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International Polar Year



August 8, 2009

Expedition Update

Yesterday, the team spent the day along the Hall Peninsula - where they saw three walrus out on the ice - they had an early dinner and sailed up a fjord and explored the area till 10:00 p.m. at night and then came back to the ship.

On shore they broke into groups (Sedgeheads, Beachcombers, Storytellers, Rockstars, Artistes, Birdbrains, etc.) The group saw one caribou and then another polar bear. The students had some down time on shore to sit, reflect and explore on their own. It was a great day and evening.

They are heading to Monumental Island in the afternoon and expect to be there after lunch. They just saw two more polar bears on the ice. This morning, they are attending John Streicker's presentation on Climate Change and the Arctic.     

Click above to watch "Walrus and Polar Bears"

Click here to see where the ship is with Spot Tracker!


A young Polar Bear feasts on a nutritious seal
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Alicia Vanin - Student
Heading from Butterfly Bay to Monumental Island

Today was astounding, and positively sublime. Bowhead whales, seals, walrus’, gulls, and polar bears filled only our morning with such a natural (and therefore somewhat guiltless) extravagance that it was completely overwhelming. Usually, in the face of such beauty one feels detached, and their environment seems to blend, or fade, into memories unknown, but this was not the case as we watched a mighty polar bear strip the flesh from the ribcage of a seal on the ice drifts. We watched the meal take place, and although our society wishes such things to be seen as unnatural it was the exact opposite. It was nature at its best, and yes, it may have been rather shocking to the senses, but it could hardly be called carnage.


It's "paw-licking good"
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Bilaal Rajan - Student
Hall Peninsula

Hey Everyone,

Today was just absolutely amazing and it isn’t even over. Aside from the fact that my hands are frozen stiff right now we saw and were able to experience some amazing things. We woke up sat our usual time, 7:30, had breakfast and then tried to sail to Monumental Island. We later found out that it was to choppy there and so we decided to head to some ice to look for walrus since we had already seen polar bears yesterday. We saw about 40 in one small area but they were pretty far away. We then decided that we had found some walrus and went for a zodiac cruise to look for some up close encounters. Luckily enough that’s exactly what happened. After exploring the sea ice for about 10 minutes we spotted some humongous walrus just sitting on a piece of ice. We slowly drifted towards them and eventually ended up just 100 feet or so from them.

After taking about 100 photos of them we headed out to look for other animals. We saw some more walrus but before we got up close we were told that another zodiac had seen a polar bear. Geoff (Green), who was our zodiac driver, shot off at full speed in the direction of the bear. We saw it and as we approached it we saw it was eating something later identified as a seal. We sat there for a long time just admiring the majestic presence of such and amazing animal as it just went on with its life. It struck me then and there that this planet needs to be taken care of. Not many of us realize that the world around us is not just a place, it’s our home, other people’s home, and other creatures’ home. By destroying it we only put our lives in danger and potentially the lives of the generations ahead of us.

I’ve been able to learn so much on this trip, about myself, and about my surroundings. Being able to see such beauty is just amazing and really makes you think about what we have done to our planet. It makes me want to take action, to make a difference.

I still can’t believe that I have been able to see such amazing things. This has been an eye opening experience and will remember it for the rest of my life. I would really like to thank BRITA for this incredible and remarkable journey and experience of a life time. Further thanks goes to Students On Ice for providing the wonderful and enlightening experience I’ve had. To both of you, thank you so much and as they would say in Inuktitut, Qujannamiik (Koo – Ya – Na - Meek).

Later Days,

Bilaal Rajan

P.S. - Sorry I didn’t journal earlier, but it’s all written down in my physical journal and captured in the 1345 pictures I’ve taken so far.


