Students on Ice Arctic Expedition 2013, Off the coast of Baffin Island
The broken pack ice undulates on a metallic grey sea. In the distance, we can see land but there is a lot of ice between us and the steep purple cliffs that form the northeastern edge of Canada.
We’ve crossed the Davis Strait, heading southwest. We have abandoned plans to visit Pond Inlet and travel through Lancaster Sound and the Northwest Passage to Resolute, the second northernmost community in Canada, due to impassible ice conditions.
As the winter sea ice breaks up, wind and currents carry it along. It has also built up on the Baffin coastline and keeps us away from Monumental Island, where we had planned a zodiac cruise to look for polar bears and walrus. But as the ship slowly makes its way along the edge of the pack ice, we see a number of small brown dots on the floes. As we approach, the distinctive bulk of resting walruses come into view.
Once again, the students’ cameras click away as the animals group together in social piles of flesh. We see a few dozen of these large sea mammals, a sign that food is abundant. Walrus can weigh over 1,000 kilos and are able to dive up to 500 metres to the bottom where they stir up the silt with their tusks and suck up molluscs and other edibles and suck them into their large mouths.
Walrus aren’t afraid of polar bears so they don’t seem to be too disturbed by the ship. They just slide into the water and slip below the surface, only to haul out on another ice pan as we recede into the distance.
While it would have been great to get the students off the ship and into the zodiacs for a cruise, the swell is too large. So we sail along ice edge into another Arctic evening. It’s getting darker at night as we head south. Soon, we will reach Frobisher Bay, the last leg of our trip.
In the ice off the coast of Baffin Island © John Crump.
Students on Ice meet walrus on ice © John Crump.