Tuesday, September 18, 2007

West Ice survey 2002: final

Read the first part of this post here

We tagged for a few more days. The ice was breaking up, pups were more spread out. Callan and I had trouble meeting up with Sofie and Ilse for a helicopter pickup – the ice was moving so fast in the wind and swell that their icehopping wasn't making headway towards us.

Interesting experience.

On the ice, scattered floes, scattered pups, we had a final scare. Lance was steaming near us. Floes started jostling each other in her wash, making movement difficult. Just standing still was getting dangerous. Lance kept coming, steamed to within a couple of hundred yards from where we were tagging. When only two big floes away, we realized that the crew hadn't noticed us. They were still coming

Garry radioed, and with a sharpness I'd not heard from him before, said, “Lance, what do you think you're doing?”.

They slowed, backed off, angled away. We could move again.

Then we heard it, and knew what had been so important. Crack crack – shots - explained their inattention. More seals killed to pass the time, using the excuse of Tore's permit. So much more important than tagging.

Sofie and I looked at each other. Ilse was recording a pup's calls, we were just hoping that she wouldn't hear the shots. Of course she did. When she'd finished the recordings, she walked to us, pale, eyes empty. We all looked at each other, shook our heads.

We kept working. Sofie and Ilse had trouble getting any recordings, and tagging got tougher. Females started coming for us as soon as we stood on the floe that held their pup. Spooked? Spooked didn't come close. The mothers were furious, terrified, ready to attack.

That last afternoon, we left more pups to aggressive mothers than we had for the entire time we'd been on the ice. And the floes were more spaced out. A debacle.

There were a couple of pups in the late afternoon, stuck on floes that would have taken some extra-adventurous icehopping to approach. We surveyed a path, started off. More open water than we'd thought. Garry saw a way through. Maybe. I shrugged my shoulders, shook my head – we'd already tagged hundreds of pups over the past few weeks.

“Garry”, I said, “are a couple of pups really going to make a difference?”.

He shrugged, pulled out the radio, called the helicopter.

It was our last walk on the ice.

The white pelts – the reason the pups were killed - weren't cleaned or salted on the voyage back. By the time we reached Tromsø, they were rubbish, unfit for any use. That anyone could view those small bundles of white, living joy as nothing more waste inside a fur seemed heartless to me. But to let the furs then rot was unimaginable, until I remembered. They're pests. They eat fish.

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