Polar Bears need an average of 2 kg (4.4 lbs) of fat per day to obtain enough energy to survive.
A ringed seal weighing 55 kg (121 lbs) could provide up to eight days of energy for a polar bear.
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Elise Jackson - Student
Somewhere in the ocean, approaching Hantzsch Island

I honestly didn’t know that it was possible to be astounded so many times in so few days! What an incredible day. This morning Geoff announced that some walrus had been spotted, so we all rushed outside to see them. It was incredible. They are massive -- we learnt yesterday in pod groups that the males can weigh up to 2800 pounds. We probably saw about twenty of them. We also saw a bowhead, and a polar bear was sighted, but not many people saw it. We started workshops, but halfway through we arrived at an area in the open ocean where we stopped for a zodiac cruise. It was probably the best zodiac cruise so far: not only was the ice flow incredibly beautiful -- the colours and shapes of the ice were amazing -- but we saw a seal and several walrus. We got within about twenty metres of the walrus, which was an exhilarating experience. But the highlight of the day came later in the cruise, when Benoit spotted a polar bear eating a seal. We all got up close to it, and it was unbelievable -- it was just so majestic, and really astounding to see it in its natural habitat. It seemed so unconcerned by our presence. When we came back, we had a presentation from Jenny on the International Polar Year. After lunch, more walrus were spotted -- I think the total sightings for the day was close to one hundred. We continued our workshops. I went to one conducted by John and Eric about climate change skepticism, which sparked some interesting conversation and had a presentation by Dominique, David, Garry and Joshua about polar bears. And as usual, an excellent dinner and a great recap and briefing. So, off to bed now, to reenergize for another great day tomorrow, and the promise of two zodiac cruises!


Students photograph the Polar Bear
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Jack Krantz - Student
Near Monumental Island

For those of you following at home, we’ve gone completely off of our originally planned route and are currently near the mouth of Frobisher Bay. The Arctic is completely different than the Antarctic was and I shall reserve my judgment as to which is better until the trip has come to its completion.


Students spot and photograph Walrus
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Jenna Gall - Student
The day is only half over and it has been the most incredible day of my life! We have seen tons of seals, walrus and the best of all, a polar bear feeding on a seal!! We were out in the Zodiacs, just cruising around the ice when our zodiac driver got a call on his radio about a polar bear. We went down wind from the polar bear and we snuck up on him. He was feeding on a freshly killed seal. I was taking hundreds of pictures and I finally had to stop and just soak in all of the scenery. I was so caught up in the moment and what I was seeing that I was completely at a loss for words and almost a loss of thought. Time seemed to stand still in that moment and I felt a way that I had never felt before. I have taken so many great photos and the day just can’t get any better, but yet I am sure it will. I have yet to experience an uneventful day on the SOI Arctic Expedition and I can’t wait to see what the days ahead bring! I am having the time of my life! I have never felt so alive and I just thought I would take some time to say thank you to everyone back home who helped me to get here. All my family, friends, volunteers and supporters, I would not be here without all that you had helped me with, so thank you because this has been the most incredible experience of my life!


A herd of Walrus share an Ice floe
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Jennie Day - Student
Off the coast of Loks Island

Today, not only did I see a polar bear, but I saw a polar bear devouring a seal. What an amazing sight. I felt feelings I have never felt in my life and describing them is almost impossible. I was completely senseless for at least 10 minutes after because it was such a surreal experience that I know I will probably never see again. I felt so in touch with nature.

At dinner time, the swells were doing there thing and the Horizontal Club returned (the sea sick people congregate in the lounge and groan together). Being one of the lucky few, I too was laying down feeling sorry for myself when Micah came in and was acting strange; he seemed to want everyone to go to dinner. I gave in and went to dinner, and it turned out that I had an early birthday surprise! I got 2(!!) amazing cakes with icebergs and whales made of chocolate, transported all the way from Ottawa by Lee! I was so surprised and today was definitely the best Sweet 16 present ever! Not many people can say that on their 16th birthday they saw 85 walrus, a bowhead whale, a feeding polar bear and some of the most amazing scenery in the world. I would just like to thank Micah, Lee, the kitchen staff and everyone else who was involved with my birthday surprise, I really appreciate it. These experiences still haven’t sunken in yet, it still feels like a dream. But it is the best dream I have ever had.


