Day 11 |
Aug 17, 2013

Lower Savage Islands, Canada

By By Peter W. Damisch, Historian, General Naturalist, Cartographer, Master Mariner

Co-ordinates: 61º 50' N, 065º 32' W
Weather: Overcast with intermittent rain
Air Temperature: 1ºC 
Pressure: 1004 hPa
Wind: 5 - 15 knots

Early this morning Silver Explorer carefully approached the Lower Savage Islands, which had a few icebergs dotting the coastline. These three remote and uninhabited Islands are located just outside Frobisher Bay in the high Arctic within the relatively newly created Canadian territory of Nunavut. Interestingly enough, and perhaps somewhat unique, these three Islands are separated by two narrow channels. The channels are way too small for even the nimble Silver Explorer, but just perfect for our fleet of zodiacs.

Soon we were off to explore in true expedition style. I always think there is something quite fascinating in setting off on a journey like this where no one, including the Expedition Staff, knows what we’ll have the privilege of seeing. Throughout the morning we had the opportunity to chat about 2.5 billion year-old rocks passing by with patches of snow and ice, along with periodic waterfalls.

A surprise for all of us was to come around a narrow channel where we found a Harbor Seal hauled out on a small rock. This is somewhat of an unusual sight, due to the threat of predation by Polar Bear, which is one of our primary interests and we were not disappointed.

Several of the world’s largest land carnivores appeared at some distance from the shoreside. In addition, they were moving continuously, looking for any type of food supply left on land after the sea ice melted in early Summer. This is a hard life for the Polar Bear and we could all appreciate the migratory hunting techniques that they must use to survive.

During the lunch hour Silver Explorer repositioned to Nanook Harbour, which forms a narrow opening on the Southwest corner of Baffin Island, one of the largest islands in the world and encompasses the capital of Nunavut, virtually unknown outside of Canada.

Once again, we set off to truly explore. During this voyage I also had the chance to discuss a long strand of brown algae or kelp that I discovered near the ship’s anchorage position. This is truly an amazing species that has worldwide coverage, is literally farmed in several countries, and used in a wide variety of products from ice cream to shampoo.

There was also the opportunity to point out two Inuit rock cairns, which then led to discussing a series of Inuit folk legends often used to pass down oral traditions from one generation to the next.

Besides all the magnificent geology, waterfalls, and year round snow with animal paw prints, we were especially lucky to find two polar bears sleeping side by side up on a high ledge. This can only mean one thing, mother and cub. Male Polar Bears do not provide any training or support for cubs, and we only see male and female together during the mating season much earlier in the year. Thus, we were all quite happy to see the first multiple polar bear sighting during this cruise, which made for a great afternoon.

Back on board it was time to join the Expedition Leader and entire team to recap the day as well as brief for our plans tomorrow. Kara, one of our biologists discussed the physiology and behavior of seals like we saw earlier today. Christian used his practiced eye to identify unusual human aspects from our landing yesterday in Iqualit. I finished up by covering Martin Frobisher’s three voyages to this exact area in the late 1500’s. He was looking for gold but came back with more than 1,250 tons of ‘fool’s gold,’ which now graces the roadsides in England. It was a day which had a wide variety of surprising and pleasing discoveries during our exploration of this beautiful high Arctic environment.