Faces of Greenland

Faces of Greenland

In unique places you meet unique people. My Greenland trip wasn’t an exception. In this post I want to tell you about people I was lucky to meet there.

Meet David.

 

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David is Icelander, diving instructor and the guy who teached me “that what she said” jokes.

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David meets Greenlandic dog.

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David relaxing after a hard day.

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Tales from the White sea. Bearded seals.

Tales from the White sea. Bearded seals.

Bearded seal is the biggest species of pinnipeds in White sea. We found those guys on the Top island near Solovetsky archiplago.
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The isle of Top is small, ibnhabited rocky island with the lighhouse in the middle. This silent and remote place gives you feeling of primal magic. Rocks of the island are covered with bearded seals. When the tide is getting low, bearded seals relaxing laying half-water on the rocks and wait for water to go away. This is the best moment to see them either from the boat or from the shore.

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Seals are adapted for living in the water, so they feel vulnerable while being on the shore, and jump into the water immediately when the boat approaches them. Some seals are more calm and feel comfortable being several meters close to people.

After getting into the water, seal becomes brave and shows interest about the boat. He gets closer and stares at you. Transformation of bearded seal:

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Once we woke up a seal sleeping on the surface.

In several years population of bearded seals increased in the result of hunting ban in the White sea. This is a good news for us, but local fishemen are not so happy about population reсovery – bearded seals get caught in the nets, destroying it and even dying inside.

I made several efforts to take underwater pictures of bearded seal, which will be published a bit later.

 

Portrait: Tiger shark.

I was lukcy to dive with these sharks in the best place you can imagine, famous Tiger beach, Bahamas. This was my first “serious” shark dive. Fairly speaking, first time it was scary. But after a short time it became so much fun and I became a shark friend.

Tiger sharks are wide spread in tropical and equatorial waters around the world. This guys grow up to 4-4.5 meters and weight from 400 to 650 kilos. Tigers eat literally everything they can grab – fish, invertebrates, turtle, birds, mammals and even smaller tiger sharks.

Tiger sharks are massive and slow moving. They swim smoothly, like enormous airships, circling around feeder and other divers. Strenght and speed are hidden under their slowness. When shark makes an attempt to grab the chum or the feeder, it moves very rapidly. I’ve noticed how the group instinct works on people – those who were diving with tigers the first time, including myself, were constantly trying to move closer to each other and to protect their back, quite the same as sardines or herring which noticed a predator. Sharks come close, and you need to make a barrier between yourself and shark. That time I was a happy guy and haven’t used a DLSR camera underwater, so I had to protect myself with a plastic stick. When shark comes close, it closes the eyes.I suppose it’s made to protect the eyes.

The guys who work in Tiger beach behave with tiger sharks as if they were pets – playing with them, scratching bellys, grabbing noses etc. At first it looks insane, but then you realise it’s just okay. Sometimes shark makes an attempt to attack feeder, but those guys are well-prepaired and don’t have any accidents. Fairly speaking, all guys who involved in shark diving industry are cool guys and great divers. And they never have serious accidents with the sharks.

There are also carribean reef sharks and lemon sharks feeding around in Tiger beach. Once a great hammerhead came to us, but it’s shy species and usually afraid of tigers so we saw it just for a couple of seconds.

Inuit traditional hunt for marine mammals.

Inuit traditional hunt for marine mammals.

It’s not a secret that Arctic is a very severe place. There are no trees, cereals can’t grow here. It’s impossible to survive by gathering or agriculturing. Arctic is not a place for human being. The only way to survive here is fishing and hunting everything you can find. So inuits from Greenland and Canada hunt and fish for living.

Hunting is not just a part of inuit life – it’s a core of their culture, basis of their self-identity. Every man is a hunter. Inuits hunt literally everything they can – seals, whales, polar bears, caribou, musk ox, birds etc. Their hunting techniques are unique and very interesting, so let’s leave this topic for the next article.

Whales are hunted by inuits during summertime.

When man kills the animal, he takes everything – meat for food, fat for lamps, skin for clothes, kayaks and houses, tendons for making ropes, colon as the waterproof material etc. Many people consider hunting as unethical and blame hunters, especially when it’s all about hunting rare and beautiful animals. But what about hunting if there is no other way to survive? I don’t blame people who hunt for living, if there is no other way to survive.

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Humpback diving away from our boat scared by engine sound.

This kind of traditional hunting takes place nowaday in the most remote northern regions of Greenland and Canadian Arctic.

However, the lifestyle of the most inuit people changed dramatically in XX-XXI centuries. Denmark and Canada pays benefts to them, and hunting is not essential for living anymore. The availability of technologies, especially firearms and motorized boats, has lead to the depletion of the Greenland coast.

Take a look at this poster. This one I bought in Tasiilaq during our trip to Greenland. This poster shows the whale species you can meet there. Is that true that you can meet so many species here? So why didn’t Greenland became a whale-lovers capital o the world?