A male and female Walrus
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Jenny Donovan - Student
Monumental Island

Yesterday was another unbelievable day!  We saw a POLAR BEAR on the ice!  It was so spectacular to see this magnificently powerful creature jump and navigate on the very thin ice.  We also went to an unnamed fjord after dinner (to be named by Students on Ice..?!), and stayed until dark (10pm).  I was so privileged to be in the storytelling group with Joshua (Clyde River elder) and Dominique (Oxford student examining Traditional Knowledge in the Arctic).  We explored the new place with awe and wonder.  I can’t believe that I am here and I am so thankful to everyone that helped me get here!  I have learned so much about myself and gained many new perspectives on things that I didn’t think even required an opinion.

Today we have seen a few bowheads, walruses and seals AND we got out in the Zodiacs and got to watch a polar bear eating… all before lunch!!  We got so close to the bear and I got a chance to use this cool burst setting on my camera so it looks like the polar bear is moving! Lots of love!!!

P.S. -It is crazy to think that this exact day last year I was in Florida watching the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics!


Student Maria Weyland works on a stencil print
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Laurissa Christie - Student
Hall Peninsula

What a great morning!  It started our great with walrus sightings during breakfast.  Then, I got to drive the ship for a little while!  While I was driving the boat, I spotted this huge bowhead whale that came right beside the ship!  We have seen lots of walrus on the ice today.  This morning’s zodiac ride has been the best one so far.  We twisted and turned through ice and got up close to the walruses.  Our ride was almost over; when we spotted a polar bear eating lunch! 

It’s hard to believe that the expedition is coming to a close.  We do not know what lays ahead in the last days of the expedition, but what we do know is that it is going to be really hard to say goodbye to the Arctic and the friends that I have met on this once in a lifetime expedition to discover Canada’s North. 


An evening workshop and hike
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Maria Weyland - Student
On the Way to Monumental Island

Today was a day filled with true Arctic Spirit.  Since the time we got up we have been rushing around on the deck and the zodiacs trying to keep up with the astounding amount wildlife we have been seeing.  During one of our workshops we were called to deck to see a Bowhead Whale playing in the ice.  While we were up there we started to see groups of walrus dotting the ice.  Next thing I know we are seeing a seal and then we saw one of the first polar bears of the day!  Geoff decided that this sea ice habitat was definitely worth exploring.  Soon after that we started to load onto zodiacs and we began to navigate our way through the ice floes.  Low and behold we see a polar bear snacking on a seal carcass.  There were flocks of gulls surrounding him waiting for their next meal. The bear’s muzzle and the ice were stained red with blood.  Fortunately this bear wasn’t camera shy and we were able to get astoundingly close to this magnificent creature.  People (including me) have some ridiculously amazing photographs.  Once we got aboard and were sitting down for lunch we saw more seals and walrus from the dining room’s windows.  As I decided to relax up on deck after lunch we saw another bowhead, innumerable groups of walrus, a seal, and a polar bear!  This day is definitely special and I wish that all the people that supported me to get where I am right now could see it as well!  Thank you so much everybody and I will definitely show you some photos when I get home.  


A male Walrus
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Nicole Labine - Student
On Wednesday August 5th we had, around mid afternoon reached Kingnait fjord, and anchored down so that we could go for a Zodiac ride. I was in the second group of people to leave the ship and after about a 10-minute ride made it to a rocky shore. The end of the fjord was covered in mountains, and a long flowing river carved through it. As a group we began to hike around the shore, following the river until we reached a stunning waterfall. One group had made it to the waterfall before us and had decided to take their place among the rocks for some quite time. I sat on a high rock at the corner of a bend in the waterfall, and listened to the beautiful sound of the water hitting the rocks. The amazing force of the water was inspiring, I hope when we arrive back home we can have this much force on the people of the world.

After a few minutes I decided to get up and walk further down into the valley, stopping along the way to enjoy the large amount of blueberries that were present. Finally I stopped at a stunning pond cradled between the mountains. The pool was like glass and showed a perfect reflection of the mountains in the background. I couldn’t help but bend down to touch the mountain skyline for the illusion appeared real. However upon my touch the picture vanished leaving only ripples in its wake. Then almost as suddenly as it had disappeared the image returned. This led to me to thinking about the time when I might return to this wonderful landscape, however the view I see now will no longer be here. This trip is truly once in a lifetime because when I return the landscape will have changed, as heartbreaking as it is climate change is causing this landscape to lose its natural beauty.


