Whale watch
Arctic Bay outfitters plan tour trips

by Cheryl Leschasin
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 14/97) - A young bowhead whale, trapped in ice about 200 kilometres south of Arctic Bay, could soon find itself the subject of a miniature tourism industry.

"The bowhead was in that area in the fall and was trapped in the bottom of the inlet, where there was open water," said Glenn Williams, assistant director of territorial wildlife and fisheries in Iqaluit.

The straight, which never freezes thanks to strong currents, generally leaves an area approximately two kilometres long and a half kilometre wide ice-free throughout the winter.

The 10-metre-long bowhead has been surviving, apparently comfortably, in the open water all winter, and those who have viewed the whale do not anticipate the youngster will have difficulty until the July thaw.

As mammals, whales require air to breathe and cannot navigate long distances beneath the ice.

Gary Weber, area manager for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said neither he nor his staff has seen the whale yet and therefore cannot speculate on its state of health.

Weber also said that although bowheads generally travel in herds, individual whales are often spotted.

Of primary concern, said Weber, is the impact tourism may have on the whale. "We can't tell whether it will have an impact, we will have to be prudent and cautious."

Those who have seen the whale said the animal appears to be healthy. "Some hunters have gone out and looked. They report the animal appears to be in good condition," said Williams.

Don Moors of the Arctic Bay Hunters and Trappers Association is one of the lucky few who have seen the whale. "He looks young, about 30 feet (10 metres) long," he said.

Last year, hunters in Repulse Bay harvested a mature 15-metre, adult bowhead. The species is on the endangered list and only a few hundred are believed to remain in Eastern Arctic waters.

Despite the concerns of Fisheries and Oceans, the community of Arctic Bay is gearing up for a tourism spree to take advantage of the whale's natural, and temporary prison.

"Outfitters are planning to put up a base camp out there," said Moors. Trips by snowmobile and twin-engine aircraft are being considered and interested tourists are already contacting the community to plan a viewing.

However, tour outfitters are reluctant to begin tours now, the thermometer is still dipping well below the -20 C mark. Moors anticipates tours will begin sometime in May.