CBC Windsor
University of Windsor communications officer Steve Fields will spend eight days as a working member of the crew aboard a scientific research vessel in the Arctic
Steve Fields will spend eight days as a working member of the crew aboard a scientific research vessel in the Arctic.

Fields of View

Research 'newbie' gets to kiss the squid


SCOTT INLET, NUNAVUT - We set sail from Clyde River at about 7 pm on Sunday evening and steamed up the northeast coast of Baffin Island for about 12 hours through the night. I woke up at around 7 am on Monday and had coffee on the rear deck of the boat, looking out at the magnificent sheer cliffs that jut up out of the Davis Strait for hundreds of meters.

After working until well after midnight the night before, checking all of the acoustic monitoring equipment to verify it's in good working order, we wasted no time getting to work, setting out the receivers that will eventually track the Greenland halibut we plan to tag.

The actual work can be back-wrenching at times. The receivers are attached to 200-pound disc-shaped anchors that have to be hoisted to the back of the boat and then dropped into the ocean when we get the go-ahead from the bridge via short-wave radio confirming that we're in the proper location according to their GPS coordinates.

My job was to help lift the moorings out of their storage bin, set them on the rear deck, bolt the hardware on and then attach the shackles which secure them to the line. After that, we set them up on the edge of the boat, and launched the float, carefully holding the receiver and the release mechanism as they were towed behind the boat. Once we got the "deploy" message from the bridge, we pushed the mooring overboard and watched it pull the entire line below the surface.

After dropping the moorings for two of the three acoustic gates we set at the mouth of the Scott Inlet, we headed inland about 30 kilometers to drop the long lines that will sit on the ocean floor in hopes of catching the Greenland sharks and halibut the scientists on board are studying.

The lines have all been baited with fresh squid. Being the newbie on board, I was tasked with the honour of kissing the last squid for luck before it was dropped. Nigel made sure the final hook was good and loaded up with squid, and for dramatic effect, I made sure it was an especially sexy kiss.

Speaking of Nigel, I have a whole new sense of respect for him. After spending the night sleeping on the floor of the ship's lab, he spent the entire day working. In the afternoon, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up considerably, and in some pretty rough conditions, he suited up in rain slicks, dug in and helped bait about 250 hooks on about 4,800 feet of line. The work didn't finish until around 8 pm.

The crew of the MV Nuliajuk have been an absolute pleasure to work with. I'm especially having a great deal of fun with Kevin Hewitt from Trespassey Newfoundland, a true east-coaster if there ever was one, and Anton Snarby of Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Both are possessed with easy-going attitudes, an amazing sense of humour and a seemingly endless appetite. As I'm writing this, Anton is scarfing down a plateful of last night's leftover pork chops and rice for breakfast.

Levi Ishulutaq, from Pangnurtung, Nunavut and Ilkoo Anguitkjuak from Clyde River, Nunavut are also members of the crew. Both are extremely hard working Inuit men, and while there's a bit of a language barrier with Ilkoo, Levi is both witty and articulate.

Howard Penny, the captain of the ship and Robert Noel, the first mate, are both from Newfoundland. Both are very polite and extremely patient, taking time to answer the endless barrage of questions they're getting from a less-than-nautical man such as myself.

Today we've had to drop anchor in Refuge Harbour, which runs off the Scott Inlet, due to the fact that conditions were too rough to pull up the long lines. Hopefully by tomorrow we'll be able to pull them back up and I'll see my first Greenland shark.