Student Phillipa Gosine displays her painting
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Phillipa Gosine - Student
Hall Peninsula

Hello!

The past few days have been incredible!!!! From seeing beautiful icebergs to visiting an unnamed fjord to seeing an arctic sunrise to watching arctic wild life, it has been amazing! After the plans changing a few times, we finally got to go out and play in the ice! We took the zodiacs out and got some great pictures before “parking” the zodiac on a solid piece of sea-ice and getting out and walking around. Our group decided to try some of the ice water from a puddle on the iceberg which tasted fantastic. Trying new things seems to be a theme on board, so given the opportunity I tentatively tried beluga. I don’t know if it’s for me, but then again neither is most fish. Continuing with new things, I finally saw a polar bear! In the past two days we’ve seen a few polar bears, and today we got a chance to see one quite up close. In our zodiac excursion today we saw tons of walrus and a polar bear out on the ice. We got as close as possible while trying not to disturb the animals. It was absolutely incredible! I was thrilled to finally see such beautiful and unique animals up close (as in like within 40 metres of them) and being able to take pictures, no matter how bad quality, was amazing. Yesterday pod 3 aka Pingasuk had their bottle drop. So I attempted to use my limited throwing skills to launch my message in a bottle into the ocean which will hopefully eventually be found by someone on some foreign shore. Last night we had our first evening landing, to an unnamed fjord. As part of the “birdbrains and beachcombers” we wandered along the beach and looked at the plants, animals and rocks there. We found some auf ice and had a mini group photo shoot, creating the letters SOI with our bodies. The trip so far has been incredible and I’m sure the rest will continue to be and I want to say a huge thank you to Youth Science Canada for this amazing experience. Goodbye for now, or as they say in Inuktitut qaukpattau.


A Polar Bear climbs out of the ocean onto the sea ice
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Rachel Sullivan-Lord - Student
Davis Strait

I just saw a polar bear in the wild for the first time!!!!!! It was SOOOOO COOL!!! When Geoff announced over the intercom that a bear had been spotted everyone went running up on deck. All we knew was that the bear was on port side at about 10 o’clock. When the landscape in which you are trying to spot a polar bear is all broken up sea ice as far as the eye can see, it makes finding that bear before he disappears very difficult! I went up on the top deck hoping that it would be easier to see the bear with a wide field of view and after a minute or so I SAW HIM/HER!!!! He or she was about 400m away from the ship and moving away from us. The bear was swimming with its head above water and every now and then it would climb out onto the ice. My camera was able to zoom enough so I got a few pictures! Geoff just announced that two more bears have been spotted so I’m going to go try to get some better pictures!!!!!!!

Randi Karstad - Staff
Monumental Island

Yet another amazing day in the ice! We must have spotted 60 walrus altogether, seen a bow whale and come up close to a young polar bear eating off a seal carcass, closely watched by two hungry sea gulls. The young bear cleaned the seal and left only the bones, the rib cage, some intestines and the eyes. Sailing on, we expect to leave the sea ice by tomorrow and eventually come around the southern tip of Baffin Island, heading towards the community of Kimmirut. The students on board are a fantastic group to work with and so is the professional staff. Twenty-five out of the 60 students are from northern communities, the remaining are from all the provinces of Canada and a few Americans. The good mix in the students and among them adds to the full educational purpose of this trip. Each day has a lecture in it, a landing, zodiac trip followed by workshops in smaller groups. These are helpful in order to digest all new impressions and help express ideas and creative streams the students harbor. Before bedtime we all gather in the lecture room to do the recap of the day. This half hour is filled with crazy comments, stories, laughter and the video clip of the day (same one as on this page).


Exploring in a Zodiac
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Susan Nanthasit - Student
Somewhere in Davis Strait

Yesterday was an interesting day. We explored an ‘unnamed’ fjord and we stood on auf ice. The landscape looked untouched and so serene. There were caribou antlers and seal bones scattered along the coasts and hillsides. Also while we were sailing into the fjord, we had a briefing on the bow. Then, all of a sudden, to our left we see a polar bear running along the hillside! Everyone could spot him, since there was the contrast of the ground and the fur of the bear. Earlier that day we saw a couple of polar bears on the sea ice surrounding the ship. I got some good picture, despite the fact that they were farther away. Other people with high quality zoom got amazing photos.

