The blows of the whales are everywhere now. In front of us in the open water and behind in holes and leads in the solid sea-ice. The ice is breaking up and where we are standing it gets more rotten, it seems, every hour. The advancement of summer is relentless. These whales will be through and gone soon.
- Summer 2013
- Autumn 2012
- Spring 2012
- Winter 2011
- Autumn 2011
- Spring 2010
- Winter 2010
- Autumn 2009
- Summer 2009
- Spring 2009
- Winter 2009
- Winter 2008
OK Bowheads are hard to film. We are struggling to get close to them. They seem to sense our presence on the flow edge and dive underneath my vain attempts to snorkel into their paths. The only proper interaction we have had so far was a big girl that didn’t sense the canoe we were in till the last minute – when she realised how close she was she had a good shot at turning over our boat before diving away. But is that surprising? Not really. These whales are old. Some are perhaps 200 years old. Born before even the first white man had even made it to this part of the Canadian Arctic. And they have been hunted by the Inuit their whole lives. From the flow edge and from boats they have been harpooned, shot at and generally harassed by man year after year. The only difference is now we are trying to shoot them with film rather than steel. I feel tired but the tundra is warming and there is hope in our small band.
It was my birthday yesterday and there was cake and music. I am sad not to be at home – but I am with good people. Simon even cracked out a few tunes. Quite a talent that boy!
Today Louise – our cook – told me a story. It was about a boy that lived in Igoolik long ago. He was about 3 years old when his father died out on the sea-ice. His mother became very protective of him and started making amulets (little good luck figurines often carved out of walrus tooth and worn on a string round the neck). Each day she put a new one on him when he went out to play. Soon he was covered in so many amulets he could hardly walk. He became known as the boy with too many amulets. In the evening our guide Simon gave me an amulet for my boy Finn who is also 3. It’s a polar bear head carved out of a walrus tooth. Louise says now Finn can be the boy with just the right amount of amulets.
The flow edge is really thin now. Each day our landscape changes as huge lumps of sea-ice break out and float east. The Bowheads are now acting as true Ice whales. They search the rotting flow edge looking for cracks and pockets that allow them to get further west to the feeding grounds. They use their massive heads to bash through the thin ice to make breathing holes.
I’ve seen whales breathing blows miles to the west in what looks like solid ice. We are slowly getting the shots we need for the sequence. So far we have just one underwater shot which is worth keeping- but I am hopeful for more because, if we are careful, they come so close on the flow edge they cover us with snot when they breath.
Just hit Igoolik (means “there is a house there” in inuktitut because of all the old sod houses out on the point). It’s a really nice little town (about 1500 people) on an island at the bottom of the Fury and Hecla strait. We are here for the straight really because thats where we will find the Bowhead Whales we want to film. The straight is filled with sea-ice just now and the whales can’t get through to their summer feeding grounds – so they gather waiting for the ice to break out. Hopefully it will be a good time to film them. It feels good to be back in the Arctic. I’m here with the unflappable Liz White. She’s off dealing with the Elders, Hunters and Trappers Association and all the other logistics. I’m left to tinker with the gear and go for little walks through town. There is an anticipation of Summer. The tarps are being pulled off boats and old outboard motors being fixed. Open water is only a few weeks away. Then they will be off to hunt seals and walrus. I try not to think about the killing part too much but the excitement in town is palpable.