Dan Slavik is a senior officer of government and community relations in the Canadian Arctic with the World Wildlife Fund, and a member of the Northwest Passage expedition team. Here, he shares his account and some fascinating insights into the destinations Crystal Serenity has visited this week along her journey.
Kaktovik/Barter Island – August 23
Today we sailed past Kaktovik and Barter Island – the last of the Alaskan villages we will see on this this trip. A unique feature of this community is that the nearby islands of Barter Island are among the few areas in the Arctic where polar bear and grizzly bears frequently mingle. In the spring, the Inupiaq harvest the massive bowhead whale for food and “maqtaq”. After the harvest, the whale carcass is towed to the shoreline of a nearby island. The strong scent of the decaying whale is a dinner for both the Grizzly bears of Alaska’s North Slope, and any polar bear who may be wandering the area or emerging from their dens on the coast. It is observed that despite being slightly larger, the polar bears are more passive and submissive than the grizzly bears at the site. This type of event could also lead to the conception of more hybrid grizzly/polar bear offspring.
Barrow Canyon – August 22
Today we are passing over a very unique geological and ecological feature of the Arctic – the Barrow Canyon. The Barrow Canyon is a submarine canyon that straddles the boundary between the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, starting roughly 95 miles west of Barrow, Alaska. Barrow Canyon stretches 150 miles along the coast, crossing into the Beaufort Sea north of Point Barrow. The canyon is roughly 15 miles wide, and reaches depths up to 1,200 feet below the surrounding cliffs and peaks.
Due to the region’s high primary productivity, Barrow Canyon is an important foraging area and concentrated migration passageway for marine mammals and birds following openings in the sea ice. Bowhead and beluga whales travel through the canyon during the spring and fall migrations.
As offshore sea ice melts, Pacific Walrus rely on coastal habitat for haul-outs and on the region’s rich seafloor for foraging. Currently, there are an estimated 2,000 walruses hauled out nearby Pt. Lay, Alaska. This is the earliest a haul out of this size has been observed in any season (attributed to the lack of sea ice in the area), and it poses a unique opportunity to view walruses, but also an incredible risk to the animals. If startled, they could cause a stampede that would crush they younger walruses.
Keep following the Crystal Insider for dispatches from the experts of the expedition team, as Crystal Serenity makes her second transit of the elusive Northwest Passage.