October 31, 2006

Ellesmere Island Journal & Field Notes

For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

From The Outermost House by Henry Beston

"It was the highlight of my life. Hundreds of miles north of Hudson Bay, a thousand or more from the nearest city, I stood alone in the High Arctic – surrounded by wolves." Thus begins Dave Mech's account in his book The Arctic Wolf – Living with the Pack of what he called his lifetime dream – to travel to Ellesmere, one of the huge islands that lies between the north edge of the continent and the North Pole, and study the wolves that live in this remote and harsh environment where humans have not established any permanent habitations.

Because the wolves of the high arctic have never been harassed or persecuted by humans, they are not secretive and afraid of people the way wolves are in the southern latitudes. Thus, for 20 summers, Dave Mech has been granted a research permit from the territorial government in Canada and has been able to observe the wolves for weeks at a time, traveling with them, watching them hunt their natural prey and recording their behavior as they rear their pups and interact with one another as a family unit. Over the course of 20 years, he has seen the prey populations flourish and w
ane and bound back again. The wolf numbers fluctuate, too. Some years the pack is large – several adults and numerous offspring. Other years, only 1 pup is produced - or none. And sometimes there are no wolves at all to be found.

In the summer of 2006, three International Wolf Center board members, Nancy Gibson, Cornelia Hutt and Ted Spaulding, accompanied Dave on his annual expedition to Ellesmere Island. He was able to secure the requisite permits for the three to be informal members of his team,
and all sponsored themselves on the trip.

This journal serves two purposes. The first is personal. It is a record of an unforgettable odyssey to a place few people go. Moreover, it is an attempt to preserve images and events that will forever be a part of each of us, to be nurtured and reflected upon every day of our lives. The second is more encompassing. The journal is a celebration of 20 years and countless hours of research and data collection which have served not only science but the general public as well. Dave Mech wrote that he hoped he could “. . .help other people to see the wolf for what it is: one more magnificent species, superbly adapted to contend with its harsh environment, and highly deserving of our understanding and acceptance.” He has succeeded far beyond his expectations and his hopes.

Photography by Nancy Gibson and L. David Mech.

Scroll to the bottom of this blog to begin reading the daily journal of this
unforgettable odyssey.

A Reflection on Ellesmere Island

“A big part of the island’s magic for me is the sense I get from the landscape. It is as if the glaciers recently left, and all sorts of life forms are moving in to occupy the newly available habitat. It’s also about the fossils that reminded me of the remarkable story of an environment long ago that was very different from what is there today. I half expected to see a mastodon come round one of the hills. It is life at the edge . . . so hardy and diverse, yet so vulnerable to the extreme conditions.”

A Reflection on Ellesmere Island
Summer of 2005
Walter Medwid, Executive Director
International Wolf Center