By Jeremy Heywood, Vancouver Aquarium diving safety officer
The day after the trip to the Findlayson Islands and Starvation Cove, we spent the morning catching up on chores: filling scuba cylinders, sorting photos, grocery shopping, checking the life support system for collected specimens and making some repairs to our dive gear. We managed to get a dive in as well at a site we call Lumpsucker Rock (after the team found a large lumpsucker there in 2014). No lumpsuckers were spotted the time round.
That evening we visited a nearby park called Ovayok Territorial Park, 15 kilometres outside of Cambridge Bay, which is reached by a winding gravel road that snakes around numerous tundra lakes and marshes. At 200 metres above sea level, Ovayok (or Mount Pelly as it is known in English) is featured in Inuit legends and is an important landmark for hunters and boaters. Being the highest ground in the Cambridge Bay area, it allowed us to take in some beautiful views of the landscape at sunset.
Yesterday the wind came back. Blowing 55 kilometres per hour, it prevented us from going out on the boat at all. So instead, we drove around the West Arm of Cambridge Bay in our dusty pickup truck and found two shore dives sites to explore. Although not nearly as diverse as the diving at the Findlayson Islands, we were still able to find a few creatures of interest. We came across an otherworldly-looking marine worm which appeared to be some strange union between a slug and a mop.
Today the wind was gone and we awoke to mirror-flat seas. We set off again with John for the Findlayson Islands. This time we chose two sites on opposite ends of Unahitak Island, in the middle of the Findlayson chain. The island is made up of large black blocks of rock that appear as though they might tumble at any moment into the sea. The rocky landscape carries on underwater, with fields of boulders strewn all around. The water was very clear— it reminded me of diving in the tropics.
For the first time we experienced some tidal current and wave surge. There was more Gersemia soft coral and hundreds of Psolus armoured sea cucumbers. Almost every surface was covered by odd little amphipods dwelling in tiny tubes of their own making and thread algae waved in the surge like wheat on the prairie. Good diving indeed. The boat ride back to Cambridge Bay was smooth and sunny, and we made plans for tomorrow.
With global temperatures on the rise, we’re racing against time to gain insight about one of the least scientifically understood regions on the planet: the Arctic. This month, scientists from Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre head north to expand upon innovative Arctic research projects started in 2015, in collaboration with Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR), the federal agency responsible for advancing Canada’s knowledge of the Arctic and for strengthening Canadian leadership in polar science and technology. This blog series chronicles our scientists’ time and research efforts in the Arctic.