Expédition Narval: Une aventure dans l'Arctique
by Yves Ouellet
ISBN: 2 920340 64 6
This charming book is part expedition diary, part exploration guide.
The author is an experienced journalist with a passion for adventure,
particularly in the 'great north'. Here he is part of a 12-man expedition
- well, one is a woman - whose quest is to make a documentary about
the legendary unicorn of the sea, the narwhal. They set out from Pond
Inlet in the Canadian Arctic in June.
The first part of the book takes the form of diary extracts relating
only significant moments, leaving out the type of detailed account that
can be so tedious. This also means that the reader gets to the team's
first narwhal encounter without excessive preamble. This section is
interspersed with text boxes giving thumbnail sketches of various aspects
of life in the Arctic: fishing, seals, glaciers, flora and so on.
Initially the team was, justifiably, regarded with suspicion in case
they were representatives of Greenpeace. Fortunately they overcame this
obstacle without too much difficulty, for they needed the collaboration
of the Inuit in locating the narwhal. Some team members had to overcome
their personal feelings and attitudes towards hunting these fine creatures,
and instead to have respect for traditional hunting techniques. This
extended to sampling a meal of fresh pan-fried narwhal steak.
Yves Ouellet writes with simplicity and feeling about the magical moments
they experienced, the anticipation and excitement and eventual euphoria
when they first sighted their quarry. He gives a lyrical description
of the animals' movements, the sounds they make, the clash of their
spiral tusks, their grace. He is also sensitive to the people and to
the land, becoming profoundly affected by the whole experience.
The next section comprises several pages of facts and figures about
the narwhal. Apparently the earliest description dates back to the fifth
century BC. The coveted spiral tusk was once valued at twenty times
its weight in gold. The biological purpose of the tusk has been the
subject of speculation for centuries and some are discussed here. Official
statements on hunting quotas and survival expectations are questioned
by the author.
There is a useful section on tourism in the Baffin Island area, though
this may now need updating, and a list of equipment used by the expedition.
Finally, six members of the team give a personal account of the impact
the expedition had on them.
The resulting television documentary was transmitted in various countries
and won two international film awards in 1990 and another in 1991.
This book is a delightful and informative read, although only available
in French. My knowledge of the language is very rusty yet I didn't have
to reach for the dictionary too often; I believe anyone with A-level
French would have little difficulty reading this.
Review by S.G. Servian