Over on the Big Think blog, Tobin Hack has posted a link to a Public Radio International piece on Stephen Pax Leonard, a Cambridge University professor who will be spending the next year learning and documenting Inuktun, the local dialect of Quaanaaag, Greenland.
But this is about more than just language. The Inughuit language is in danger because their way of life is changing, as climate change endangers the animals they hunt and the environment in which they and those animals live. As Leonard explains,
“It’s a community that’s dependent on the hunting of sea mammals. Because of global warming there are fewer animals to kill and it’s increasingly dangerous to do so using these ancient traditional techniques that they use [dogsled and kayak] and so it looks like now this entire community could be moved further south within 10-15 years. And if that happens, the language, culture, the way of life will all go, will all disappear.”
“If their language dies,” says Leonard, “their heritage and identity will die with it.” Leonard has a head start on the communication front; he’ll be able to get by in his new adopted community by speaking Danish, until he gets the hang of Inukun. But he’ll be rushing toward fluency in his first few months, because all of the good stuff – all of the Inughuit’s most important songs, stories, myths, and spiritual beliefs – live in Inuktun.
I’m so excited to finally see the finished copy of Brüdder Productions’ short film, Anirniq. Created as part of the Parallel Lines competition, the film had to include the following lines as its only dialogue:
What is that?
It’s a Unicorn.
Never seen one up close before.
Get away, get away.
The guys at Brüdder did an amazing job with this. Having followed their progress, I thought I knew what to expect with this film, but it’s even cooler and more beautiful than I expected.
We recently led an adventure trip to Hall Beach in Nunavut to see the walrus and whales during the summer break up. One of our clients brought his recently purchased iPhone 4 and took this stunning photograph of walrus hauled out on the ice pack. Its better than some pictures taken with a real camera!!
A ship abandoned over 150 years ago during a search for the lost Franklin expedition has been found in Banks Island’s Mercy Bay. The ship, which reports say to be in surprisingly good condition, was abandoned after it’s crew, who had been trapped in the ice in Mercy Bay for over two years, were rescued by a Royal Navy sledge team. The ship remained trapped in the ice for another two years before sinking to the bay’s silty bottom.
Archeologists have no immediate plans to raise the ship. Sonar and remotely-operated camera equipment will be used to survey the area and inspect the craft.
The folks over at Brüdder have posted a great video of their encounter with a narwhal on their recent Arctic Kingdom-led expedition to Baffin Island.
It’s a bit shaky (understandable given the cameraman’s cold hands and the fact that the narwhal dove under the kayak!), but I think it really captures something essential about the one-on-whale encounter!
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.