seriously progressed. One can not feel too far away when it is possible to send out messages to computers situated globally; however it is also not difficult to feel entirely isolated as well just by looking out onto the pure white ice or imagining where we are on a world map… somewhere on the ice of the Arctic Ocean far up north. It’s interesting to connect with the ‘civilized world’ as my mind has been so far away- busy pondering about the role of humans, our responsibilities to the Earth and how to keep myself warm.

The six hour all night trip out to the camp was probably the most frightful part yet as ice cracked and moved under us and large water expanses on top of the bottom layer of ice were apparent everywhere. There were many times I felt like I was on a boat – yet another potential sign of a warming climate in the Arctic. (Wow, my feet are cold.) What one must also try to comprehend is the overall impact of melting ice and how dependent every ecosystem is on the ice of the Arctic- (Rosie and I will be writing another entry on ‘The World without Ice’). As well, the impacts of climate change on the Inuit community are immense and tragic to say the least. If it’s the world’s combined actions that are speeding up the rate of climate change, then it’s the entire world population’s responsibility to slow it down. With an issue as large as this one, it will take not only the superpowers of the world but the combined effort of all of us. Development and progress, in my opinion, can still occur however every new change and development should be made with a pair of green glasses – viewing every new opportunity in a light that would reduce our impact on the environment and create positive change. There also must be a new change in our mentality- from short term impact thinking to long term thinking (however climate change is speeding up at such a rate that short term may just be o.k.).

It’s difficult to ask humanity to respect mother earth when we can not even respect each other – something we see as blood is shed throughout the world daily. However, similar to the idea of functioning person to person relationship where the give-and-take idea occurs, this mutual respect must be instilled. As we take and take from our earth, we must also give back in an equal if not greater amount. If we had started giving back equally earlier then giving back more probably would not have to occur presently. And if I’m not making sense right now, it’s probably because both my brain and cold fingers are not functioning to their supreme capabilities. However, on a more positive side, here I see land asking for our help and a group of dedicated youth and adults who are willing to give. I’ll give my fingers some much-needed warmth now and end with a quote from the Buddhist faith: Cut down the forest of desire, not the forest of trees.

Side note: Happy, Happy Father’s Day to the most incredible father (yesterday)… and Happy Birthday Anthony in two days…. I love you all. Xx

Deeva Green

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Today was our first day at the floe edge. In a way it was what I expected but in many ways I was surprised at the layout and the activities that went on there.

When we arrived at a suitable spot on the edge we started to get settled in. The guides scouted Beluga and Murresahead on snowmobiles to search for bears and possibly whales. Little did we expect, five minutes after arriving at the floe edge, one of the guides came zooming back and yelled out, “Whales, whales.” Everybody sprinted back to the komatiks and we sped over to the site. After we arrived at the new location, everybody jumped out and started looking towards the open water. Someone yelled out and we saw the beluga whales moving towards us. Then almost instantly, more beluga whales started to pop up from everywhere. I got some good shots and taped a movie of a large group swimming across about 10 feet from where we were standing. That was amazing. The whales are pure white and are about 15 feet long. They came out and dropped back into the water very gracefully. We saw an estimated 100 beluga whales at that spot in about 10 minutes. Many guides and scientists who travel along the floe edge constantly don’t see any beluga whales traveling in large groups and much less in those types of numbers. One of the biologists on our trip, David, has been traveling to the Arctic for 37 years and has never seen a beluga whale. Our guides have been traveling to that spot for 15 years and never saw a beluga there.

As well as seeing those whales, we saw one of the rarest arctic birds called an Ivory Gull. It is pure white except for the feet, eyes and beak and is a very beautiful bird. While David was talking about birds, almost on queue, the bird circled around us and came within a few feet of the group. We got an awesome view of the gull. Basically the whole time at the floe edge was like that with birds coming out in flocks as we were taking about them and seals popping their head out of the water to take a look at us. The biodiversity was amazing, especially with the birds. We saw about ten unique species of birds while we were there.

