October 26th, 2009 | By Jason Hillier | Filed in ACTIVITIES, Arctic Animals, Current Events, Diving, IN THE NEWS
A beluga comes face-to-face with Arctic Kingdom divers
This Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle had a fun travel feature on beluga whales. What I like most about the article is how fascinated writer John Finn is by how expressive beluga faces are. Sometimes, it's not exactly flattering:
Mostly they kept a short distance away, but a few curious ones came close and poked their heads out of the water for a better look, submerging before I could judge their facial expressions. But I can report that one whale, with a big, fat wrinkle across its brow, looked disturbingly like comedian Don Rickles.
But the piece really does capture the magic of seeing the whales face to face:
A mother and calf swam parallel to us. Another pair surfaced right next to our bow and nuzzled our kayak.
Then a bulbous white head poked out of the water, close enough to touch with my paddle, had I wanted to. We briefly made eye contact. Then, before I could get a good read on its facial expression, it disappeared and popped up near our bow. It made eye contact with my wife, Jeri, in the kayak's front seat.
This time I got a better look. Its face showed, as best I could tell, curiosity tinged with apprehension. If it could read our expressions in turn, they would have been filled with wonder.
via In Churchill, Manitoba, snorkel with belugas
Try to read a beluga's expressions, or search for the Don Rickles look-alike whale on one of Arctic Kingdom's many Arctic adventures
October 23rd, 2009 | By Jason Hillier | Filed in Uncategorized
A polar bear strides along the ice near Lancaster Sound.
In recent months, the governments of both the US and Canada have sought to protect vital areas of the Arctic.
In Canada, federal and regional governing bodies are working to create a Marine Park in the eastern Northwest Passage, in an area already much-beloved by Arctic Kingdom expedition leaders and participants:
The federal and Nunavut governments as well as the regional land claim organization are close to signing a memorandum of understanding intended to make Lancaster Sound Canada's fourth such protected region.
"It's getting close to signature," said Terry Audla, director of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association. "Talks are going on and we'll see how far it gets."
Lancaster Sound, just off the northern tip of Baffin Island, is an area of rich ecological diversity and stunning beauty that has been on Parks Canada's wish list for protection since 1987.
"Lancaster Sound is a one-of-a-kind jewel," said Scott Highleyman of the Pew Environment Group, an international environmental organization.
Its dramatic coastline is dominated by 300-metre cliffs and interspersed with bays, inlets and deep fiords. Most of the world's narwhal, as well as large numbers of beluga and bowhead whales, swim below the icebergs that bob in its waters.
In the US, the Interior Department proposed on Thursday that 200,000 square miles along Alaska's northern coast be preserved, due to the area's critical importance to polar bear survival.
Proposing critical habitat for this iconic species is one step in the right direction to help this species stave off extinction, recognizing that the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of sea ice caused by climate change,” said Thomas L. Strickland, the assistant interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.
In both cases, singling out these crucial areas for protection provides a much-needed respite for threatened arctic species, as well as drawing attention to the Arctic region.
The Canadian Press: Ottawa, Inuit near agreement on marine park for eastern Northwest Passage
U.S. Urges Protecting Alaskan Land to Save Polar Bears - NYTimes.com
October 22nd, 2009 | By Jason Hillier | Filed in Featured Trip, Filmmakers, Films, TRIPS
Found via Narwhals: The Unicorn of the Sea | Aquaviews – Online SCUBA Magazine
Edited to Add
: As Tom points out in the comments section, much of this footage was taken by filmmaker Doug Allen on an Arctic Kingdom expedition to Lancaster Sound.
October 21st, 2009 | By Jason Hillier | Filed in ACTIVITIES, AK PRODUCTS & SERVICES
It's even prettier when you've got a warm tent and a hot meal waiting for you.
This episode is more than a year old, but I had fun reading about Survivorman's stay on Pond Inlet
back in 2008. It really gives you a sense of the difficulties inherent in surviving the Arctic wilderness alone:
Although the rain stopped the wind has increased and I am stuck - pinned down on an exposed point using some old crate plywood for a shelter. The polar bears are on the land now and I have to keep a sharp eye out for them. So far I have only seen arctic wolf tracks on this location, no bear tracks. For protection I have a shot gun, a bear banger pistol and bear spray. The arctic char are here along the coast and I can see them in the water. Yet even though I’m lucky enough to have fishing tackle, I am not getting any hits at all. Of course it is so windy that the lure just blows back in my face when I try to cast out into the ocean anyway.
My only supplies are a CB radio, fishing tackle and a handful of whale blubber.
I have to make up my mind on whether or not to stay where I am or relocate further inland - closer to bears but out of the wind.
We take great care to ensure that we've got the gear, supplies, and experts neccesary to run our expeditions at the highest level of comfort possible. As you can see, the 'low frills' version can get pretty hairy!
October 19th, 2009 | By Jason Hillier | Filed in Uncategorized
In a proposal filed this week, the Interior Department asked other countries to support a ban on the commercial trade of polar bears and to strictly regulate trophy hunting. The request, if approved, would give the bear the most stringent protection afforded under an international convention to protect endangered species.
It would also upgrade protections for the bear internationally for the first time since 1975, when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, required export permits for the polar bear.
Since then, mounting scientific evidence has shown that Arctic sea ice is melting and suggests that global warming may cause the disappearance of summer sea ice in 30 years.
