A glimpse of Arctic wildlifeAugust 27, 2012 8:34 PM
I saw a polar bear! And not in a zoo!
I was on the Canadian Coast Guard helicopter with two Environment Canada employees who are filming and mapping out the coastline of the Northwest Passage. This whole area is poorly mapped, relative to modern standards. But big ships and oil tankers will ply these waters soon enough, and the Canadian government wants to be ready in case of a big spill. Filming now helps identify the most sensitive areas.
But I digress. The polar bear was on shore, not far from the water, perhaps looking for something to eat. There wasn't a spot of snow or ice anywhere so he (or she) wasn't about to be too far out in the water. The bear took off when the chopper neared, and we didn't want to get too close and freak it out any more.
Meanwhile, back on the Coast Guard Icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier, two smaller speedboats are pulling a sonar towfish through the Arctic depths. That hours-long routine helps chart the region (the domain of the Canadian Hydrographic Service). That's obviously important when you're trying to find a shipwreck (as we are) and also if you're sailing a ship and don't want to smash into something at the bottom. Some areas are complete unknowns to this day, so the scientists and others on the Laurier are working to change that.
They do that with those speedboats, on a grid pattern, going up and back, up and back. They call it 'mowing the lawn.' Seems like a great analogy to me.
Good news: the second vessel, the Martin Bergmann, will soon depart Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and join in the search and charting expedition. That was, after all, Franklin's mission when he set out with his two ships in 1845. It didn't work out well for them: 129 men died and the ships sank, but nly after being trapped in the ice for more than two years.