Stormchaser George Kourounis went to Sable Island to document the Nova Scotia sand spit's unique weather. But although the island is highly susceptible to hurricanes, it was Sable's iconic residents that blew him away.
First introduced to the island in the late eighteenth century, Sable's feral horses make up one of the world's last wild equine populations. Although slaughter brought them close to extinction in the 1950s, both the horses and their island home are now protected under Canada's National Parks Act. One of the few ways to visit Sable Island National Park is through an Adventure Canada cruise.
Kourounis was aboard Adventure Canada's most recent soujourn to the remote island. Here, he shares his photos from the trip and talks about the experience.
On meeting Sable Island's horses
I’ve photographed and documented wildlife all over the world, from wildebeest migrations to komodo dragons to great white sharks, and there’s nothing quite as majestic as a horse. I don’t know what it is, but [Sable's] are absolutely beautiful, with these unbelievably long manes and tails, especially on the stallions. And they’re just left to their own devices.
I was expecting to see the occasional horse, but there were so many! Within a few minutes of first setting foot on the beach there were two stallions chasing each other down the beach heading straight for us. They went stampeding past and it was this very special moment. It was if these two horses were the official greeters of the island.
On preserving the park
The mandate of a national park is to preserve, but also to allow people to go and visit. The trip was overseen by two people from the parks service, so as long as everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing, the impact is very minimal. It’s one of the least visited parks in Canada because it’s so remote. There’s basically just two ships that go there per year. That’s it. And the people who go on these trips are the kind of people who love nature and want to preserve it. It’s not frat boys going to the Grand Canyon as a detour on their way to Vegas.
As for the horses, they don’t have any natural predators there, so they’re not easily spooked. For the most part they just ignored us. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. Bring a long lens and you’ll get amazing photos and get to experience the park in a way that’s non-destructive.
On Sable's history and weather
I learned that people have been [on the island] for quite some time, and that it’s the home of 350 shipwrecks. It’s one of the foggiest places in Canada and it’s one of the places most prone to be hit by a major hurricane. Because of these facts, it would be very difficult to navigate a ship around there. If it’s foggy and cloudy you can’t navigate by the stars. With GPS it’s no problem, but before that, it’s no wonder there were so many shipwrecks.
On the rest of the trip
We started in Saint John's, Newfoundland, and went to Sable of course, but on the way back we went through the Gully, which I’d never heard of. But it’s this marine protected area that we had permission to go through because one of the Adventure Canada researchers was doing a bird and mammal survey. So we saw all kinds of whales. We spent the better part of a day travelling through there, and then we made a stop at Saint Pierre and Miquelon. Technically I’d never been to France and now I have!
The ship was wonderful, and the crew really went above and beyond to make sure everyone was happy and comfortable and getting the most out of their experience. They divided people up depending on what they were interested in when they got to the island, so everyone came away happy.
* This interview has been edited and condensed
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