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July 23 2005

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July 23, 2005

It took a little longer to get prepared, put away supplies, and see a couple more sites so we left Tuktoyaktuk early on the morning of July 16 and headed west across the delta, I believe it is the second largest fresh water delta in Canada. We reached ice at noon and followed the edge of it towards Herschel Island where we passed an offshore drilling rig waiting to drill a hole in the winter. The ice was north of us, then appeared ahead of us in the fog and it reached shore just before Demarcation Bay a few miles into Alaska and we were forced to turn back to the shelter of Herschel Island for refuge. The wind was very strong and some concern of getting trapped against bergs as high as 20 feet. We had to dodge big and small ice (ice bergs and bergy bits they call it) in the fog and rain with very poor visibility. The radar isn't great at ‘seeing’ the ice.

At the island we stayed in Orca Cove for a couple days before moving to Pauline Cove where there is a settlement now inhabited only by the Parks people stationed here during the summer months and the occasional visitor. There Lee John and Phillip Ross of Yukon Parks have been great hosts and we have been impressed at their dedication to the area and the hard work done on the island. While on the island we finally hooked up with Jack Kruger and a crew that he brought along of Karla, Mike, and Ross of the RCMP and Canadian Coast Guard in the RCMP boat 'MacKenzie'. They are part of a wide group throughout the north as a part of sovereignty, a vague way of spending money. I have never heard of any other country trying to make claim to Yukon, NWT or Nunavut. Also caught the visit of the Federal RCMP Commisioner’s visit to the island on July 20th. They visited grave sites of two RNWMP officers that died in 1911 and 1918. We even took advantage of their leftovers at the invitation of Jack, Lee, & Philip,a muskox burger and fresh vegetables for lunch.

There is evidence of inhabitants at Herschel Island for 9000 years. During its peak there was a population greater than Edmonton, reaching near 2000 with the mostly US whalers. The ships would arrive in the summer for the whales the next spring, then leave in August. At first they took bow head whales for the baleen then they also take the oil. Instead of teeth the larger whales use baleen, which are large plates that hang from the upper jaw and filter the plankton and krill to eat. There are 150 pieces of baleen in one whale, these flexible pieces which are similar to finger nail material were used for things like buggy whips and corsets for their elasticity. The oil was of course used for many things including providing heat and light etc.

We were given some pamphlets of the area that list 161 types of plants and almost as many species of birds. We have seen sand hill cranes, swans, several ducks including an eider duck nesting under the steps of one of buildings, seals, and some caribou nearby at Orca Cove. There is a grizzly bear on the island and when the ice reaches land we can get muskox and polar bears roaming around also. We still haven't seen a beluga whale yet but there are a lot around, we should now see bow head whales too.

A group of researchers arrived July 21 from the Yukon government. The biologists, ornithologists, veterinarian, and perhaps others along with the park rangers are studying the island.

Currently we are waiting out the weather of fog, rain showers and wind up to 40 mph. We need south winds to push the ice out off the coastline so that we can reach Point Barrow, Alaska. Lately keeping the coolers cold hasn't been a problem, lower temperatures and snow and ice available have made one less issue. The day before yesterday was too rough to row to shore (we could have blown to shore but not row back) but we got in a hike yesterday and today. The weather seems to have changed this afternoon so we will probably check out the ice conditions west on the 23rd and continue on if possible.