A couple of days ago, I felt really homesick. But I thought, I was given this amazing opportunity to experience things other people never do in their lives. I feel as though I can’t just leave the Arctic, or if I do I’ll have to come back. I feel really connected to this place. I just can’t say THANK YOU enough to Youth Science Canada for giving me this astounding once in a lifetime scholarship.

Tara Saber-Khiabani - Student
Monumental Island

The past week or so has been amazing. I really can’t put down into words how incredible this experience has been. I am so thankful for the opportunity to be here and am thankful for my family and friends back home who helped me get here. Today was yet another amazing day. We went out on the zodiacs and found a polar bear eating a seal. Its face and fur were bloody and so was the ice it was standing on. The past few days have been pretty impressive, not just because of the gorgeous landscapes, but because of all the wildlife we have been seeing. Aside from bears, we’ve seen bowheads, seals, walruses and gulls. I wish you all were here to experience this with me.

Miss you all,

Tara   xoxoxoxo

P.S. - Happy Birthday Maria!!!!


Exploring in a Zodiac
Photo by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice

Taryn McKenzie-Mohr - Student
Somewhere in the Davis Strait (heading south towards Monumental Island)

Today I was within 15 meters of a polar bear.  Wow, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say that again.  We were exploring the sea ice in our Zodiacs when we heard that a bear munching on the carcass of a baby seal had been sighted on an ice floe.  Until today, all previous bear sightings have generally gone like this:  Geoff announces over the intercom that a bear has been sighted, we rush outside and after a few minutes of pointing and passing around binoculars I notice the cream colored dot on the ice or in the water.  I haven’t had the best bear viewing luck.  Unlike Antarctica, where animals are not instinctually scared of humans, most Arctic animals (bears included) have learned to keep their distance from humans after centuries of being hunted by Inuit.  Our rare proximity to the bear is partially what made the experience so amazing.  Seeing him up close was like meeting a famous politician.  Unbeknown to the bears, they have become climate change icons and highly political symbols in recent years.  To share the same space with such a majestic and symbolic animal was overwhelming.   

Mariane Leduc - Staff
LE REGARD DE L’OURS

Je suis assise dans la salle à manger, occupée à déguster mon dîner en compagnie de gens extraordinaires. Jusque là sur mon nuage, excitée et stimulée par nos observations du matin (morses, ours polaires, phoques, baleine boréale, paysages magnifiques), j’essayais de trouver les mots pour expliquer à Geoff en quelques secondes comment je me sentais. Mais tous les mots qui me venaient en tête me donnaient l’impression de ne pas être assez puissants et justes pour expliquer ce que je venais de vivre. C’est alors qu’une petite phrase toute simple, lancée tout doucement et sérieusement par une Jenny habituellement très volubile, m’a enfin permis de laisser libre cours à ces sentiments qui m’habitaient.

À l’écoute de ces mots tous simples, «How was it?», et en lisant son regard, ma gorge s’est nouée d’émotion et les larmes ont roulé sur mes joues. J’avais enfin trouvé comment exprimer ces sentiments, autrement que par les mots. Le regard d’un ours venait de changer ma vie. Le roi de l’Arctique, assis sur son petit iceberg à la dérive, une carcasse de phoque entre les pattes, ne semblait point embêté par notre présence. Il était là. Juste là. À quelques mètres de nous. Et j’ai réalisé à quel point j’étais privilégiée d’être témoin de cette beauté de la nature. Et à quel point il m’est devenu impensable de penser que cet habitat risque de disparaître ou de changer à tout jamais si on ne fait rien.

Voilà pourquoi j’ai pleuré et continuerai de verser des larmes en pensant à ce moment magique.

Cet ours polaire était parfait. Oui. Vraiment parfait. Parfait parce qu’il était sur sa banquise, en plein milieu de la mer, entouré de ces milliers d’icebergs aux reflets bleutés et turquoises. Il était là où il devait être. Il était là où il risque de ne plus jamais être.

