I remember hearing David Attenborough explain in one of his documentaries that in the open ocean there are vast areas that are devoid of life, interspersed with areas of abundance. Where there is krill or anchovy or herring, there are likely to be all of the larger creatures that are sustained by them; but where there are none of these lower food chain organisms there will be few if any larger creatures. The open ocean can be a desert. Two days ago, we walked for an hour not far from the shore of the Franklin memorial and found no life, a polar desert. Even Ken was surprised as we marched up the slopes of crumbled rock -- no lichens, no grasses. We did find one object or I should say one object dispersed in to 3 pieces. Ken spotted it and brought us over to it. A weather balloon, possibly released by the Defense Research Establishment or NASA had ended up here. The remains of the balloon and line, the circuit board, and the battery pack are here now for future generations to find and ponder.
Yesterday, after re-positioning to a bay called Maxwell Bay, we hiked for a few hours and then explored by tender for a few hours. On land, we sloshed through a rich, almost clay-like soil full of lichen, moss and small plants. “Musk ox territory,” Ken announced. Musk oxen live in the Arctic (we had seen a few in the far distance the day before) and roam the tundra in search of the roots, mosses, and lichens that sustain them. In winter, they use their hooves to dig through snow to graze on these plants. During the summer, they supplement their diet with Arctic flowers and grasses, often feeding near water. We found plenty of droppings and hoof prints and then that welcome word from Ken, “Wow!” broke the silence. We joined him and looked down at the well-preserved skull of an adult Musk Ox.
“I think this one was killed by a bear or wolves,” explained Ken. “If a hunter had shot this animal, he would have taken the horns, which are used in carvings.”
In the afternoon we loaded in to two tenders and explored the upper reaches of Maxwell Bay. In the glassy water, we could see tiny fish near the surface. I was able to scoop one up and have a look; it was tiny, wriggling in the palm of my hand. Many birds – our famous “Kanardlys” (otherwise known as Guillemots) and Glaucous Gulls were paddling around on the surface picking up these sprat. We ventured near some river outlets and took a few casts with the rods we had brought. Arctic Char apparently roam these areas at this time of the year. No luck there, but I did manage to drop my lure to 30 meters and snag the monster pictured below. Our water tour ended with a close inspection of one large ice berg floating serenely in the bay. We gazed upon it as one might view a piece of art in a gallery. Floating in absolute glass with a perfect reflection beneath it, the iceberg changed shape and color as we motored around it. The Polar desert has given way to a pocket of abundance. What will today bring?