Friday, 28 January 2011

'Whale Meat ' Again - Vera Lynn

Don't know where, don't know when!

The single most notable element about this morning was the 'cold', and while the ambient temperature was low enough the biting north easterly produced a bitter wind chill. A walk around Radipole, through the town centre, over Town Bridge and Weymouth Quay to the Nothe Fort, a wander along the Stone Pier and around Newton's Cove produced little more than the 'usual suspects'.

Great Black-backed Gull

Herring Gull

and Black-headed Gull all scavenging around the harbour, and

two dozen Turnstones, turning stones on the fore-shore.

At Ferrybridge there was little more than c7 Little & c2 Great Crested Grebe and

a handful of Red-breasted Merganser

this male at least putting on a reasonable 'fly past'.

Not a bad day really for having my perambulations curtailed by a trip to Bristol Airport to pick up my lovely neighbour Joy. However, having watched yet another instalment of the superb BBC television production of 'Human Planet' most of my thoughts harked back to last evenings subject material. The essence of these fine documentaries is the way that 'man' has adapted to the most harsh conditions the world can throw at him, last night focusing inside the Arctic Circle. My first venture into this mainly frozen waste was at the tender aged of 16 years when I was drafted to the type 14 frigate HMS Keppel part of the Fishery Protection Squadron. For a year I plied these northern waters and enjoyed every minute, what mid-teenager wouldn't.

As the years went by, I flew over it many times on various journey taking the 'Great Circle' route to such places as the United States, but perhaps the most unusual of all crossings was submerged at one to two hundred feet on HM Submarine Alcide in 1968. Each and every one of these trips were both exciting and mind boggling, but none more so than a visit to Barrow, Alaska in 2007.

Last nights programme featured the Greenland Inuit, while in the most northerly city in the USA we visited the Alaskan Inuit. Along with Susan Hallam , we had travelled the full length of the Alaska highway, having started our journey in Los Angeles and arriving at Fairbanks had to take a flight to Barrow as the road (if that;s what it could be called) was still frozen even in June.

The Captain announced as we 'crossed the line', at which point I took this photograph of a mainly mountainous terrain.

Only a few minutes later, the whole scene had changed to ice floes with some open water.

Our welcome could not have been more convivial, as even before leaving the aircraft an Eskimo (don't let the PC brigade deter you from using this description or the term Indian as my own extensive research has shown that the indigenous population have no problem with this at all) lady had already invited us to her house.

We walked from the airport, through the town centre to

our hotel which, had it not been frozen solid right up to the North Pole, would have been beside the sea. Even before checking in, we were again befriended by 2 young men conducting an ornithological survey on behalf of the US government who were at pains to drive us on their quad bike to see a summer plumage Red-necked Stint (see photo below).

On day 2 we met the most famous man in town at that time, 'Forest the Bowhead Slayer' seen here with Sue. Having hunted the Bowhead Whale for 5 years, thus far he had never returned empty handed. It may be of note that in Greenland the prime target is the Narwhal, in both cases hunted legally and in the traditional manner.

These small boats are the only protection these brave hunters have from their might catch, and spend most of their time on the frozen sea. If the boat has a flag at the mast, this denotes success in the previous seasons hunt.

The Whale Festival starts as the collective crews drag the most successful boat from the ice and place it central to the celebrations, as

ALL the towns people gather around a table weighed down by bowls full on piping hot White-fronted Goose stew - no one goes unfed, yum, yum! After the stew comes the highlight of the day and the most prized part of the whole catch. Once the Whale is landed most of the carcass is butchered and shared out among the population, All that is except for the select part of the epidermis, which is cut into strips and marinaded in whale blood for 6 months. Every morning and evening the meat is ceremonially stirred, the final product being

Muktuk 'the' delicacy to the Eskimo.

Never being one to shy away from a new experience, especially gastronomic, I braved the Muktuk, but
as can be seen in these photos, much to the delight of the local populous,

my demeanor changed with every mouthful.

The Greenland's also do a delicacy of Little Auk marinaded in their own feathers within an airtight seal skin. Unfortunately I have never tried this but having eaten Puffin, maybe that counts?

and finally just a few of the host of wonderful birds we encountered.

Dunlin, certainly a different plumage to which we're used to!

Lapland Bunting

Long-tailed Duck

Red-necked Stint

Snow Bunting (male)

Snow Bunting (female)

Grey Phalarope

Red-necked Phalarope

The Magnificent

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl nest

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