Crossing the Northwest Passage - Day 4
Posted by Mark Terry
on Friday, October 15, 2010
Raising the bongo net Photo: Mark Terry
We are now in Lancaster Sound passing between Devon Island and Baffin Island. Here the ice is still very scarce and spotty.
Occasional pancake ice surfaces but quickly gives way to open water. We saw our first icebergs, quite small and spread apart compared to the numerous monolithic icebergs we filmed in Antarctica last year.
The crew of the Amundsen as well as the crew of The Polar Explorer have been keeping regular watch for polar bears and seals. We spotted some of each this morning but haven't seen any others before or since.
Today the marine life specialists of ArcticNet, specifically Dr. Frederic Olivier, Anne Fontaine, Virginie Roy and Joannie Ferland introduced us to their "catch of the day."
Last night we deployed three sets of nets of increasing size: the Tucker, the Bongo and the Monster. These nets are specially designed to catch and collect samples of everything from phytoplankton to small fish and other Arctic sea creatures. At the bottom of each net is a canister that houses the samples.
For the nets that descend to the ocean floor — some 500 meters — a lot of mud is scooped up in the process. This morning, Joannie and Anne sift through the mud using a relatively old-school box-screen to separate the mud from the buried treasure that dwells within.
Dr. Olivier and Virginie explained what they found was a Gorgonocephalus (Gorgon’s Head) and were quite excited about its relative size.
"Usually these are found in tropical regions," said Dr. Olivier, "and they are smaller. These ones are bigger because the cold temperatures they have adapted to make them live longer so they grow bigger."
Virginie described a family of snail-like creatures she found called Whelks. There were three sizes representing the "baby, the teenager and the elder," she said. Their size too was relatively large for this genus when found in other waters around the world.
Other bizarre creatures found at a depth of nearly 500 meters include a worm called a Palea that eats mud, spider crabs called Pycnogonida and a "Brittle Starfish" called the Ctenodiscus Crispatus.
All these creatures, Dr. Olivier explained, have a long history in these waters, many of them prehistoric, and their numbers don’t seem to have been affected by climate change or other environmental influences.
Mark Terry, an explorer and documentary filmmaker, is Canadian Geographic's special correspondent in the Northwest Passage.
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Tags : adventure
, climate change