Sakiasiq Qanaq has seen a lot of changes on the north coast of Baffin Island in recent years as the retreat of summer sea ice has continued unabated. But the Inuit hunter has never seen anything quite like this year, when sea ice loss in the Arctic hit a record low.
First, the community’s spring narwhal hunt, which usually yields roughly 60 of the tusked whales, produced only three. The sea ice was so thin that the Inuit couldn’t safely stand on it and shoot the narwhal as they migrated into Arctic Bay from Greenland through channels in the ice. Then an unprecedented number of killer whales, or orcas — rarely seen in heavy ice — showed up in the largely ice-free water, with Inuit hunters in nearby Pond Inlet observing three pods of orcas that reportedly killed some of the narwhals and scared off the others.
But the final, and most startling, change was the one Qanaq found in his fishing nets. In addition to the Arctic char that he routinely catches, he and other fishermen were pulling in Pacific salmon — a fish not normally seen in the Arctic east of Alaska, and one that is known to dominate and sometimes drive out char in circumstances when the two overlap. “I don’t know what to think,” he told me. “I really don’t. This is all very strange.” Ed Struzik, Environment 360