Scientists working in Antarctica have discovered four new species of octopus, armed with a cold-resistant venom. Researcher Bryan Fry explains:
We found that venom can work at sub-zero temperatures. It was quite remarkable to find how well octopuses have adapted to Antarctic life,” Fry said.
There was a great diversity of species, ranging from octopuses that were two inches long to giant ones, he said.
“Evolutionary selection pressures slowly changed their venom, which allowed them to spread into colder and colder waters and eventually spread into super-cold waters,” Fry said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
“We want to see what cool and wonderful new venom components we can find out of these venoms that would be useful in drug development,” he said.
“Nature has designed a perfect killing weapon … they have such incredibly accurate activity that there has to be a way to harness that. To tweak it or modify it or just use one little chunk.”
The previously-undiscovered venoms could be a boon to medical science. Snake venom serves as the basis of some hypertension medications, and diabetes medicines have been derived from the saliva of the gila monster.
Of course, the truly hip prefer their narwhals live and in the wild. The Arctic isn’t just cool, it’s freezing.
(The pedantic blogger in me has to point out that the narwhal’s mouth in the video clip above is in entirely the wrong place. That horn is, as we all well know, a long tooth, and not just some poky thing the narwhal wears as a hat).
Up Here magazine, a northern culture, travel and lifestyle magazine, has released a swimsuit issue in order to draw attention to climate change and the warming Arctic.
The issue, which features women from northern Canada posing in swimsuits among some of the north’s most threatened landscapes, is generating some controversy. Some feel that a swimsuit issue is too flippant a way of drawing attention to the issue of global warming and that the photos exploit women.
More than just a collection of titillating images, the issue also features testimony from both northerners and scientists concerning the effects of climate change on the Canadian north.
Seattie, one of the Inuit guides we work with, captured by a Brüdder photographer. Photo via Flickr
Yesterday, I talked a bit about the folks over at Brüdder, who recently came up to Baffin Island to work on their short film Anirniq.
One of the fun things for me (since I didn’t get to tag along on the trip) has been catching up on the team’s adventures in Baffin after the fact, via the travelogues posted on the Anirniq website. There are so many great little details about the teams’ experience. Take this video, for example, of the team packing for their trip:
From the air and through the breaking clouds we finally see the mosaic of melting sea ice resembling morning frost on a windshield. I imagine the elusive narwhal making their commute through the dark trails of ocean water below to our awaiting, Arctic film set. They are ready for their close up. Let’s hope we are.
The stewardess makes a hat out of the business section of the newspaper and places it on the head of a curious Inuit boy sitting in the front row. He has stopped fidgeting, intently watching the process. I wonder why he is in the emergency exit row and commissioned with my safety if – in the unlikely event – we plummet into the sea ice and must evacuate to life rafts. I suppose that is because of the Inuit belief that if you fall into the water you drown and so I would assume that theory likely extends to twin-engine aircraft. It is hard to argue that point. I relinquish my fate to the restless, fidgety boy.
Pulled by snow machines in our qamutiks we navigated the ever-changing surface of the floe edge like a game of chutes and ladders – miles and miles of frozen sea stretching across the wide inlet. With each passing week the ice was melting further and large cracks developed, dividing the massive expanse of ice into large sections that would inevitably break off and drift out to sea before melting in the summer months of July and August. To cross, our guides would weave from one shore of the inlet to the next looking for a narrow crossing that we could be safely pulled over. In many cases, the heavy qamutiks would need to be detached and pushed to the edge of the cracks by hand with the towline thrown to the opposite side. The guides would then throttle across the gaps, “skipping” on the exposed ocean water on the wider crevices and then reattaching the sled and heaving it over the cracks. The exposed sea was a mixture of salt and fresh water called halocline. The water below the first few feet could drop as low as -4 degrees Celsius without freezing due to the salt content while the surface water would rest around 0 degrees. The surface of the floe edge was mainly a thin layer of snow that in some places had melted into large, glimmering pools that radiated a fluorescent, aqua blue yet to be represented on any color wheel I had seen.
There are also some great observations about the Arctic Kingdom team. Here’s a description of one of the expedition’s Inuit guides (whose photo adorns the top of this post):
Seattie’s face and demeanor is warm and light-hearted. He is vibrant and full of energy with a keen sense of humor picked up through his broken English. Like most who make their living on the floe edge, he bares the tan line insignia around his eyes from sunglasses. It is incredibly reassuring – a sort of barometer of experience in the Arctic environment.
And here’s Thomas (whose energy, I’d say, is one of his defining characteristics) meeting the team as they arrive in Pond Inlet:
Touch down. The houses and buildings of the small town pepper a ridge overlooking the frozen sea. Thomas, from Arctic Kingdom and our lead guide for the trip is there to greet us on the dirt runway. He is the perfect mold of an adventure guide: coated in weeks of sun that you would generally find on an avid spring skier or someone who has been living on the sea ice for a month. He is energetic and friendly but in a passive, laid back matter. Although his eyes are red and blood shot they reflect the intrigue, vim and vigor of what we hope to experience in the week to come. He seems to be here because he wants to, not because he has to.
I could pull quotes for days, but you get the idea. And really, the best way to get this story is straight from the source.
AK guide Seattie pulls the Brüdder team. Photo via the Brüdder Flickr page
The Arctic is, suffice it to say, a unique filming location. From the landscape to the light to the people who call it home, there really is no place on earth like it. Literally.
