At the Floe Edge

    The ever-present sun dogs kept us company throughout our journey. © Michael Shaughnessy

    On a trip to Arctic Bay, Nunavut, I had the opportunity to visit the “Sinaaq” (Inuktitut for Floe Edge, where the melting ice meets the Arctic Ocean).

    We travelled by qamutiit (enclosed wooden sleds pulled behind snowmobiles) over what was often very rough terrain. Our guides told us to expect about a 14-hour day and, even with the warmth from the 24 hours of sun, the cold can still permeate even the best of Arctic outerwear.

    A qamutiq, an Arctic chariot.
    © Michael Shaughnessy

    They also explained they would be on constant guard throughout our journey scanning for the ever present nanook (polar bear), which tend to congregate wherever the floe edge recedes.

    While I’ll admit to feeling somewhat between nervous and excited, this journey would also prove to be a photographer’s dream!

    One of the most rewarding aspects of photography is that it teaches one how to “see”. And, just as absolute silence can sometimes be deafening, the seemingly barren white of the Arctic can also serve as a huge vibrant canvas full of textures, shapes and colours.

    The sun dogs, foggy prism rings of ice crystals that form in the sky, constantly served as gentle escorts throughout the day. Our hosts made us tea with chips from 15,000-yearold ice from the incredibly blue icebergs that floated past.

    Narwhals put on an unforgettable performance. © Michael Shaughnessy

    Along the route, at Lancaster Sound, a green row boat with oars at the ready sat by the floe edge. A hunter used it to retrieve a recently shot seal — a gift from the icy waters.

    Arriving at our destination, our guides immediately unpacked the qamutiit and boiled up some tea. As they set up for the meal preparation, they suggested we make ourselves comfortable and remain as quiet as possible. This, they explained, was where the narwhals might soon congregate and there was a very good chance we might soon get to see one.

    Our silence was suddenly interrupted by what sounded like a deep “moan” coming from below. Then, amidst a fury of bubbles, the water surface broke to an entire pod of 10 narwhals. It felt like we all had front row seats to a private show they were putting on just for us! It was a memory I knew I would never, ever forget.

    Since my journey, I have become a lifelong advocate of Canada’s Arctic.

    Michael Shaughnessy is a management consultant who serves as an advisor to the Project North board. He accompanied a group of dedicated Project North volunteers on their journey to deliver new hockey equipment to Arctic Bay, Nunavut.