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Searching for Bowhead whales off Kekerten Island, Nunavut

pangnirtung - Baffin Island - nunavut

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.

pangnirtung harbour - baffin island - nunavut

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.

inuit guides and canoes - pangnirtung - baffin island - nunavut

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.

boat underway - pangnirtung fjord - baffin island - nunavut

A final check, with everything on board, and we untied and headed east to the Cumberland Sound.

grey skies - pangnirtung fjord - baffin island - nunavut

An hour out of Pangnirtung,  rain and sleet started to pelt us.

inuit ocean canoe - pangnirtung fjord - baffin island - nunavut

The Inuit canoes made surprisingly good headway as we made our way to Cumberland Sound.

iceberg and baffin island coastline - nunavut

iceberg off baffin island - nunavut

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”.

unusual shaped iceberg off baffin island - nunavut

arrival to kekerten island - cumberland sound - nunavut

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.

boats on shoreline of kekerten island - nunavut

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  .

holding tents up with stones - kekerten island - nunavut

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.

basecamp on waters edge - kekerten island - nunavut

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.

searching for bowhead whales with binoculars - kekerten island - nunavut

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.

pink flowers growing on kekerten island - nunavut

Along our hike we came upon the first signs of spring, purple wildflowers blooming on a rocky surface.

bones and gun shell among flowers - kekerten island - nunavut

spent rifle cartridge - kekerten island - nunavut

Along the way we also came upon bones and a spent rifle cartridge among the flowers.

human skulls on the surface of kekerten island - nunavut

human skull on kekerten island - nunavut

Crossing a distant ridge line, we also came upon scattered human remains in the whaler’s graveyard.

wooden coffins on kekerten island - nunavut

oil barrel coffin on kekerten island - nunavut

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.

human skull on kekerten island  surface - nunavut

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.

human skull inside a coffin barrel on kekerten island - nunavut

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.

decaying bowhead whale jawbone on kekerten island - nunavut

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.

decaying bowhead whale jawbone - kekerten island - nunavut

basecamp on kekerten island - nunavut

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

Baby Bowhead whale we sighted off Baffin Island

Frame To Frame – Bob & Jean


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