Hardcore Arctic communities were the focus of the BBC’s Frozen Planet this week, with daredevil hunters scaling cliffs to steal guillemot eggs in Russia, and brawny blubber-coursers harpooning walrus in Greenland.
Viewers watched with pulses thumping, as a man from an island community 50 miles from Alaska carefully began his fragile descent down a crumbling limestone cliff face to collect gull and guillemot eggs.
Supported only by a thin nylon rope, the eggs are a valued prize, adding variety to the local diet of sea mammal meat and fish. It’s a price that men have lost their life for on these cliffs.
The activity was described by one of the film crew as “the most hardcore thing I’ve ever seen”.
The blue eggs are perched on the precipice of the cliffs: the men must abseil down to steal them.
The Dolgan people are a reindeer herding community in Greenland. Their mysterious faces hidden by reindeer fur, the Dolgan collected great blocks ice from frozen streams and loaded it onto their sleds in silent ritual. Melting these glacial blocks is the only way they are able get fresh water for nine months of the year.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, these small isolated communities are difficult to gain access to, and trained anthropologists had to be employed by the BBC Frozen Planet team in order to approach the taciturn hunter-gatherers in the right way.
A Dolgan man prepares to split up the blocks of ice and melt it for water
In Frozen Planet’s gruff uncompromising manner, awe inspiring shots are interspersed with moments of bloody brutality. The (rather modern) inuits sailed out in a speed boat to harpoon a walrus, their ancient hunting methods aided by 21st century equipment.
Once the walrus is harpooned it is then shot. Inuit deftness with a knife saw the blubbery mammal carved into pieces. The meaty chunks are expertly packaged up and bartered in a community market.
A later panoramic shot shows a walrus-skin boat sailing across the screen.
“The men all have very big families and this is the only way they can survive,” explains David Attenborough. It does teach consumers a thing or two about waste however. Not a bit of blubber or bone is wasted.
Ancient human communities and their will to survive in uncompromising Arctic conditions makes fascinating viewing.
In the Antarctic however it is much colder. At -60c and almost completely covered in ice, Attenborough explains why climatic conditions mean the Arctic is so very different from the South Pole. Only research centres and specially created conditions allow humans to live in the sub-minus wilds for any length of time.
Click through to see the other people and sights the film crew encountered roaming across the surface of a very frozen planet.