Sunday, 24 May 2015

St. Anthony: Ice, Ice, Baby!

2013_NL_F18_0402I first started seriously thinking about icebergs way back in 1983, when I worked at the Center for Cold Ocean Resources Engineering (C-CORE), researching iceberg scours. At the time, there were only exploratory drilling rigs offshore Newfoundland, and how icebergs were going to factor into regular oil production was a big question. It was then that I realized that the "tiny" bergs of my youth were actually massive structures, big enough to reach down through the depths of the ocean and dig trenches tens of metres deep.

The berg we were visiting, after we left the whale show, had almost certainly been calved on the western side of Greenland. It was also almost certainly made of ancient water, dating back some 10,000 years.

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As we got closer, I could see one end had cracked off. It would have been some time ago, as the ragged wound was softening due to the heat.

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It was quite a large iceberg. For reference, look for the seagull in the upper left corner, and remember that 7/8 of this iceberg is below the waterline.

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The berg was large enough to not be homogenous in its structure. Parts of it were like corrugated steel.

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Other parts were quite smooth.

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In one spot, we had all three surfaces: the jagged break, the smooth surfaces, and the corrugation.

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Depending on the air bubble content, the ice can be very white or very blue. The colour can also change depending on whether the sun is out or hiding behind a cloud, and on how close the ice is to the waterline.

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When taking a photograph of an iceberg, it is almost impossible to show how big it is. In this photo, there is nothing to give you a sense of scale.

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It's only when I include some birds, or another boat, that you can see how big it really was.

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There were a number of birds chilling on the berg, no doubt taking a break from their capelin feed-fest.

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After a couple of laps around the berg, it was time to head back to port. Slowly, the iceberg shrank from our view.

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May and June are the best months of the year to see icebergs along the north and east coast of the island. To help people find out where the bergs are, the provincial government has created a great resource in the Iceberg Map, which will not only tell you where icebergs have been sighted, but also has photographs of bergs and some great trip planning tools.


Here is a list of links to posts about my trip to St. Anthony:
St. Anthony: Grenfell House and Big Boats
St. Anthony: A Whale of a Tale!
St. Anthony: Ice, Ice, Baby!


Here is a list of links to all of the blog posts from my 2013 tour around Newfoundland:
Cuckolds Cove to Carbonear
Signal Hill
Boat Tour!
Bird Watching!
Whale Watching!
Fogo Part 1: Getting There
Fogo Part 2: Walking Around
Fogo Part 3: The Fishery
Fogo Part 4: The Fogo Island Inn
Twillingate Part 1: Getting There
Twillingate Part 2: Wine, Music, and Whine
Twillingate Part 3: An Iceberg and a Lighthouse
Twillingate Part 4: Down to the Sea in Boats
Trout River and Gros Morne National Park
St. Anthony: Grenfell House and Big Boats
St. Anthony: A Whale of a Tale!
St. Anthony: Ice, Ice, Baby!
Red Bay: A World Heritage Site
Mary's Harbour




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Saturday, 16 May 2015

St. Anthony: A Whale of a Story!

2013_NL_F18_0147This is one of those fish stories. You know, the ones where you are pretty certain that the teller is exaggerating about a "big" fish that got away. Only in this case, I don't have to exaggerate, because you will be able to see the big fish*. I took pictures of them.

You may recall from my previous post about St. Anthony, that we missed the first boat tour of the morning to see an iceberg that was just off shore. We didn't want to wait at the dock for three hours just to see an overly large ice cube, so we went to the Grenfell House for a tour. After a delightful tour and a short hike up to the Tea House lookout, we debated trying to get out on the boat tour again. Down at the dock we discovered that this time there was indeed space. Just. So we made a split-second decision to forgo lunch and go see the iceberg.

As we were standing in line waiting to board, I asked a couple of the disembarking passengers how their trip was. They said the trip to the iceberg was very nice, but they were disappointed that there were no whales to see.

