Day two in Pangnirtung, found a cold wet morning, with a heavy band of clouds hanging over the village. Weather aside, this was the day however, that we would be heading to Kekerten Island, off Baffin Island, with hopes to see and film Bowhead whales.
Later in the morning, with the tide sitting high, we headed to the town’s main dock. Pangnirtung’s harbour is home to a small turbot fishing fleet, and as we packed our endless gear aboard our small boats, fishing boats were coming and going from the harbour.
One of the vessels we used for transportation on this trip, along with two small fishing boats, were two large “open sea” Inuit canoes. The Inuit, invented the kayak over 4,000 years ago, but on this trip, we did not use kayaks, but instead relied on the Inuit canoes to get around.
A final check, with everything on board, and we untied and headed east to the Cumberland Sound.
An hour out of Pangnirtung, rain and sleet started to pelt us.
The Inuit canoes made surprisingly good headway as we made our way to Cumberland Sound.
We soon came upon icebergs which had a blue color to them. The blue color, I learned, can be from light refraction and age, or also from the compression of pure snow being formed into glacial ice.
In 1912, this famous iceberg changed the course of history for many people aboard the HMS Titanic. This black and white picture was taken by the chief steward of the liner Prinz Adelbert. Witnesses aboard Titanic claimed later that the doomed ship had hit a “blue iceberg”.
After three hours on the water, we finally arrived at Kekerten Island.
Kekerten Island was once home to a whaling station, populated with men, women, and children. Kekerten Island was one of the few places where whaling ships could be safely stored, in the natural harbour during winter.
We must note that our team had been granted permission from the Canadian Government to both land, and also camp on Kekerten Island. No form of camping on the island, or even landing and walking on the island, is permitted without a government permit. You can, however, arrange to travel on a day trip to Kekerten Island, from Pangnirtung. Checkout the details at this link: Kekerten Territorial Park .
On arrival at Kekerten Island, amidst heavy wind and constant downpours of cold rain, we began to setup our tents. Given that the ground was frozen, we had no choice but to tie the tent ropes around large rocks to secure the tents against the brisk wind.
Given this is a world of wolves, foxes, and Polar bears. Our Inuit guides brought along both their guns and their dogs, and they explained to us not to wonder off on our own.
Once we were settled in, some of us headed off to a hilltop above the base camp looking for signs of bowhead whales out on the ocean.
Along our hike we came upon the first signs of spring, purple wildflowers blooming on a rocky surface.
Along the way we also came upon bones and a spent rifle cartridge among the flowers.
Crossing a distant ridge line, we also came upon scattered human remains in the whaler’s graveyard.
Oil barrels, once intended to transport whale oil back to Europe, along with wooden coffins were also used to bury the dead people on this island.
Our Inuit guides carefully led us across the whalers’ graveyard. The Inuit people believe that the bones of these people should not be moved or touched. They believe if the bones are moved, the spirits of those people will be disturbed. And so we looked, we thought, and we took pictures, but we did not touch the bones or the skulls of those long-departed people.
Along with the beliefs of the Inuit people, the laws of the Nunavut Government also require that all artifacts, including rocks, vegetation, antlers, bones, and human remains, are not to be disturbed or removed from Kekerten Island.
Not far from the whaler’s graveyard, we came upon this decaying jawbone from a bowhead that was caught by the local Inuit back in the late 1990′s. In 2004, the Bowhead Whale Conservation Strategy in Northern Canada allowed for the hunt of one bowhead whale every 13 years in the Canadian waters of Baffin Bay.
With our day drawing to an end, we headed back towards our base camp. And as the sun attempted to set, which it actually didn’t do, we took a few minutes to organize our tent, sort out our gear, and prepare for the next days efforts, when we would head out on the ocean looking for bowhead whales.
At a few minutes before midnight, in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Checkout our next Bowhead whale posting
Frame To Frame – Bob & Jean