A cloud of dust exploded from the tires of the Canadian North 737 Combi as it touched down at several hundred kilometres per hour (or so it seemed) on the gravel runway at Cambridge Bay in Nunavut. The jet lurched to a halt, air brakes screaming, and then taxied the short distance to the Cambridge Bay Ikaluktutiak airport. Our team, consisting of Mackenzie Neale, Donna Gibbs, Danny Kent and myself, had just arrived from Vancouver via Yellowknife to begin the 2015 Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR) Vancouver Aquarium Nearshore Ecological Survey.

Vancouver Aquarium Arctic Research

The Vancouver Aquarium dive team touches down in Yellowknife on the way to Cambridge Bay.

We collected our nine large coolers (total weight 275 kilograms) filled with warm clothes, dive gear and cameras, loaded them in our rented pickup truck, then drove to town to check in to our comfortable accommodations. After dropping off our belongings, we proceeded to the Aquarium’s shipping container, stored in a utility yard close to the beach. The container, previously located in Resolute Bay, 714 kilometres north of Cambridge Bay, had been shipped here in 2012 and contained an assortment of diving, life support and general maintenance equipment. We collected weight belts, rubber boots, tools, tape and our eight scuba tanks, which we then took to the local fire station to be filled. Then we headed to Co-op to do some grocery shopping. Five hundred dollars later we had enough food for four people for a few days. Most expensive item sighted – a small bag of basmati rice for $27.99.

Vancouver Aquarium diving Arctic research

Vancouver Aquarum shipping container with dive gear and supplies.

Groceries safely stored in the fridge, we met up with our POLAR colleagues to discuss the plan for the week. In this joint effort with POLAR, we will survey a range of dive sites in the Cambridge Bay area in order to document ecological, topographical, logistical and anecdotal details for each. This ecological data can then be used as a baseline for future researchers and provide valuable information for conservation and protection of sensitive areas.

Arctic reasearch with Vancouver Aquarium

Transporting gear and supplies in the Arctic.

After our meeting we headed home for a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, and then set off to the Nunavut Arctic College to set up our temporary animal holding facility. This compact and transportable life support system is designed to hold live animals in chilled sea water for the duration of the trip. Made from repurposed plumbing materials, a water chiller, air pump, filter, several fiberglass troughs and a knocked-together table, this system ensures that the specimens we gather on the dives remain healthy during our stay.

Arctic research and collection

Danny sets up the life support system for collected specimens.

Life support system complete, we returned to our rooms in time to watch a stunning Arctic twilight rainbow arch over the entire town. Then we set to solving the numerous logistical problems that had cropped up that that day as well. Not the least of which was that our local guide was currently out of town, so we had no way to get out for dives. But that’s for another blog post.

Blog post by Jeremy Heywood, diving safety officer at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.

This summer, scientists from the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre head north for innovative Arctic research projects both below and above the ocean’s surface in collaboration with Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR), the new federal agency responsible for advancing Canada’s knowledge of the Arctic and for strengthening Canadian leadership in polar science and technology. This is the first in a series of posts.

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4 Responses

  1. Grant Corey

    Great photos…….very interesting to see some of the underwater landscape! I have lived in Cambridge Bay for 35 years.
    Are there additional images that show the underwater landscape around Cambridge Bay?


    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thanks Grant for your feedback. It means a lot coming from someone who has spent so long living in the area. In fact, our next post is going to be a photo essay. The team is just sorting through their favourite photos now to try and narrow it down to the top 10. It’s proving to be no easy task with so many great options to choose from. Stay tuned for an update later this week!


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