Yes, it is possible to meet different whale species here. But there is not so many whales – you can see much more in other places. The second thing is the whales are extremely shy here and they dive immediately when they hear the sound of engine – the sound of death for the whales. We didn’t seen one single seal or caribou, but what we have seen was shops where you can buy narwhal’s horn, polar bear’s claws and other cute souvenirs.

Tooth of killer whale in the local shop. Tasiilaq, Greenland.

What is the meaning of hunting for the most inuint nowadays? The possibility to kill animal for selling it’s parts to the tourists? For example, would you like to buy a toy seal covered with the real seal fur? Does hunting remains being a core of inuit culture, or is it just a way to get some additional money? Could you count killing narwhal by riffle as the traditional hunting? I don’t have the answers. What’s your opinion?

Hall of our hotel in Tasiilaq. On the right from bear’s skin you can see narwhal’s horn.

Why do hammerheads need such a strange head shape?

Why do hammerheads need such a strange head shape?

The unique head of all hammerhead sharks serves as an improtant instrument for it’s owners. It contains plenty of electroreceptors which help shark to find prey under the sand using it’s electric field. Nostrils are placed far away from each other, so the shark can prescisely define the distance to the source of any smell, the same as we use our binocular vision to define the distance to the object.
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Shark’s vision is not so good – it can not see what’s happening right ahead of it! Head shape also helps shark to maneuver, a very smooth head movement can lead to strong and fast body turn, the same as in wind sports and aerodinamics. This is the list of superpowers given to the shark by it’s absurd head.

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Portrait: Bull sharks

Every shark species is unique, every species has it’s own character and features. Bull sharks deserve the given name.

Diving in Playa del Carmen takes place on the depth of 25 meters on sandy bottom. It’s forbidden to bring bright and colorful equipment, so my yellow fins were changed to blue ones. This is the only one kind of diving I know, where divers lay down on the bottom not to provoke sharks – this is basic safety procedure. Altough, those sharks are smaller than tiger sharks and great hammerhead – they grow up to 2,5 meters in average, they are very impressive.Not a single species I meet before behave in such an agressive and unpredictable way. This massive blunt-nose fish circles around feeder, their movements are fast and chaotic, they grab everything they pass. Our safety diver was bitten into his hand, fortunately he was wearing shark armour so everything was fine.

Bull sharks are overwhelming, filled with primal agression, and you feel that you lose control of the situation, feel yourself completely unprotected. Shark swim so close to you that sometimes you feel it touches your fins or tank. This adrenaline rush is unforgettable and unbeatable. Shark feeder in shark armour looks like primal shaman, slowly moving in a strange dance on the sea bottom, whispering spirits swimming around him.

Here are the pictures. I will upload video a bit later.

Local diving center is among the best I’ve seen. Everything is done so good, the crew are very cool guys, the real rock-and-rollers of shark diving – very skilled, very professinal and loving their job. And they never had one single accident with the sharks.

Happy ending story

Happy ending story

Human impact on planet Earth is becoming more and more obvious nowadays. Excessive resource usage, global warming and species extinction are the most notable effects of humankind presence on the planet.

According to IUCN data, 844 species of animals and plants became extinct during last 500 years. And the reason for this extinction was, doubtless, a humankind, because 500 years is not the a significant time for natural exticntion.

Helpless dodo bird from Mauritius, Tasmanian thylacine, two giant ostrich species – moa and elephant bird, steller’s sea cow decimated in 27 years after being discovered…  the most known, but the lesser part of sad stroies of extinction caused by people. Plenty of species are still moving to the edge. Our grandkids risk to be born in the world without tigers, black rhinos, blue whales and other animals.

But this chronicles contains happy ending stories. I would name the whaling ban and the acceptance of CITES among the most important points of wildlife conservation in XX century.

For USSR and Eastern Europe, wisent recovery became the most notable achievment.


Wisent also known as European bison, got such names as “Tsar’s beast” and “The lord of Taiga”. This giants look like a relicts survived from the Ice age and can grow up to 2 meters height and weight up to 1200 kilos. Such big and beautiful animal was popular hunting target and became nearly extinct in the beginning of XX century. Plenty of national parks and zoos were destroyed or abandoned after Worl War I. In 1926th the last wild wisent was killed in mountains of Caucasus, and from 45 to 70 individauls left in zoos and private reserves.

After the terrors of war were gone, scientists and conservationists from USSR and Eastern Europe have cooperated to start the wisent recovery programm. After decades of hard work, the goal was riched – today wisent population counts 4500 individuals, and most of them live in the wild. There are three most important places in CIS where wisent population was recovered – Belovezhski forest, Caucasus nature reserve and Priokasko-Terrasny nature reserve, where I took the pictures for this article.

This story has became a great example of how human efforts can  save a species that nearly gone extinct. I hope we all can make a right conclusions from this lesson.