Stopover in Arctic Bay (Nunavut)


3 October 2013

Since late Tuesday afternoon, Tara has been anchored across the bay from the Inuit hamlet of Nunavut. The atmosphere is completely different from our previous stop in Tuktoyaktuk (North West Territories, Canada). The 800 inhabitants of “the pocket” – as this town is called in Inuit – are much more distant and reserved than their brothers in the North West, close to the Bering Strait.

After a day-and-a-half stop, we departed Thursday morning with the aim of making 3 more scientific stations between here and Pond Inlet (also in the Nunavut region), the place of our next stop, 200 nautical miles from here.

After watching a beautiful aurora borealis Tuesday night shortly after our arrival – locals say they haven’t seen one of this magnitude for 14 years – today we visited Arctic Bay. A small village of wooden houses aligned and well-protected by a beautiful mountain ridge rising above a wide bay.

From our first steps on the main street, the welcome was warm with regular small hand signs, but the ambiance was nothing like Tuktoyaktuk. We had the impression of being in a place even more timeless, more isolated. We certainly didn’t arouse the same curiosity. The few Inuits who approached us on Quad or on foot, were trying to sell us something – fish or walrus ivory, among other things.

Everywhere the same reserve. Our goals and questions rapidly seemed to perturb our interlocutors. Then gradually, after visiting Hamlet Office,** the Inuit people of Arctic Bay realized that we were not here for tourism, nor the usual bear hunting.

Apart from walks to stretch our legs, the visit to the school of Arctic Bay –  including a scientific presentation of the Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition – was certainly the highlight of this stopover.  For an audience of local teenagers, and under the eye of their teachers, Emmanuel Boss, optical engineer aboard Tara, explained the purpose of our voyage, and the reason for Tara’s presence in Arctic Bay.

In the daily quiet of this Inuit bay, where seals and bears are still hunted, some people discovered the existence of plankton at the origin of our lives.

Vincent Hilaire

* Northern lights are caused by interaction between charged particles from solar wind and the upper atmosphere. Solar activity on Tuesday night was extremely important.

**Hamlet Office: town hall of the village.