Even though there was no prospect of seeing any whales, I decided to sit in the bow. I rationalized that I would still be able to get decent shots of the iceberg and the bow offers an unobstructed line of sight. As the tour was now fully booked, I had to quickly claim my spot, or be relegated to the stern.

Up in the bow area with me was a young girl from Ontario. She had her camera and seemed keen to photograph everything in sight. As we motored out to sea, I started explaining to her how to use her camera to take a photo of a whale. I was also showing her how my teleconverter was able to turn my long lens into an even longer lens, making distant objects appear very close. As she looked through it, she exclaimed that she saw a whale jump. Intrigued, I had a look myself. While we were still a couple of kilometers away, it did indeed look to me like there were a couple of whales breaching. Things were looking up, as getting a photo of a whale breaching is rare.

As we got closer, it became clear that the whales were not breaching. What we were seeing, and had not been able to tell from afar, was that the whales, about 5 humpbacks, had set up a bubble corral and were lunge feeding! If seeing a whale breach is rare, then seeing a whale lunge feed is a positively scarce event. Adding to the whale show were some 20 white-beaked dolphins and a flock of gannets. The sea was positively boiling with activity with a full cast of characters!

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As we got closer, the whales disappeared. They had gone down deep. Instead, all I could see were the dolphins, swimming alongside.

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A few even rode our bow-wave for a time!

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After a short while, the whales reappeared.

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For this sort of feeding, the whales blow bubbles while circling a small area. In this case, I estimate the area to be about 200 meters by 200 meters. This traps small fish, like the capelin they were feeding on, as the smaller fish don't want to swim through the bubbles. To feed, the whales will dive quite deep. You know a whale is going deep when you see its tail high out of the water. We saw a lot of whale tails!

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The whales feed by coming up at the fish from below, with their mouths agape. This lunge fills their mouths and throats with a lot of fish and a lot of water, causing their "throat" to stretch out. They end up with an enormous amount of water in their bodies!

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If you look closely at this shot, you will even see some of the capelin who managed to escape at the last minute.

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The capelin try to swim away from the whale, of course, but there is not much room for them to go. Gannets know this, as it makes it easier for them to grab the little fish as they near the surface. The trick for the gannets is to dive, grab a fish, and get out of the way before they end up inside the whale along with the capelin!

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Humpback whales are baleen whales. After gulping this huge amount of water along with their prey, they push the water out of their mouths using their tongue. A fine filter, the baleen, allows the water to pass out, but not the capelin.

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We spent a long time watching the dolphins, the gannets, and the whales feeding, the likes of which I had never before seen. I consider myself very lucky, because we almost decided not to go out. Also, the tour boat had gone through this very area only two hours prior and there was nothing happening. It just goes to show that life is a contact sport and you have to actively engage it in order to have a special moment like this. You never know when you will have a whale of a time!


Here is a list of links to posts about my trip to St. Anthony:
St. Anthony: Grenfell House and Big Boats
St. Anthony: A Whale of a Tale!

Here is a list of links to all of the blog posts from my 2013 tour around Newfoundland:

Cuckolds Cove to Carbonear
Signal Hill
Boat Tour!
Bird Watching!
Whale Watching!
Fogo Part 1: Getting There
Fogo Part 2: Walking Around
Fogo Part 3: The Fishery
Fogo Part 4: The Fogo Island Inn
Twillingate Part 1: Getting There
Twillingate Part 2: Wine, Music, and Whine
Twillingate Part 3: An Iceberg and a Lighthouse
Twillingate Part 4: Down to the Sea in Boats
Trout River and Gros Morne National Park
St. Anthony: Grenfell House and Big Boats
St. Anthony: A Whale of a Tale!
St. Anthony: Ice, Ice, Baby!
Red Bay: A World Heritage Site
Mary's Harbour



____
*I know whales and dolphins are not "fish", but nobody ever started a story with "Let me tell you about a big mammal that got away..."!




