Cold hands, crazy cranes and frozen fish

Bethan Evans, Researcher

Bethan Evans, Researcher

by Bethan Evans, Researcher, Arctic/Mountains team

As the “cold” researcher for the Arctic programme of Human Planet last month I was lucky enough to find myself in a tiny village on the West Coast of Greenland. With our small crew we were  in search of the elusive Greenland shark, known to Greenlanders as Eqalussuaq  It’s one of the largest sharks in the world and the only species living in Arctic waters. The Greenland shark lives in deep water, rarely seen near the surface, preferring the frigid cold at depths of up to 2000 metres.  As the sea ice melts, local fishermen start seeking it out and we wanted to film their search.

Filming in the Arctic winter is incredibly tough, that’s without the prospect of trying to film an elusive shark that is particularly camera shy!  Try passing the cameraman delicate lens tissue and filters while wearing three pairs of gloves.  If you do risk taking them off, your fingers freeze to the filters’ cold metal casing. 

Or try to keep your crew happy at lunch when their sandwiches have frozen into a solid block! 

 But throw in a camera crane and an inventive crew and the frozen fun really begins!   In order to get some great shots of our fishermen, Amos and Karl-Frederik (a father and son team), we decided to set up the crane over an ice fishing hole.  They were busy fishing there for halibut, before turning their attention to sharks. 

A useful find

A useful find

The crane works on a counter-balance system so we had planned ahead and hired gym weights from the nearest town.  Unfortunately we didn’t have quite enough weight, making the crane difficult to manoeuvre.  We scoured the bare, white landscape desperately looking for something to use as a weight.  Eventually one of the crew spied a hapless frozen fish which had been lying next to an old fishing hole for days.  In Inuit culture every part of a caught animal is used, so in true Arctic spirit we decided this fish would be put to use. 

Tipping the balance

Tipping the balance

The large and quite frankly extraordinarily ugly fish was hauled off the ice and heaved into our medical emergency bag.  The bag was emptied of all life-saving equipment to make way for Freddie the Fish.   Happily the fish, after a bit of modification, was just the right weight to balance the crane and we carried on filming, much to the amusement of the Greenlandic fishermen.

Karl-Frederik and Amos

Karl-Frederik and Amos in polar bearskin trousers


And finally…..

It’s been another busy month on Human Planet.  Our Deserts team are just about to leave for Mali to film a fascinating story about elephants.  It is always difficult trying to keep up with the crew in the field in these remote locations . We spend lots of time struggling with Sat phones, as satellites move away and break signal at the crucial moments. “You want a Doctor?…” Crackle , splat…10 minutes later as another satellite cares to drift into sat phone  sight lines and we are all ready to contact the BBC Health and Safety Department… “Oh! You want Doctor Who recorded, no worries” .   However, when I spoke to  director Nick Brown  from high in the Ethiopian mountains recently,  he sounded as clear as a bell . It must have had something to do with being so close to those satellites!

Dale Templar, Series Producer

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