Today we arrived at Kivitoo, an abandoned village north of Qikiqtarjuaq, early in the morning and many students were out on deck hoping for a sighting of a bowhead whale. On the shore we could see the site of the former Inuit village, the old whaling station, and the whaler’s graveyard. The last time we were here we were blessed with an incredible view of a bowhead cruising along the shore, so close that we could hear it breathing. I was filming the whale with my video camera supported on one of the huge iron tanks the whalers used for shipping whale oil back to Britain. It was an intriguing connection, realizing that these whales had been close to extinction from the whalers’ over-utilization, but now recovered enough that the Canadian Inuit communities have been able to resume their traditional harvest, but at the rate of only one whale a year.
This morning, just before the call to breakfast, I was looking down past the stern of the ship and finally saw the white spout or “blow” of a bowhead against the rosy morning light. The next hours were a remarkable series of sightings of a female bowhead travelling slowly along the coast with her calf swimming alongside. As they passed close by a colourful ice floe, we could see a few large towering icebergs behind them, rising above the land on the other side of Kangeeak Point.
As we left the bowheads and turned east towards Greenland, we were only 250 km south of Isabella Bay, the site of Niginganiq, one of Canada’s newest National Wildlife Areas (NWA). This NWA was created to protect an important summering area for the bowhead whales. It was created with the support of the nearby Inuit communities of Clyde River and Qikiqtarjuaq. It was appropriate that we were able to see the bowheads in a place where they were over-hunted a hundred years ago.