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The Story Of The Canadian Arctic Expedition 1913 - 1918
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Marine Biology

The biologist for the Expedition, Fritz Johansen, collected many samples of invertebrates from both salt and fresh water. These samples, now cared for by the Canadian Museum of Nature, represent the first comprehensive collection from the Arctic. Initially providing the basis for describing Arctic species and for preparing identification keys, they now serve many other purposes, especially when compared to recent surveys of marine and freshwater animals.

Because the CAE samples were were collected before any nuclear bomb testing, they can be used to study past environmental conditions. Such a study led by scientists from the Geological Survey of Canada used small mollusc shell fragments and provided an explanation for a catastrophic climatic change that took place approximately 8,400 years ago. The specimens collected during the CAE played an important role in this discovery.

When the men of the Southern Party were on board the schooner Alaska en route to their winter headquarters, they spent much time helping the ship's crew extracting her from tight spots in the ice and from many groundings in the shallow, uncharted waters. The expedition's frustrated marine biologist Johansen was soon "growling because manual labour interferes with his collecting" (R.M.Anderson Diary 1914).


"Banks Island - After we had left the mainland a few miles behind, the water presented a dark blue appearance, almost black. I put a plankton net over the side for half an hour, and when I hauled it up, it contained a quantity of small fish [probably invertebrates] which have a dark line running through their body. They appear to be in such numbers that they may be the cause of the colouration of the water. I did not have time to examine them closely, for Crawford was still under the influence of drink, and I had to look after the engines. However, I collected some for preservation as specimens" (Wilkins Diary, August 22, 1913).


The many specimens of fish and unpublished information on fish ecology collected by Fritz Johansen during the CAE, and now in the Canadian Museum of Nature collections, form the earliest significant basis for fish studies in Canada's Arctic. These collections are a valuable resource still relevant today. Scientists at the Museum of Nature and at Fisheries and Oceans Canada are using this material in the production of books on the Arctic Marine Fishes of Canada and the Freshwater Fishes of Nunavut.

CMC CD95-934-020

Lake trout weighing about 35 lb caught in a net at the foot of Port Epworth, and Mingeouk (age about 5 yrs), daughter of O'Neill's Tree River Inuk guide Mupfa, Port Epworth, Coronation Gulf, Nunavut. July 1, 1915. JJO 38554. Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization