The morning of October 21 was bright and cold in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, when I boarded the plane for Iqaluit, Baffin Island. This was the last leg of my trip home. It was −18°C in Iqaluit when we arrived and Baffin Island, like Greenland, was covered in a surprisingly thick blanket of snow.
I was very glad to be heading home after thirty-two days away, almost all at sea in Davis Strait on a former commercial trawler retrofitted with a science lab. I was there at the invitation of Fisheries and Oceans Canada in the company of Greenlandic and Danish/Faroese crew and officers, as well as five other Canadians who made up the science team.
We were there to assess the population of Greenland Halibut, the main objective of this expedition, and to generally study the fauna of the strait.
The concerns I expressed in an earlier blog article were well founded. The seas on this year’s trip were very rough in the first few days. I saw waves off the stern of the ship that I estimate at 10 metres. The anti-nausea medications I had were ineffective and Gravol simply put me—instantly—to sleep. I was extremely nauseous and yes, was sick a few times. But overall, I was fine.
I did, however, have a bit of trouble getting accustomed to the traditional Danish food on the ship. A typical supper was an open-faced sandwich of sliced raw onions, tomatoes, cheese, mussels and cod livers. Being on the ship and working twelve-hour shifts seven days a week for that length of time was sometimes challenging. While sitting in my 6′ × 6′ cabin, I would often think of my family and friends back home. However, the rich marine life I saw more than made up for the hardships.
Trawls were done round the clock to make the best use of our time in Davis Strait and to further the objective of counting Greenland Halibut and generally study the fauna. There was always a science crew of three on duty, nights and days. My shift was from 6 AM to 6 PM. The timing between trawls varied from the distance travelled between sites and the depth of the trawl. The deepest one was 1500 m, so getting the net down took more than twenty minutes and bringing it up could take forty-five minutes.
When the trawl came aboard, the contents of the net would be dumped into the below-decks processing area, where everything—Greenland Halibut, other fish species and all invertebrates—would be weighed and measured. DNA samples were taken for Greenland Halibut and some shrimp species.
Collectively, this will be masses of data that the Canadian department of Fisheries and Oceans will use in managing fisheries, present and future, in Davis Strait.
I had no idea that the benthic environment was so diverse in those cold dark waters. There are both small, delicate deep-water corals and large, robust ones. Cold-water corals do not contain symbiotic algae and so do not require light from the sun to live. They can be found as deep as four kilometres!
Other invertebrate species included pink anemones, sea stars, basket stars and over a dozen species of sponges, ranging in size from coffee cups to beach balls. There are isopods, amphipods and many species of shrimps, squids and even octopuses! It is really hard for us terrestrial humans to imagine this rich ecosystem down there, but it exists and I have had a part in documenting it.
I brought back an impressive diversity of species for the museum: 71 fish specimens and 119 invertebrate specimens. Some of the fish species, such as the Black Snailfish (Paraliparis bathybius) and the Portuguese Dogfish (Centroscymnus coelolepis), were new to the Arctic collections at the Canadian Museum of Nature
Also, we are adding specimens for species represented so far by one, two, or just a handful of individuals. Our museum will keep samples of DNA from the fish species that I collected. So our already world-class collection of Arctic fishes is now even better and we have added tissues from a rarely visited region to our DNA collections. All in all, a worthwhile expedition!