In May 2008, the U.S. classified the polar bear as a threatened species, the first with its survival at risk due to global warming. The determination made all but subsistence hunting illegal.
The U.S. pitch argues that the loss of sea ice could make the toll of trade and hunting on the bear worse.
"The underlying melting of the Arctic ice is an issue no single country can address," said Tom Strickland, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. "This is part of a comprehensive approach to try to provide additional protection for this important, iconic species."
Read More: The Associated Press: US seeks tougher protections for polar bear
October 9th, 2009 | By Jason Hillier | Filed in Uncategorized
And now for some good news from the New York Times' Dot Earth blog:
The National Snow and Ice Data Center released its summary of summer sea-ice conditions in the Arctic on Tuesday, noting a substantial expansion of the extent of “second-year ice” — floes thick enough to have persisted through two summers of melting. The result could be a reprieve, at least for a while, from the recent stretch of remarkable summer meltdowns.
According to the center, second-year ice this summer made up 32 percent of the total ice cover on the Arctic Ocean, compared with 21 percent in 2007 and 9 percent in 2008. The percentage of ice that was many years old, forming thick pancaked expanses, was at its lowest since satellite observations began 30 years ago. But that could change next year as the second-year ice adds mass through the long winter freeze.
via Over the Summer, a Spread of Thicker Arctic Ice - Dot Earth Blog - NYTimes.com
October 6th, 2009 | By Jason Hillier | Filed in Current Events, IN THE NEWS
Wondering why, exactly, Arctic sea ice matters? NASA's Tom Wagner has the answers.
October 6th, 2009 | By Jason Hillier | Filed in Arctic Animals, SCIENCE
via BBC - Earth News - Polar bear cub hitches a ride
The BBC's got an interesting article
up reporting on this polar piggyback phenomenon and exploring some of the reasons polar bear cubs might need to hitch a ride. Is it to keep delicate cubs out of the cold Arctic water, or is it to speed up treks across the ice? Further research is warranted, but one thing's for sure: it's pretty darn cute.
October 1st, 2009 | By Jason Hillier | Filed in Arctic History, IN THE NEWS
For Sophie Warny, an assistant professor of geology and geophysics at Louisiana State University, a study of samples from the Antarctic Geologic Drilling Program (or or ANDRILL AND-2A) yielded unexpected results.
“First I thought it was a mistake, that it was a sample from another location, not Antarctica, because of the unusual abundance in microscopic fossil cysts of marine algae called dinoflagellates. But it turned out not to be a mistake, it was just an amazingly rich layer,” said Warny. “I immediately contacted my U.S. colleague, Rosemary Askin, our New Zealand colleagues, Michael Hannah and Ian Raine, and our German colleague, Barbara Mohr, to let them know about this unique sample as each of our countries had received a third of the ANDRILL samples.”
Some colleagues had noted an increase in pollen grains of woody plants in the sample immediately above, but none of the other samples had such a unique abundance in algae, which at first gave Warny some doubts about potential contamination.
“But the two scientists in charge of the drilling, David Harwood of University of Nebraska – Lincoln, and Fabio Florindo of Italy, were equally excited about the discovery,” said Warny. “They had noticed that this thin layer had a unique consistency that had been characterized by their team as a diatomite, which is a layer extremely rich in fossils of another algae called diatoms.”
All research parties involved met at the Antarctic Research Facility at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Together, they sampled the zone of interest in great detail and processed the new samples in various labs. One month later, the unusual abundance in microfossils was confirmed
This abundance of microfossils indicates that life in the Antarctic was, 15.7 million years ago, remarkably warmer than it is today, and that that warm period lasted a few thousand years.
via LSU News
September 30th, 2009 | By Jason Hillier | Filed in Arctic History, IN THE NEWS, INUIT, Inuit Culture/Art, Uncategorized
Inside a brick building in downtown Montreal, Nunavik's Avataq Cultural Institute is working to preserve the culture of Quebec's far north.
The Avataq Cultural Institute's new Montreal facility features climate-controlled storage, an indoor parking garage (so that artifacts in transit are shielded from the sun), and on-site security, all working to preserve Nunavik's cultural heritage.
A polar bear sculpture by Kangiqsualujjuaq artist Willie George Etok
And, while it may seem odd to keep these precious bits of the Nunavik’s past in Montreal, a secure, climate-controlled facility like this one would be too expensive to build and maintain in the North, Avataq curator Louis Gagnon said.
But Avataq’s intent isn’t to bring materials down from the North unless they need special conservation, he said. Avataq simply wants to preserve its existing collection in a safe place.
From there, items can travel to institutions for exhibition, researchers can come in to consult materials, and — above all — Avataq’s collection will remain in good condition for many generations, he said.
“We don’t want to repatriate more items to the South— just the opposite,” said Gagnon, who hopes Avataq’s collection may some day be displayed in museum exhibitions in Nunavik , perhaps at the multi-purpose museum facility that people in Puvirnituq want to build.
Avataq’s art collection now contains about 1,400 works of art and other cultural objects, handed back to Avataq from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs in the 1980s and then put into storage.
via NunatsiaqOnline 2009-09-22
Most items in the collection have been photographed and can be viewed online
at the museum's website, with 360-degree views of many 3-dimensional artifacts.