Raw research from the waters off Torngat Mountains National Park
Torngat Mountains National Park is the third entry in a series of posts from the journal of Arctic Kingdom's Jason Hillier who spent 17 days aboard our charter vessel M V Cape Race in the company of researchers.
Sunshine Fiord - Torngat Mountains National Park
As we sailed the coastline of Torngat Mountains National Park we encountered amazing fiords, most notably Sunshine Fiord. We had to hole up overnight there to escape some wind. We had crossed the Davis Strait and made a beeline for Labrador in order to get the researchers on shore and the dive team in the water again.
We had a great day of sampling, and diving in the waters just off the Park. The epic scenery and the mountains of Torngat, especially Seven Islands Bay, was a great backdrop to a spectacular day and we even knocked off a couple more successful dives.
The sailing continued past Saglek Basecamp. After dropping off our Parks Canada crew, we made our way to Makkovik for fuel, water and supplies. Makkovik is an Inuit community on the coast of Labrador. It was great to be on land again, but our researchers never tired and we were able to squeeze in three dives. A great inter-tidaling-sample effort from our shore team meant that they came home with not only specimens but fresh berries. A delicious treat!
“There must be over 20 bowhead whales!” Exclaimed Graham Dickson, Chief Expedition Officer for Arctic Kingdom Expeditions.
It was August 2012, and while scouting a new area just south of Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut by boat with a couple of photographers on Arctic Kingdom’s trip “Polar Bears and Glaciers of Baffin Island” Dickson, and the photographers were witnessing the act of bowhead whales rubbing their 60’ long bodies on the rocks at the bottom of the ocean floor to scrape off their skin – a process also known as ‘molting’.
Bowheads rubbing in the shallow waters of the coast of Baffin Island allowed with snorkeler Todd Mintz approaching
One of the photographers, Todd Mintz, a Canadian photographer who has travelled with Arctic Kingdom to photograph polar bears, muskox and narwhal since 2010 couldn’t resist putting on his drysuit and floating in the water to witness the behavior underwater. He took this video with a GoPro camera mounted on his camera.
When asked what is was like to have a 100 ton whale approach to within 5 feet of him, Mintz replied, “That was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. I had no idea what he was going to do. I was frozen on the spot, and only remembered to take some pictures at the last second. That never happens.”
View from the boat when the bowhead whale surfaced
Mintz also managed to retrieve some bowhead whale skin that was floating in the water.
At the time Dickson and the photographers on board knew they were witnessing something special.
The fact that there were such a high concentration of bowhead whales in 30’ of shallow water is very rare as bowhead whales are known to be pelagic or deep water whales. Second, the water clarity was crystal clear and to our knowledge there has never before been such clear underwater photographs taken of bowhead whales. Third, the pieces of bowhead whale skin in the water, also to our recollection had not been seen before.
To verify what we saw, we consulted with the Canadian expert in bowhead whales - retired bowhead whale ecologist and researcher Kerry Finley. Finley has studied the Baffin Island bowhead whales since 1983 along the coast of Baffin Island mainly a few hundred kilometers to the north in Isabella Bay. He had not been to the location where we saw the rubbing activity.
"The place where whales go" according to local Inuit elders
After discussing the behavior of the bowhead whales with Finley and reviewing photos and video taken on the trip he commented, “Your photographers captured just the sort of image that we tried so many years to obtain…I had hoped to document the rubbing behaviour that I suspected was taking place but to no avail. It is interesting that you actually saw pieces of skin which I never saw. It is definitely molting behavior that you saw”.
Finley went on to say, “What you have found, could very well be a very special place for bowhead whale observation”
The bowhead whales were finning, logging (resting on the surface), tail slapping, and rubbing on the rocks in the shallow waters
Upon returning to the Arctic Kingdom base camp that evening one of the local Inuit elders came to our camp. We described to him where we went and what we saw. His response was simple – “Yes, you went to the place where the bowhead whales go”.
Apparently we are not the first ones to have ‘discovered’ the bowhead whales and where they go to molt. The Inuit people have known about them all along.
Arctic Kingdom is planning on returning Aug 2 to 6, 2015 and Aug 6 to 18 2015 to the “place where the bowhead whales go” along with our Inuit friends and we hope to repeat the encounter. 2016 dates are also planned around the same timeframe.
EDIT 2014: Arctic Kingdom returned in 2014 and observed the bowhead whale molting behavior with an excited group of guests.
There are still a few limited spaces left for interested persons who would like to join. For more details visit this page: “Polar Bears and Glaciers of Baffin Island”
Or Contact: Thomas Lennartz – [email protected]
Data collected by this and other teams will be analyzed by Dr. Simon Boxall from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (UK). Do investigate the official website for podcasts, blogs from the field, and a ton of photographs and video.
Imagine seeing the Arctic from a bird's eye view, and flying thousands of feet in the air. Now picture yourself in a specially outfitted plane that is being used to record data that will help lower the uncertainty in future weather and climate predictions. This is exactly what those in the PAMARCMiP 2011 Campaign were doing in the month of April.
