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September 29, 2020 September 29, 2020

Politics, polar bears, and sunken ships

Posted on September 20, 2016 by 40 Mile Commentator

The travelling circus the U.S. presidential race has become continues to roll along. European ultra-nationalism continues to rumble with echoes of Nazi Germany and other fascist parties of the past. Alberta continues to be mired in a gruesome economic slump. And the parade of daily horrors coming out of places like Syria continues to roll through the nightly news reels.
But really who cares about any of that? You can only touch peoples’ outrage bone so many times before that organ becomes desensitized.
Thankfully, this week there has been some more distracting and interesting news coming out of the Arctic, of all places, which has intrepid web surfers riveted. The first tidbit is reports of a Russian Arctic research station under threat by hungry polar bears. The scientists at the station sent out an SOS to the Russian military last week to bring in more flares and supplies as eight grown bears continue to lay collective siege to the station. The scientists can’t step outside their own door for fear of becoming the bears’ next meal. The bears even sleep in front of the doors and windows of the station to ensure none inside can sneak out. Polar bears are, of course, endangered, and can’t be legally killed in Russia. So the scientists will likely have to continue to suffer the siege for the next few weeks before a transport can be arranged to get them out. For anyone who did not believe in global warming and the plight of polar bears desperate to find food on the shrinking ice sheets, perhaps this story will give you second thoughts.
The other Arctic story which has been dominating world headlines is the likely discovery of the Franklin Expedition’s second ship the HMS Terror. The ship was discovered with the help of local Inuk knowledge in the appropriately named Terror Bay last week. Franklin’s other ship the HMS Erebus was discovered in 2014. The discovery of the Terror finally draws to a close one of history’s most enduring maritime mysteries.
While seeking the fabled Northwest Passage, Franklin’s vessels disappeared without a trace in 1845 with all 129 sailors on the expedition presumed lost. Their lost vessels had been sought for 170 years before warming Arctic conditions recently opened up stretches of ocean inaccessible to previous generations. Local Inuit lore had it the men had been trapped in the sea ice for nearly three years before resorting to cannibalism, and finally abandoning the vessels in a desperate attempt to walk out of the Arctic heading toward the Great Slave Lake Hudson Bay outpost 100 miles away.
The discovery of the HMS Terror in “pristine” condition and battened down carefully by its sailors, before being abandoned, suggests ship discipline still ruled these brave and foolish men despite the desperation of their situation.
The story highlights two things: The importance of respecting local Aboriginal spoken history, which has been proven correct again and again in this case. And the innate curiosity and thirst for adventure which drives the human condition. Franklin may have failed, but we could sure use his sort of pluck in Canada right now to help us weather the tough economic times we are captured within the throes of ourselves at the moment. Let’s hope for sea change to get the economy flowing again before too long.

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