Over the last few years we’ve been fortunate to work for several nonprofits. In June, World Wildlife Fund’s Global Arctic Programme took us to the Canadian Arctic, to the sea ice off the coast of Baffin Island. (About 40 kilometers east of the town of Pond Inlet if you’re looking on a map). Like many other nonprofits with access to unique locations, people, and stories, they have invested resources in helping news and documentary crews get to remote locations to cover Arctic conservation. Like many other organizations they tend to get attention for their issues for just a short time in exchange for their efforts. Production companies sometimes promise access to the footage collected, but in the long run, these sources of content are disparate and outside the control of the hosting nonprofit. And so, like many organizations that we work with, they’ve come to realize the value of developing their own library of footage.
There are many advantages to having your own footage library. You can go back to the unique and often remote wildlife or scenic footage again and again to supplement the much easier to acquire interview or expositional content. You can distribute that content to media outlets that might not cover an issue for lack of footage. And most of all, you have more control over your organization's image. This is very significant. You get to shape the story in your own way rather than relying on others. While the costs are mostly up front, the investment pays off over and over.
And so I found myself on the ice edge, hosted by Polar Sea Adventures and Black Feather Wilderness Adventure Company. My role on this occasion was primarily to collect unique Arctic footage. My personal goal was to see an animal sometimes referred to as the unicorn of the sea, or narwhal. Our adventure began with a 40-kilometer ride to the ice edge in 16-foot-long sledges called komatiks pulled over the ice by snowmobiles, or as the Canadians call them, Skidoos. This provided almost luxurious comfort despite a few bumps and the biting wind. With a few stops for coffee and snacks we arrived at our camp near the ice edge which was set up about 50 feet from the actual edge. We were eager to set up cameras and gear, but before we could even get to the edge, we were greeted by a bowhead whale coming up for air and diving deep under the ice. It returned several times before moving off. In the meantime, we were entertained by the black guillemots that blithely worked the edge just feet away, fishing for small snacks under the ice.
At this location, the ice was about 6 feet thick and the temperature throughout our trip stuck around the 30-40F range. Our tents were anchored to the ice and we had low cots on plywood sheets to keep us insulated from the cold as we slept through the midnight sun and ate amazing food in the heated dining tent when the wind whipped up. We shared the ice edge with local Inuit hunters who were looking for seals and narwhals. Although we could see them working, their camps were miles away. On the second day we saw two polar bears, one who was very interested in a carcass lodged on a chunk of ice just in front of camp. I also had a quiet moment just 10 feet from a bowhead whale resting in an ice lead. It wasn’t until our third day that we saw our first narwhals. A pod of them surfaced in the choppy waters off the ice edge. From that point on we saw dozens, many with the long tusks that are actually teeth jutting through their upper lip. Thanks to the support of the guides the biggest challenges on this shoot were keeping batteries charged and keeping track of my coffee cup. Even after being forced to move camp in the middle of the night due to the sea ice breaking up, we were able to see some amazing sights and collect fantastic footage to start the WWF Global Arctic Program’s library. We appreciate the opportunity and hope that the footage helps them better achieve their conservation mission.