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Saturday, April 02, 2016

Mosquitoes, Icebergs, and Polar bears

Mosquitoes attack - and I am using like 98% DEET on exposed skin

After writing about the Aleutians last week, it piqued my interest to look through my photos from the Canadian Arctic.  In the early 1990s I spent three summers in outer Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island doing archaeology.  Flying up to Iqaluit the first summer I remember looking out the window and seeing that the ocean was totally covered with ice - and this was in early July!  It was a completely different world than I had ever seen.  Temperatures rarely got above 40 degrees, and by late August everything was already starting to freeze up again.

We lived with an Inuit family and pretty much ate seal and caribou every day.  Ooleetua taught me how to butcher a caribou.  He used to make a pack out of the rib cage and carry all the meat inside.  As we'd butcher we'd eat slices of the liver and heart raw.  I remember that on occasion he dipped his pieces in the stomach, but I did not like that particular flavor myself.  For the seal we'd eat the nerve/ligament that goes down the spine, and a particular part of the ear.  It was sort of like chewing gum.  We even ate the tips of the caribou antlers when in velvet.  It was like eating horse-chestnut.

By far the most traumatic event was when the polar bear tried to get in my tent when I was sleeping inside.  That time I was able to pepper spray him in the face and he ran away (with a head dyed bright orange).  But later on that same summer another polar bear came by when I was not in the tent and totally demolished it while rooting around in my sleeping bag looking for me (he destroyed the bag too).  It was dark and I was trying to find my tent and suddenly realized it was gone.  That was when the polar bear stood up on his hind legs from the wreckage of another tent and starting hissing like a cat.  

All ended well except for the bear who got shot by another member of the party.  We even got to eat the bear.  Then more bears started coming in to camp every night to scavenge the first bear's carcass.  It turned into an ugly end of the season with marauding bears almost every night.  It turns out we were on the edge of the ice and the natural jump off place for them to get to land.  Our nickname for on shore sea ice was 'polar bear taxis' - they'd come ashore when the ice was blown to shore and stay away when the ice was blown away off shore.  The crowning low point was when an Inuit crew member died of hypothermia falling into the ocean.  

I remember flying from this straight back to summer in the lower 48.  I think I had a mild case of PTS, and for years I hard a very hard time sleeping alone in tents.

But despite that final week of the last summer I spent on Baffin Island my memories of Baffin are all good.  I was incredibly lucky to be able to experience it.  

Also we generally had no mosquitoes.  The photo above was from when we crossed over to Cumberland Inlet side of the Peninsula to do some work, and were no longer on the open ocean.  With no wind and mostly flat swamp all around the mosquitoes there were the worst I have ever seen - even worse than I later encountered at Penguk on the Alaska Peninsula (click here).  But on Frobisher Bay where it was colder and more exposed mosquitoes were never a problem. Patrick

My tent after getting thrashed by a polar bear - note tie down to boulder with piece of tent still attached

Willows Island Camp - cook tents on right, sleeping tents on left (my tent is furthest upper left)

Dan starting to skin the polar bear that destroyed my tent

That's a BIG paw - polar bears are as big as brown bears and much more athletic

Ooleetua uncovering a caribou liver - best tasting part of the animal

Kiakudla, one of the camp dogs eats the caribou scraps

No pack - no problem

Chef Dan during a quick trip over to the Cumberland Inlet side of things

Frozen Frobisher Bay in mid July - you could have walked across the bay to those distant mountains

Ooleetua processes a ring seal

A true iceberg - I did not take this picture, and such beasts come from ice-fields and glaciers and were rare in Frobisher Bay


alphabet soup said...

Oh Grand-mama, what big paws you have!

Ms Soup

Zoya, Patrick, Nora and Stuart said...

The better to swat you with! Patrick