Our Journey To Kekerten Island In Search of Bowhead Whales
In the early morning hours under a cold wet sky, we prepared to leave Pangnirtung by boat in search of Bowhead Whales off Kekerten Island in Cumberland Sound off Baffin Island.
As we packed our camping gear and equipment aboard our boats, the local fishing boats were coming and going from the harbour.
The type of vessel we used for transportation is what is called an “open sea” Inuit canoe. The Inuit, as many people know, are credited with inventing the kayak over 4,000 years ago. On this trip, however, we did not use kayaks but instead relied on Inuit sea canoes.
After a final check, and with everything on board, we headed east to Kekerten Island.
Under a gray sky in the middle of summer, we soon encountered rain and even sleet.
At the entrance to Cumberland Sound, blue-colored icebergs were visible in the distance.
The blue color is a result of light refraction and the age of the 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. In the days of whaling, Kekerten Island was one of the few natural harbours where whaling ships could be safely stored during winter.
It must be noted that our Scientific Team was 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. Details about visiting Kekerten Island can be found at: Kekerten Territorial Park.
On arrival at the island, amidst heavy wind and constant downpours of cold rain, we began to pitch our tents. Given that the ground was frozen, we had no choice but to tie the tent ropes around large rocks to secure them against the brisk wind.
Kekerten Island 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 that, for safety reasons, we were not to wander off on our own.
Once settled in, some of us headed off to a hilltop above the base camp looking for any signs of Bowhead Whales swimming out on the ocean.
Along the way, we came upon some Dwarf Fireweed blooming on a rocky surface.
Along with the wildflowers were some spent rifle cartridges and animal bones.
As we crossed over the ridge line above our campsite, we also came upon scattered human remains covering the surface of the whalers’ graveyard.
As I soon noticed, many of the coffins had been made out of oil barrels that had actually been intended to transport whale oil back to Europe.
Our Inuit guides carefully led us across the whalers’ graveyard. The Inuit people today still 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 photographs, but we did not touch the bones or the skulls or any of the objects of these long-departed people.
In addition to the beliefs of the Inuit people, the laws of the Nunavut Government also require that all artifacts, including rocks, vegetation, antlers, bones, and of course human remains, are not to be disturbed or removed from this island.
Not far from the whalers’ graveyard lay a decaying Bowhead Whale jawbone.
As the sun yet again attempted to set, I took time at midnight to organize my film gear and prepare for the next day.
A last view of the horizon when it was time for some sleep in the Land of the Midnight Sun.