I couldn’t have asked for more in today as it was one of the rarest days I will ever experience. I am quite amazed with all of the action at the floe edge today and am excited to see more tomorrow.

Jonathan Leff

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Hiking to Italak PointToday is day two of our on ice camping, and it was amazing. We went out to the floe edge, stayed in one spot for about ten minutes and then were called out by a guide who had gone on ahead to go see a pod of narwhales. Although we never saw the narwhales, we saw a pod of belugas, which even most of the guides had never seen before. At first there was just one pod far out, but for about half an hour to an hour there were more and more pods coming across where we were, and coming closer. Some even went right under us to hunt under the ice! It was so surreal.

Afterwards when the excitement of seeing hundreds of belugas wore off, we started a big snowball fight, and then listened to Dave’s lecture about the Arctic birds (and conveniently most of the time he was talking about a specific bird one or a flock of them would fly by). We ate a grilled cheese lunch out on the flow edge, and just before we left the winds changed and we got to watch huge chunks of ice come into where we were and push up the edges of the ice flow.

On the way back we had a huge snowball fight between the sleds while they were moving, and one of the sleds got completely drenched when there sled hit a huge puddle at top speed. At the moment the people in that sled are drying off in their tents before dinner. We also had one stop on the way back to see a seal carcass that had been left behind by hunters and later picked off by a (or possibly two judging by the tracks) polar bear. Now its dinner time, so I’m going to go.

Kristen

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A nine hour sleep sure does you well out here camping in the arctic. Everyone seemed well rested enough; no one slept in the komatiks on our way to the floe edge this afternoon. Once we got there we immediately noticed all the birds around, some swimming, some flying and some resting. A few minutes later, after we had arrived at the floe edge, one of the Inuit guides comes running and tells us that he spotted a narwhale a little bit further. So, everyone raced to their komatiks, hopped in and drove off. Two minutes later we arrived at the new floe edge site, and much to our disappointment there were no narwhales. However we didn’t give up hope and kept watching.

Literally thirty seconds later another Inuit guide spotted some beluga whales in the distance to our left. As cameras were clicking away we did not notice that another whole pod of belugas where coming towards us from the right. As soon as the original three went far away, we then noticed the approaching pods. It was spectacular!

Beluga after beluga after beluga kept coming, it was so beautiful. They swam so gracefully and even though you could only see their creamy-white backs and the ends of their tails, it was still so breath-taking. Some as far as 20 meters away, others only two meters! One guide had said that at least 100 belugas must have swum by, which is really surprising. This is because belugas are rarely seen at that particularly floe edge. To put it in perspective, one of our staff, Doctor David Gray, had never seen belugas there in the thirty-five years he had been to that spot. Also, another Inuit guide had said he had never seen belugas there either!

After the whales had passed there were still lots of wildlife at the floe edge. We saw many different types of birds, including the endangered Ivory Gull, as well as a curious seal about 10 meters away from the edge.

The rest of the time spent at the floe edge was spent playing ultimate frisbee, having snowball fights, enjoying a delicious lunch, and listening to an education lecture about the birds of the Arctic.

Because of our very lucky day at the floe edge, everyone is pretty tired and I’m sure we’ll sleep quite well tonight, although the winds are picking up. On an ending note: GO OILERS! (Even though by the time you read this the game will be done.)

Maggie

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Incredible is a word that comes to mind when thinking about today.  It was our first day out on theBeluga Whales at Floe Edge 1 official floe edge.  We woke up and had a scrambled egg omelet for breakfast, which I delivered to everyone since I was server.  Then Ingrid gave a talk all about ice, its properties, location, and environmental impacts among other things.  Then the toilets needed to be cleaned, and Kristen didn’t have time to teach anyone new, so I did it again with her.  The good thing is I’ve done my duty and so I won’t have to do it again for the rest of the trip.

We loaded the komatiks and headed out across the ice.  It was about an hour to an hour and a half to reach the floe edge.  We reached it, and barely had time to step out of the komatiks when one of the guides came racing back on snowmobile saying that there were a bunch of whales farther down.  We sprinted back to the komatiks and raced across the ice at full speed.  We reached the designated spot, hoped out, and went to the edge. 