Note: EM bird underneath, which is lowered close to the sea ice surface in order to measure ice thickness mid-flight.
Arctic Kingdom recently returned from Barrow - Alaska and Inuvik - North West Territories, after assisting with the 2nd Polar Circumnavigation spearheaded by the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI)! Arctic Kingdom was there to help with planning and managing the movement of personnel and freight, acquiring scientific permits for research conducted within Canada, and handling customs clearance in Canada and the US.
AWI partnered with Environment Canada, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, the European Space Agency, and other universities and institutions for the PAMARCMiP 2011 Campaign. The goal of the campaign is to get a better understanding of the physical processes in the inner Arctic. The campaign uses a specially outfitted Polar 5 airplane to obtain data on aerosol, trace gases, meteorological and atmospheric conditions, as well as sea ice thickness. This information is key in assessing the changes occurring in the polar region. This information will help to reduce uncertainties in future weather and climate forecasts. The flights started from Barrow, Alaska via Inuvik, Sachs Harbour, Resolute Bay, Eureka, Alert and Station North, and ends in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen.
For more information regarding the PAMARCMiP 2011 Campaign please visit their site.
If you would like to see more pictures from this expedition please visit our facebook page.
Tying in nicely with some of our current scheduled trips, which focus on viewing and appreciating Polar Bears in the wild; Nissan has released this sweet commercial, which speaks to the conservation-minded animal lover in all of us.
Add to this a bit of good news for organizations working to protect polar bears and conserve their natural territory, the National Geographic blog posted this interview with Polar Bears International's newest chief scientist, Steven Amstrup.
From the interview -
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.
The change in the appearence of the ice due to melt has been a fascination and wonder with me while I have been at Cape Denison. On New Year’s Day while out walking after a day’s work on the Magnetograph Hut, I noticed that the previously dangerous ice edge of Boat Harbour had in some places melted to rock and made acess to the waters edge quite safe. With the spirit of adventure all around I continued to walk along the rock until I noticed it, waiting to happen. I thought to my self, I think I should tell someone about this!
The biggest news of the day is that we’ve found the air tractor, or at least parts of it! Bloggers will have noted that Tony and Chris have more than a passing interest in this aircraft, and have been searching with a plethora of electronic gear (ground penetrating radar, a metal detector, a magnetometer and an ice auger) hoping to uncover its final resting place. After the blue moon yesterday and a huge high tide overnight, we had a very low tide this evening, the lowest we’ll have all season and only 10 cm higher than the lowest possible tide here at Commonwealth Bay.
With visitors from the Orion due here in 2 days, our heritage carpenter Mark Farrell was wandering along the rocks on the edge of Boat Harbour looking for a suitable landing place, when he noticed some metal among the rocks in the water. He was pretty laid back about the find, calmly walking into Sorensen Hut to mention that he’d found something in the water that looked like the air tractor. Tony and Chris have never geared up so quickly, and hot footed it over to Boat Harbour with Mark. Michelle Berry, Jody Steele and Peter Morse weren’t far behind and together we examined the parts sitting in a few centimetres of water. With the tide already on the rise and higher tides ahead, we photographed the objects then brought them back to the lab immersed in sea water, until a plan can be made for their conservation.
Built in 1911, just 8 years after the Wright brother’s first flight, it was first aircraft from the famous Vicker’s factory, and the first aircraft taken to either polar region. Due to wing damage, it never flew here, but was converted into an ‘air tractor’, which the 1911-14 Australian Antarctic Expedition used to tow gear up onto the ice dome in preparation for their sledging journeys.
Chris Henderson said “It vindicates our continuing search: many people have said it was blown out to sea or taken away by the ice. It doesn’t matter that the various pieces of equipment weren’t successful – what matters is that the facts showed it should still have been where it was left – and it was. ”
The find draws attention to the work of the Mawson's Hut Foundation, which is dedicated to the study and preservation of Antarctica's polar exploration heritage. Do yourself a favor and poke around a bit on their blog -- the air tractor is just the tip of the fascinating archeological work being done down below!
When presenting to school groups one of my tasks is to ask ”what is wrong with this picture?” as a PhotoShopped image of a polar bear walking behind some penguins appears on the screen. This summer, though not as incredible as the penguin/polar bear pairing, I find myself looking at the images obtained over the past month on Cooper Island and thinking “what is wrong with these pictures?” But I know that the images of polar bears walking around the colony, sleeping on the beach and approaching the campsite, things I could never have imagined before 2002,are the product of habitat degradation rather than any image manipulation.
When Dr. Divoky talks about polar bears "approaching the campsite, he isn't kidding! The video below was taken by his camps' motion-sensitive cameras at 3:30 AM.
Dr Divoky set up alarms to alert him to bears' presence after bedtime, but that hasn't prevented bears from doing damage to Black Guillemot nests and snacking on fledgelings. Sadly, these sorts of changes in animal behaviour are one of many everyday impacts of global warming already in evidence in today's Arctic.
via Is It a Bird or a Bear? - Earth Live: Cooper Island.