Human Planet Explorer
It is one of the most extreme and barren environments on earth, but four million humans have learned how to live here thanks to a deep understanding of the landscape and wildlife. Narwhal, beluga whales, auks, seal, and reindeer are just some of the animals that Arctic people depend on for their survival, not to mention Arctic man’s best friend - the indomitable husky.
Photo from Human Planet
As dawn breaks after the long Arctic winter, Inuit hunters prepare their dogs to set out across the ice shelf in Ilulissat, Western Greenland.
Researcher Bethan Evans discusses the Inuit’s relationship with their Greenlandic dogs.
Researcher Bethan Evans discusses the Inuit’s relationship with their Greenlandic dogs. There are more than 30,000 sled dogs living above the Arctic Circle in Greenland underlining their importance as a mode of transport.
Bruce Parry travels with the Nenets to see their incredible herd of around 7,000 reindeer.
Bruce Parry travels with the Nenets in the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia and witnesses the extraordinary sight of the annual migration of 7,000 reindeer to fresh pastures.
Bruce Parry goes ice fishing with the Nenets people.
Bruce Parry goes fishing with the Nenets and is in agony after trying to untangle fish from the nets with his bare hands.
Bruce Parry assists the Nenets women to construct the 'chum' living space.
Bruce Parry assists the Nenets women to construct the 'chum' living space during a migration to new pasture.
Ray Mears experiences traditional Inuit throat singing.
Ray Mears experiences traditional Inuit throat singing as he retraces the journey of the British explorer John Rae.
Andy Kershaw heads to Siberia to meet Jew's harp players from Yakutsk, the coldest city on earth.
Andy Kershaw heads to Siberia to meet musicians from Yakutsk, the coldest city on earth, where long winter nights are whiled away with the help of a Jew's harp.
Andy Kershaw heads to Norway to try his hand at reindeer-herding under the midnight sun with accomplished yoik singer May-Torril.
Andy Kershaw heads to Norway to try his hand at reindeer-herding under the midnight sun with Human Planet's May-Torril, who also happens to be an accomplished singer in the Sami tradition of yoiking.
Lucy Duran heads to Canada to meet Inuit singer Tanya Tagaq - who sings the intense songs of the western Inuit.
Lucy Duran heads to Canada to meet Inuit singer Tanya Tagaq, who introduces us to her village in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and sings the intensely soulful music of the western Inuit.
Lucy Duran greets the New Year with music, and hears the mighty voice of Greenland's greatest singer, Rasmus Lyberth.
Lucy Duran greets the New Year with music, and hears the mighty voice of Greenland's greatest singer, Rasmus Lyberth - a man whose performances are said to embody the country's unique landscape. Includes a performance of 'I See A Light In Your Eyes', a song dedicated to the first moments of his youngest son's life.
At the top of our planet lies one of the remotest and most hostile places on Earth: the Arctic - an environment that humans could never hope to survive in without other animals. In winter, the region is frozen and dark for months on end, and even in the summer there are no trees and few edible plants.
And yet, somehow, four million people live here, relying on an intimate knowledge and understanding of their environment for their survival, constantly walking a tightrope between life and death.
Each year the Inuit townspeople of Illulissat in western Greenland gather to welcome the return of the summer sun. After months of darkness it appears at 13 minutes to the 13th hour of the 13th day. Being that far north, the sun only appears for a short while, but it’s appearance is a sign of the changing seasons and an indication that hunting can now begin in earnest.
For the Inuit, hunting is a way of life and an Inuit boy only truly becomes a man when he becomes a hunter. One of the first things he will learn is that the melting of the sea ice heralds the arrival of the narwhal, the horned whale prized by the Inuit for its rich source of energy and vitamins. Ounce for ounce there is almost as much vitamin C in narwhal skin as there is in an orange, and without the narwhal it is doubtful whether the Inuit would have survived in some parts of the Arctic.
Also on the Inuit hunting calendar is the auk migration. During this time the people of northern Greenland use nets to capture migrating birds. But they don’t eat them right away. Instead, they stuff the dead birds into the body of a dead seal and leave them to ferment for a few months until the food is most needed, in the winter. It is then shared with the whole community and nothing is wasted. Up here, community is paramount.
But Arctic peoples don’t just have hunter-prey relationships with animals. Dogs are a vital part of life in some areas of the Arctic Circle and - true to the maxim that a friend in need is a friend indeed – they are definitely man’s best friend up here. After all, who else could safely guide the hunters over the unstable frozen sea ice in springtime, or help pull a sled more than 40 miles on a single winter’s day?
Somewhere in between the wild narwhal and the tame dogs, are the semi–wild reindeer herded by the Sami people of Norway. The Sami depend on them for food, clothing, and shelter and, when the sea ice melts, will even swim them across treacherous waters to lead the herd to better pastures.
Luckily reindeer are perfectly adapted to the cold, with hollow hairs that are excellent insulation against the freezing Arctic temperatures. Humans on the other hand wouldn’t stand a chance without the shelters they have spent generations learning to build. Whether a Nenet ‘chum’ or an Inuit igloo, both shelters can make the difference between life and death when it is -20C outside.
But perhaps it won’t be -20C outside for much longer. Global warming is heating the Arctic faster than anywhere on Earth, and while this may mean less extreme temperatures for the Inuit, it also means that some of the migrations they depend on simply aren’t taking place, and winter ice patterns are becoming increasingly unpredictable. It may be a matter of time before the peoples of the Arctic are left out in the cold with nothing to eat.