Recently Arctic Kingdom had the pleasure of working with Brüdder Productions, a Vancouver-based production company. Brüdder recently sent a team to Baffin Island as part of the creation of a short film called Anirniq, which is Inuktitut for breath, or soul.
The Brüdder team films a shot for the short film Anirniq. Image via the Brudder Flickr stream
The film is being created for the Philips “Parallel Lines” competition, which challenges filmmakers to create a film using only six lines of dialogue. The dialogue must be used in order, with no other text added in. Here it is:
“What is it?”
“It’s a unicorn.”
“I’ve never seen one up close before.”
“Get away, get away.”
I don’t know about you, but I can think of all sorts of cool possibilities for that dialogue set in an Arctic environment. I can’t wait to see this movie!
The folks at Brüdder are whetting my appetite by posting some great travelogues on their blog, and some fabulous photos on their Flickr page (including the shots I shamelessly lifted for this post). Be sure to check it out!
I don’t know about you, but my favorite part of the recent Disneynature film Oceans was the walrus mother hugging her pup close as she teaches him to navigate the ice cold water off Cobourg Island.
Maybe I’m biased. After all, this was just some of the fabulous footage captured by Disneynature crews working with Arctic Kingdom. And, despite un-self conscious the ease with which the walrus cradles her young, the shoot was not without its challenges. In a recent article posted at the Canada Tourism Centre’s Media center, AK founder Graham Dickson explains:
“Walruses are not only potentially dangerous, but the mothers tend to be protective of their young. So finding one, in clear water, that keeps doing her thing naturally, was pretty incredible.”
Graham goes on to explain that finding animals in the wild is just one of the challenges of filming Arctic wildlife.
“The challenge is to find meaningful connections” between the animals, he says. Some animals are frankly too self-conscious; they’re so aware of the dive crews that they aren’t … themselves. Sometimes, strangely enough, the most intimidating animals make the most fittingly Zen subjects. Like, for example, a big alpha-male polar bear, caught at a moment when he’s well fed and king of all he surveys. Bears in such conditions “are almost blasé,” Dickson says. “They don’t care that you’re around. They don’t fear you. You’re not part of their food chain.”
Arctic Kingdom’s secret lies in the relationships we’ve formed over years of working and returning to the Arctic. Meaningful connections built between our expedition leaders and the local guides we work with help us to find and form connections with the wild creatures that make the Arctic their home.
“[The Inuit] have the strongest connection of anyone to the wildlife,” Dickson says. Roughly half of Arctic Kingdom’s field personnel team comes from the local native communities. “We work not only with youth but with very old elders who don’t speak English. We’re a ‘southern’ company that has spent enough time in the North to actually know some Northern ways. We bring the sophisticated logistics, but we still plug into the local community network and everything the Inuit hold near and dear.”
By relying on the traditional knowledge of Inuit guides, Arctic Kingdom is providing jobs for far northern communities that draws upon traditional knowledge and values, helping build and strengthen the Arctic economy for a changing future. Simultaneously, we’re helping other “southerners” connect with the world of the North (including some extremely photogenic walruses). Not a bad way to make a living!
The Economist just posted an interesting article about the scientific research taking place in Ny-Ålesund, a village on the High Arctic island of Spitsbergen
The village logs some 14,000 researcher-days a year: the scientists normally come and go on twice-weekly flights from Longyearbyen, about 110km away, except for those who arrive on research ships, or on the vessels that bring in provisions and fuel to replenish the stocks in the rather rusted tanks that stand up above the jetty. A few dozen of them spend the winter up here. “The midnight sun is one thing,” one of the select few boasts, “but the full moon at noon is rarer and finer.”
The article highlights how this small village, at the near-top of the world, is at once isolated from and connected to the world below, drawing researchers from around the world and generating data that speaks to our shared environment, where no single country or individual is ever truly isolated from the larger world.
The Arctic is the world’s attic: a lot of junk lofted high into the atmosphere farther south ends up there. And the facilities for studying it all, especially those high above the settlement in the laboratory at the summit of Mt Zeppelin, away from any local disturbances, are exquisitely sensitive. Some of these instruments form part of the world’s network for monitoring carbon dioxide levels. Others monitor methane, carbon monoxide, ozone, lead, and all sorts of particles. Some bottle up air for yet more meticulous examination far away, in Britain, or in Boulder, Colorado. Kim Holmen of the Norwegian Polar Institute says some of his equipment could detect a cigarette at 2km. Through their careful monitoring he and his colleagues connect themselves to conflagrations a great deal farther away than that, picking up industrial pollutants and forest fires from all parts of Eurasia.
Say you want to film some narwhals. How do you know where to go? When should you arrive for the best chance of encountering migrating whales? How will you get there? How can you protect your equipment from cold and moisture, and how do you know when it’s safe to get in the water?
The June/July issue of Men’s Journal is out, with their special spread on Canada for Adrenaline Junkies. Arctic Kingdom is listed for the #1 activity, Dive With Whales. The article states,
In summer, the Arctic sea is dotted with sun-sculpted icebergs and populated with monsters: beluga whales and narwhals, walrus, seals, Greenland sharks and polar bears. The best way to see the beasts is to don a wetsuit and dive right in: Whales, congregating along the floe edge, will swim beside you, eye to gigantic eye.
As the article goes on to note, the wildlife isn’t the only attraction. There’s the shocking blue of the ice, the water alive with microscopic creatures, and kayaking in sunlight at two AM, when “the sun casts long shadows and the glowing ice makes for a surreal experience.”