Story by Team Outpost
Photos by Simon Vaughan, Will Allen and Daniel Puiatti
The Whaling Station
“Where are you heading today?” local carver Peter asks, as we leave the hotel the next morning. We tell him Kekerten, and he replies, “That’s better. We look out to the sea, not into the land. There’s more food that way!”
Fifty kilometres from Pangnirtung, right within Cumberland Sound, sits the island of Kekerten, formally a 19th-century whaling station that is now a Nunavut Territorial Park.
“Watch for walruses,” says Jamiesie, our captain, as we board a boat that takes us to the park and navigates in and around incredible icebergs to get there. “One was spotted here yesterday, on an ice floe.”
We don’t see any walruses but do see ring seals, and, in spectacular fashion, plenty of bowhead whales. Our first encounter comes as a funnel of water erupts unexpectedly in the distance.
“Bowheads are dangerous and very aggressive,” he shoots back, which just adds to the drama. “If we get too close, they can flip the boat. So we stay well clear”
“Bowheads!” someone screams. We scramble to various parts of the boat, readying our gear to capture the moment. Jamiesie pushes it to maximum speed and cuts the engine a few yards from the pod; it bobs in an undulating, rhythmic dance, and the rapid click of cameras is broken only by groans and puffs from the pod as they breach in succession. Closer, we must get closer.
“Can you take us closer, Jamiesie?” we ask.
“Bowheads are dangerous and very aggressive,” he shoots back, which just adds to the drama. “If we get too close, they can flip the boat. So we stay well clear.”
The pod slowly vanishes, one by one, as they dive deep into the dark Arctic water. Just like that, the moment has passed, almost in the blink of an eye.
Kekerten was a successful whaling station in the 1850s and 1860s, and as we walk around the old site, past the blubber drums and rusting equipment and through a graveyard of whale bones, we can’t help but wonder if the bowheads we had encountered are distant relatives to the ones that lay before us.
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