By Zoë Caron
Clear crisp sky. Unbroken satin ocean. Bare rock island. We glide by quietly in the zodiac, as hundreds of walruses own the shores with their becks and calls.
Today is ice-free. We are north of 60 and we are clad in t-shirts, windbreakers, and 50 SPF sunscreen. The walruses roll over to expose their deep pink bellies – coloured by their blood rising to the surface of their skin, a sign of the warmest of body temperatures.
We share a pair of binoculars, taking turns watching the four-ton males make their way over their friends – sometimes using the force of their tusks, sometimes not – to reach the cool Arctic water. We came up alongside one, a surprisingly graceful mass of flesh performing a ballet through the aquamarine blue. Its bright red eye emerged, acknowledging our presence, deridingly swimming on.
It is a day for which to be grateful. We are among an elder who, in his 58 years, had not laid eyes on a walrus until today. A woman, who has spent the last two decades in the far north, also saw her first walrus today. And so for those of us for whom this is our first voyage north, it is a miracle of nature that we saw, not one, but hundreds, of these great beings.
The sun-drenched afternoon was one that you can only wish for – and a fierce reinforcement of the meaning behind our daily efforts. For every individual that dedicates his or her time to conservation, there is a walrus (or a muskox, or a thick-billed murre) that thanks you. They did today.
Students on Ice’s 2010 Arctic Youth Expedition is a ship-based circumpolar adventure aimed at raising awareness about global warming – and inspiring the next generation of polar scientists, researchers and environmentalists. The participants include students from all three Canadian territories (a quarter of the total), eight Canadian provinces and four other countries.
The ship will take the students to several arctic sites including Pagnirtung, Diana Island, Digges and Walrus Islands, Cape Dorset and North shore Hudson Strait. It also drops anchor at one of Canada’s most spectacular parks, Auyuittuq National Park, and the breathtaking Kingnait Fjord.