Sometimes the best-laid plans can only do so much when confronted by the true power of nature. That’s what happened last week as a powerful storm ended plans by the museum and a team at Arctic Watch Lodge (located in the High Arctic on Somerset Island, Nunavut) to broadcast a live feed of a congregation of beluga whales. (We’ll be showing recorded footage instead). Read what happened in this account by Tessum Weber of Arctic Watch.
We’ve been working really hard the last two weeks to get the live beluga cam up and running. With support from the Canadian Museum of Nature, we had installed a solar-powered satellite Internet camera at the edge of the Cunningham River, where the belugas congregate at Arctic Watch. At any given time, approximately 100 to 500 whales are in the river. They gather to play, rub on the gravel and frolic.
An estimated 2000 belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) gather at Cunningham Inlet each summer. The plan was to broadcast live this beluga gathering at the museum in Ottawa, on the museum’s web site (nature.ca), and on the Arctic Watch Lodge web site. People would be able to see the belugas playing in the river, in real time.
To achieve this unique feat, a special installation was constructed. It consisted of three individual towers. They were anchored on a beach by hundreds of pounds of rocks, below the tide line. As the tide rose, the whales congregated around the towers.
The first tower was for the satellite connection, which consisted of a satellite dish with transmitter and receiver. The second tower supported the solar installation with the Internet modem and solar batteries. The third tower was used solely for the camera. This allowed us to position the camera in the most optimal position possible.
All was ready to go and important technical issues had been resolved. Then, last Thursday, we suffered gale-force winds at Arctic Watch. I have not seen such powerful winds in more than seven years—a strong 75 km/h wind battered Arctic Watch and the shoreline where the towers were installed. During the storm, the solar tower and camera tower were washed into the bay and completely destroyed.
From a personal perspective, the carnage was insane. There was absolutely nothing left of these two towers. I was unable to find either the tower or broken parts of the tower within a 100 metre radius from the site. The only things we managed to rescue that day were the solar batteries. We found a few remaining parts of the tower a staggering three kilometres away! The team at Arctic Watch found two of the three solar panels, with one panel intact.
That being said, we are happy no one was hurt!
Unfortunately, the damage from the storm means that the live feed will not happen this year.
However, all is not lost! We’re still able to show recorded footage in the museum and on the museum’s web site. It may not be live, but it’s still an amazing sight!
I would personally like to thank the folks at Telesat, Louise Poirier, Claude Ethier, Russ Zeitz, bv02 and all the amazing people at the Canadian Museum of Nature for helping make this project a near reality! We were so close… and we’ll make this project come to life next year!
The Live Wild Beluga Cam is brought to you by the Canadian Museum of Nature in association with Arctic Watch Lodge.