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Tuesday, 12 May 2015

St. Anthony: Grenfell House and Big Boats

2013_NL_F18_0007St. Anthony sits at the top of the Great Northern Peninsula. Growing up, I read stories about Sir Wilfred Grenfell, who was based in St. Anthony. Grenfell came to Newfoundland from England to establish a medical mission to serve the peninsula, as well as eastern Labrador. I had never been to St. Anthony before, and I decided it was high time to go have a look.

In the morning, we wanted to go out on a boat tour and see an iceberg that we had heard was parked just off shore. However, the first tour out that morning was full, so while we waited for the second tour, we went up to the Grenfell House to have a look.

Grenfell's medical mission, established in 1893, brought doctors, nurses, hospitals, and visiting clinics to people who had no formal medical care. The mission also built schools, lumber mills, community farms, co-operative stores, and a commercial handicraft industry. The mission lasted until 1981 when it was taken over by the Newfoundland government.

The mission had a huge impact on people's lives in this part of the province. Grenfell was revered and held high stature. So I was not surprised to see that his house in St. Anthony is larger than a traditional outport house. It is larger, but not ostentatious. It has the same double-hung windows, the same clapboard siding, and the same salt box style that you would see on most houses in small, rural Newfoundland communities. The house was designed by Ash & Sons from Carbonear, and was finished in 1910.

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On the inside, the house bears little resemblance to a regular outport home. The house's size allows for some very large rooms, which I imagine were a perfect size for the Grenfell's social gatherings and meetings.

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There were also servant-specific rooms.

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The house is filled with artifacts from the Grenfell era, such as dishes.

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There are also odd items, like this berry picker.

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For me, the most impressive part of the house was the enclosed porch. I would love to have something like this on my house, especially during the miserable periods of Newfoundland weather. It would be wonderful to be able to sit in relative warmth, yet be bathed in soft light, and sip a nice cup of hot chocolate while either chatting with friends or reading a book.

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A trail starts from the rear of the house and goes up the hill to where a tea house used to stand. In place of the tea house, now long gone, is a look-out platform that affords a great view of the harbour.

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The harbour is more commercial than that of either Twillingate or Fogo. Those communities have more of an in-shore fishery, whereas St. Anthony has the much larger vessels of the off-shore fishery.

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That's not so say there is no in-shore fishery operating out of St. Anthony. There are plenty of sheds and wharves geared to the smaller vessels...

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... but the larger ships really captured my attention, maybe because they were fully equipped with the latest gear, looking more like a factory than a fishing vessel.

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I was very surprised to see that some of the ships even had bulbous noses. While these designs allow for a dramatic increase in fuel efficiency, they are not cheap to build.

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Seeing that fishermen are investing in the latest gear and the latest designs makes me hopeful that they are finally taking a longer view of their craft, and will be able to avoid the short-sightedness that led to the collapse of the cod fishery.

As the cod stocks rebuild, the crab fishery provides a much needed source of income.

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While the larger, flashier, off-shore vessels are a very important part of the local economy, it is the gritty in-shore fishery that appeals to both my heart and my eye. Perhaps because the in-shore gear always reflects the brute-force struggle between man and nature.

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Here is a list of links to posts about my trip to St. Anthony:
St. Anthony: Grenfell House and Big Boats
St. Anthony: A Whale of a Tale!

Here is a list of links to all of the blog posts from my 2013 tour around Newfoundland:

Cuckolds Cove to Carbonear
Signal Hill
Boat Tour!
Bird Watching!
Whale Watching!
Fogo Part 1: Getting There
Fogo Part 2: Walking Around
Fogo Part 3: The Fishery
Fogo Part 4: The Fogo Island Inn
Twillingate Part 1: Getting There
Twillingate Part 2: Wine, Music, and Whine
Twillingate Part 3: An Iceberg and a Lighthouse
Twillingate Part 4: Down to the Sea in Boats
Trout River and Gros Morne National Park
St. Anthony: Grenfell House and Big Boats
St. Anthony: A Whale of a Tale!
St. Anthony: Ice, Ice, Baby!
Red Bay: A World Heritage Site
Mary's Harbour



Read more...