Within ten minutes we could see a group of whales.  They were belugas.  I could see their white backs that broke the surface as they swam.  That group of whales had barely passed when another came, and then another.  By the time the pack was done, we had seen over a hundred belugas.  They were so close too.  They seemed to have had no fear of being close to us.  I was maybe ten feet away from the whales that swam closest to shore.  Ingrid dropped in the underwater microphone and we could hear them communicating.  We could hear the seals underwater too.  I put the mike on my camera right next to the headphones and got a good recording of the sounds.  It was incredible to hear the whales in their own environment, and seeing that many belugas march by is an experience I’ll never forget.  The guides said they had never seen whales in that area, Geoff said he wasn’t even expecting to come across beluga whales at all on this expedition, and David said he has been coming to the arctic for 37 years and never ever seen a beluga before today.

After the highlight of the day passed, we started another ultimate Frisbee game, which is always fun.  Then David gave a lecture on birds, and it was certainly one of the best lectures I’ve ever attended.  The floe edge was abuzz with fowl activity, and instead of showing us pictures or slides of the birds, David could just turn around and point them out in person.  We also saw an ivory gull, which are on the endangered species list and rare to see.  It flew over our heads twice, so we were within a few feet of it, and David said he had never gotten that close to an ivory gull before.

We had a lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches and vegetable soup, and then spread out on the ice to just enjoy the scenery and complete silence.  A little bit later a snowball fight got started, and then a spear throwing competition.  One of the guides had a steel pole they use to check the thickness of the ice.  It has a sharp point on the end, and we made a snow “seal” as a target and tried our hand at throwing the pole as a javelin.  I wasn’t very good at it unfortunately.        

Before we left, large chunks of the sea ice had floated into the floe edge.  We got to see them collide with the ice we were on and saw the pressure ridges it created.  I could also hear all the ice creaking and cracking.

After that we loaded up the komatiks.  The snowball fight continued, however, because everyone made snowballs to take on the komatiks with them.  So later we were throwing snowballs at each other from moving komatiks and it was so much fun.

We stopped soon and found another pair of polar bear tracks.  The bear had come to scavenge a seal carcass that was near by that had been killed by Inuit hunters.

After reloading the komatiks and spending about another hour on them we got back to camp.  We had about forty-five minutes of free time of which I was glad because it gave me time to catch up on recording my pictures so I don’t forget what they are.  Then we had a dinner of chicken fajitas and hot chocolate to drink, with chocolate brownies for dessert.  I’ll say this; the food is a lot better out here than what I thought it was going to be.

Eric gave a talk on the cryosphere, which deals with all the ice and frozen water in the world.  It’s scary to hear some of the things that will occur with global warming.  Scary.

I’m also working on putting together one of the pod/vod casts.  SOI is doing a number of video and audio presentations for the upcoming Arctic year.  I’m working on one all about water, any kind of water, and how global warming will affect it.

After I finish this, I’ll proof read everyone’s journal entries and then help Geoff transmit them to the website, just like last night.  I certainly don’t mind my duty, and I think its’ a lot of fun, but since I have to wait for everyone else to complete an entry, it keeps me up a little later than I would have liked.

The wind here is incredible right now.  We came back from the floe edge today, and two of the tents had blown down.  One was a guide’s tent, and the other was our tech tent which was being held in place only by the weight of the computers and other equipment in it.  Now, typing this, I can’t tell you how glad I am that I’m in a tent, out of the wind.

To Mom and Dad, I hope it is obvious that I am having a great time.  Seeing the belugas today was incredible.  I’m also staying warm.  Our sleeping bags are nice and cozy and not in the least bit cold.  I love you lots and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Tomorrow we go to Graham Moore, the largest bird colony in this area.  After that, we, as Geoff would say, go with the floe (pun intended).  Goodnight.

Phillip Swarts

 

 

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