‘Oh, just another polar bear’

In this week’s newsletter, we chat with senior editor Elaine Anselmi about her travels to Nunatsiavut, helicopter rides through dense fog, polar bears, whales and icebergs — all things behind the scenes of her latest feature on a proposed Inuit-led national marine conservation area

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Few people will ever get the chance to visit Torngat Mountains National Park in northern Labrador. It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth, where the coastal waters at the feet of the mountains cradle whales, boats and icebergs alike. Coral gardens thrive; offshore oil and gas is largely untapped. 

Senior editor Elaine Anselmi just so happens to be one of the lucky ones. She penned our latest feature on these unprotected waters and a proposed Inuit-led national marine conservation area that could pull in resources to guard it all. Before you dive in, let me tell you a bit about how this story — some three years in the making — came to be.

Back in 2020, when Elaine initially pitched the story, she was set to make the trip with photojournalist Pat Kane that summer … until you-know-what upended their plans. 

A year later, she had a wee scheduling conflict. “Nothing big, just a baby on the way!” Elaine told me.

Finally, this July, the duo made it out to the field, after a day of flying (or two, in Pat’s case, coming from Yellowknife) to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and on to the town of Nain in Nunatsiavut — the Inuit region of Labrador.
A gif of four images. 1: Aerial photo of the town of Nain, Labrador. 2. A photo of Nain from the harbour with ships docked on the side. 3. A photo of a helicopter mid-air, backdrop of scenic Torngats landscape. 4. Aerial view of icebergs in the waters and mountain peaks in the back.
There was talk of taking a fishing boat some 300 kilometres up the coast to the Torngats, but after a crabbing trip went long, they hopped a flight up to the Torngats base camp — and soon saw their first live polar bear.

“There are a lot of polar bears in the Torngats,” Elaine recalled. “We saw more than a dozen over the week there and at one point Pat and I were joking about, ‘Oh, just another polar bear.’ ”

It’s not just the polar bear sightings that make for an envious story: Elaine boarded the CCGS Amundsen — a research vessel and icebreaker that adorns the $50 bill, flew in a helicopter through the mountains in some of the most dense fog she’s ever seen, cast a line in the Labrador Sea and even jumped in. She spent a whole lot of time with people who know this land intimately.
A GIF of four images. 1: A man looks up at the Amundsen, research vessel and icebreaker. 2. People walk in a straight line towards the landscape on a cliff. 3. Photo of a campfire with Torngats landscape behind, pink skies. 4. Nunatsiavut Government research manager Michelle Saunders holds up a fish with the waters behind her.
Canada has often repeated its goal of protecting 25 per cent of land and water by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030. That involves 10 new national marine conservation areas by 2025 — and the 15,000 square kilometres of water off the coast of the Torngats is set to be one of them.

Understanding, and subsequently protecting, these fragile waters won’t happen without equally incorporating Inuit Knowledge with western science into future plans. That’s what the Nunatsiavut Government is doing — by gathering information from the people who know the land best.

“We don’t do research for the sake of research. We do research for the sake of Nunatsiavut, right? For people. Otherwise, what’s the point of it?” Michelle Saunders, government research manager, told Elaine.

The piece is our latest in the series Spirits of Place, which shines light on how Indigenous nations and communities are protecting the land and waters they have stewarded since time immemorial. And we hope you’ll find the time to read it.

Take care and remember to be patient,

Karan Saxena
Audience engagement editor

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This week in The Narwhal

A dirt biker rides on a logging road in B.C.
Loved to death: the unpopular prospect of closing backcountry roads to save wildlife
By Jimmy Thomson
Abandoned forest service roads provide great access to the outdoors but they leave species like caribou and grizzlies vulnerable. And efforts to get rid of them cause community uproar.

An aerial view of Stoney Creek, Ont., near Hamilton, showing farmland and forest surrounded by housing.
6,972 pages of internal documents show Ford’s ties to land swaps and staff’s focus on secrecy
By Fatima Syed & Emma McIntosh
A truck full of coal travels between coal mine sites near Wabamun, Alberta
Access denied: trying to get into Canada’s ‘premier’ pro-coal gathering 
By Francesca Fionda
B.C. Premier David Eby stands at a podium in a park setting flanked by ministers
B.C. announces $300-million Indigenous conservation fund to protect old-growth forests 
By Sarah Cox

What we’re reading

In The Globe and Mail, Nasuna Stuart-Ulin documents the search for white Spirit bears in B.C.’s rainforest — an ecosystem that has become a hub for regenerative travel and non-invasive, culturally sensitive scientific research.

For the Guardian, Adam Morton writes about how South Australia got solar panels onto one in every three houses.
GIF of a polar bear dancing, (unrelated to the story!).
Elaine’s reaction when she and Pat saw the first polar bear on their reporting trip. Tell your friends to sign up for our weekly newsletter, so they can stay in the know about all our polar bear sightings (and more!).
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