Thursday, September 20, 2012

Grise Fiord

Apologies for the long silence - moving house will do that to a person! But I'm back now and hope to resume my pace of at least one post per week about my Arctic adventure!

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Grise Fiord

In the early 50's, the Canadian government brought several families here, having persuaded them to resettle with (false) promises of prolific hunting and subsistence opportunities. They left these people, men, women, and children, on an exposed beach near where the town currently sits, with little more than what they carried on their backs. There was no support from the government in the form of food or shelter, let alone healthcare, medical services, education, etc.

Memorial to the Original Settlers of this Community

One gentleman, Peter, who guided us from the beach where we landed in zodiacs to the memorial to the original people of the town, was a small child when his parents first arrived here. It was evident from the way he spoke of subsequent events, that the people of the settlement still suffer the effects of the incredibly difficult circumstances they had to overcome, and the trauma they suffered.

This was the first Canadian northern community that we visited. From what my fellow passengers told me, people who've been on previous cruises to Canada's north, and visited other communities, what I observed here is to be expected in other Canadian Inuit settlements.


Whale Bone - Part of the Jaw or Spine?

The women and children of the village put on a bit of a fashion show and demonstration of traditional Inuit garments for the cruise ship visitors. While it was interesting, it felt a bit uncomfortable to me - like they were opening themselves up to us like we were visitors to a zoo. I've no idea why I felt that way, as I've been to other similar presentations by other cultures, and never had that sensation. The location (the community hall) and set-up also made it difficult for everyone to get a good view, and/or to take photos.

What struck me the most was that, despite there being so few people here, and the Inuit claim of being so connected to, and their love of, the land; that in many places the town site looked like a tip. Surrounding and between the homes, on the rudimentary streets, everywhere, was rubbish - plastic wrappers and bottles, broken glass, broken toys and other household items, are added to the bones of whales and other large mammals that are scattered around among the skeletons of disused trucks, skidoos, boats, hunting and fishing gear, and outboard motors. There is a dump just outside the town that looked from a distance like a graveyard of 60+ years' worth of refrigerators and snowmobiles - apparently general refuse doesn't go there.

And then there are the dogs, which really broke my heart. I don't think they're considered animals that feel pain and suffer boredom - they're just tools of daily life. Many chained, many with pups afoot. Even some pups were chained. They are the working dogs - the sled dogs that are unemployed during summer, for 3-4 months left chained without a break, rudimentary shelter, fed barely sufficient to keep them healthy enough to produce the next generation. And yet, among them, perhaps the influence of modern tv (plenty of satellite dishes in evidence), smaller pet dogs in great condition that ran loose with the children of the town. Perhaps the next generation of Inuit will be able to conceive the link between pet dogs and working dogs, and improve conditions for those that are yet to come.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Coburg Island - Polar Bear!

Heads up! This'll be a photo-heavy post (in case you haven't discovered it yet, you may click on images to see larger versions)!

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Traveling further north now, we arrive at Coburg Island, situated at the eastern entrance to Jones Strait, between the open water of Baffin Bay, Ellesmere Island and Devon Island.

Thick-billed Murre

Clipper Adventurer at Anchor

This is one of a couple of non-landing zodiac excursions we took from the Clipper Adventurer, and it was on calm seas, to view the nesting areas of millions of birds - I'm told they are mainly Black Gillimots, Thick-billed Murres, Kittiwakes, and Northern Fulmars.

Incredibly tall, beautiful cliffs awed us, but this time there was a lot more greenery to be seen - surprising/unexpected considering how much further north we had traveled!

As a photographer, there's one thing I always try to remember is: "Look behind you!" Often, as happened today, we're so enthralled by the expected "action" that we forget to look around and see what's all around us, the big picture. This is the photo I took when I briefly turned my back on those busy cliff faces - love it!

I was in one of the first zodiacs to hit the water. We were tootling along, looking at the breathtaking view of countless birds nesting, courting, flying, feeding, swimming, baby-sitting, not expecting what we heard on the radio from two zodiacs behind us: "Polar Bear!"

Yes, up on the cliff, in a nook hidden from our vantage point on the water, a polar bear had been sleeping. Perhaps the noise of our outboards eventually woke him? This is the only polar bear we saw on the cruise.

Unfortunately, I happened to be aboard the zodiac that had engine trouble - shortly after we returned to the spot where the bear was doing his thing, the engine's transmission crapped out and we were at the mercy of the current - drifting further and further away! So frustrating, but still I got some fairly decent shots!

Snoozing in his Erie

(Polar Bear in Top Right Corner of This Photo!)

Some of him feeding (looks like Thick-billed Murre chicks were the easiest to catch) ... these photos are heavily cropped so please forgive the poor quality:

Some of him climbing (in an almost-human manner that made the large mammal specialists among us very excited!):

Eventually a tow-boat arrived and we limped back to the ship. The upside is that we got a lot more opportunities for "big picture" photos than many of the other guests did! (Remember to keep your mouth closed when you look up, in this situation!)

Back aboard, it wasn't long before our handy crew had weighed anchor and we were on our way to our next stop, Grise Fjord, but you'll have to wait for the next edition for that!

Our Faithful Escort of Northern Fulmars Awaits Departure

Some of the Crew Grab a Well-Earned Break

Tom Brings a Gaggle of Passengers back to the Ship

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