Ottawa

Arctic expedition team returns after 540-km trek on Bylot Island

David Reid and his team had travelled to a remote northern island to bear witness to the changes taking place in the Arctic. And while they were there, the bears were watching them.

Team documented island's environment, shared experience with Ottawa-area students

David Reid stands in camp looking towards Bylot Island. He spent 19 years living in Pond Inlet. (Submitted by David Reid)

David Reid and his team had travelled to a remote northern island to bear witness to the changes taking place in the Arctic. And while they were there, the bears were watching them.

The Bear Witness Arctic Expedition has just returned from Bylot Island, an island just north of Baffin Island where the temperature dipped below –35 C and the sun shone all day.

Reid said his team of explorers skiied 540 kilometres around the isolated landscape, trying their best to avoid polar bears, but on one occasion, it was unavoidable.

"There was one night I went over to my teammate's tent ...and I popped my head out to go to my tent and there is a polar bear sitting there," he told Hallie Cotnam on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

Reid said the bear was likely curious.

"They are incredibly intelligent animals," he said. "Really what the bear wanted to do was catch our scent.

"So he moved away so he moved downwind of us. And at one point he laid down. So we were sort of 'we're not going to bed now.'"

Once the dogs accompanying the researchers had barked enough, however, the bear moved on. There were other sightings, but none quite so close.

Ottawa-area students followed journey on social media

David Reid took this flag with him to Bylot Island. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)
The team brought with them equipment to measure sea ice thickness and to record the temperature and compile the information into a report to be used by York University and other interested parties.

While they were there, they shared the experience with students from St. Michael's school near Ottawa via social media, showing them icebergs, the vast landscape, and, of course, polar bear prints. 

"There's prints everywhere, but there was one particular set I would say you could easily place your dinner plate in the paw print with room to spare," he said.

David Reid's fingers were still thawing on Wednesday, May 17, 2017, after spending 28 days on Bylot Island. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)
Reid's system, accustomed to the bitter cold nights, was in for a shock when he returned to Ottawa on Wednesday, as the temperature soared to 30 C with a humidex of 34 C.

He says his fingers are still thawing from his latest trip after years of Arctic exploring have made them a touch numb.

"My first hot shower after 28 days, well, you never want to waste water but the temptation is to spend, like, maybe an hour. But it was very good," he told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

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