C’était une journée parfaite. Oui. Vraiment parfaite. Et j’espère que le futur le sera tout autant…


SOI Participant Coordinator Niki Trudeau, SOI Operations Manager Reina Lahtinen
and SOI Education Program Director Tim Straka
Photo of Niki by Lee Narraway, Students on Ice; photos of Reina and Tim by Alex Taylor

Mike Jensen - Staff
Off the coast of Monumental Island

The name of the island we’ve been traveling past today says it all – it’s been one monumental day. After a beautiful night’s sleep anchored in the harbour of our temporarily-named Students On Ice Fjord, we set sail in the search of some more wildlife.

Since we weren’t expected to see much of anything all morning, it was workshop time for all students. As we settled into what was sure to be a dynamic session on Climate Change skepticism, the call came over the intercom – a bowhead whale had surfaced just a few feet off our bow. Out we raced, with the hopes of getting another close-up glance of these so-far elusive creatures.

Unfortunately, it was not to be, as the whale quickly disappeared. But our disappointment was short-lived as we spotted another of wildlife checklist that we had yet to see – walrus. Most were fairly skittish and slid off into the ice as we approached, but those lucky enough to have binoculars or zoom lenses caught some good glimpses. There were also reports of polar bears and seals in the area.

As we headed back in to complete the workshops, our session leader, Eric, announced that the remainder of the workshop was cancelled. It didn’t take us long to figure out why… Eric is also one of our zodiac drivers – we were off to play in the ice!

I’ve quickly come to the conclusion that this is one of my favorite activities on this expedition. Landings are great, and so are ship-board activities and community visits – but nothing gets me going as much as the chance to slalom through the sea ice. As excited as I was, I had no idea what was about to happen.

We were the second group out this time (we alternate each trip) and as the other group came back, we heard whispers of a polar bear eating a seal or walrus. Excitedly, we clambored aboard zodiacs to see if we could catch this rare event.

And catch it we did.

Our driver, Benoit, was the first to have spotted it in the early group. He headed straight back towards the site, with bergy bits flying past us mere inches away from our zodiac. And there it was. A beautiful three or four year old male munching away on what was left of a seal carcass. We rafted three boats together and silently moved in for a closer look. The bear looked our way a few times, his face blood red from having savoured his catch for quite a while, but otherwise seemed unaffected by our presence.

For almost 20 minutes, we basked in the glory of this graphic yet natural scene. Silence settled over us, save for the lapping of waves, the cool breeze… and the clicks of dozens of cameras snapping thousands of photographs. This was the Britney Spears of polar bears and he was working the camera like a contestant on Canada’s Next Top Model.

He pranced back and forth along the ice, carrying his prize like a trophy, and sniffing the air (probably searching for dessert!). There were gentle “awww”s from our boats as he sat to clean out his paws after his feast was done. As were quietly slipped away to let him finish his meal in peace, we silently thanked our bear for giving us one of the most unforgettable moments of our adventure.

It was simply amazing.

After that, we headed off to find some walruses, but no luck. Benoit made every attempt to get close, but ice and shy walrus kept us from getting close. Time flew, and before we knew it, we were late and far from the ship. But there was no worry with Benoit at the helm as he deftly guided us through the thick sea ice.

Unexpectedly, we came across a polar bear swimming in the ocean, and quickly realized it was our friend from earlier. Not wanting to unnecessarily spook him, we let him be, but instead went back to his dining spot to get some close-up looks at his leftovers, which were being picked at by gulls.

Once back onboard, we had one more moment of note – later in the afternoon, we came across dozens of walrus lounging on the sea ice, many not afraid of our ship. Finally, we had captured the elusive walrus!

Tomorrow we are off to Hantzch Island, which ironically was supposed to be our first stop on our expedition. Hopefully the weather will allow us to see these famous bird cliffs we have heard so much about.

Couldn’t really find a quote suitable for today, so I thought I’d through a random one in for fun…”Tip the world on its side, and everything loose will land in Los Angeles,” said Frank Lloyd Wright. I’d like to see what a loose polar bear would do on the streets of L.A. ...

Stay Tuned for Further Updates!

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