VIFF: Eider ducks and salmon forests
In the Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay, Nunavut, people depend on Eiderdown, the warmest feathers in the world, to survive the freezing Arctic winters. The documentary shows how the Inuit harvest the feathers, hunt the ducks, and now, help them escape from ice traps caused by a changing climate and warm water releases from Hydro Quebec’s dams. Stunning underwater photography captures the ducks hunting sea urchins. The huge flocks of birds are prey for wolves and other animals. The film shows present day life, including a memorable winter outdoor hip-hop scene, as well as historical reenactments of a more traditional way of life. We see women sewing coats stuffed full of eiderdown, and families on feather collecting expeditions on the beaches.
Common eider duck, Iceland (c) Wild Wonders of Europe/Orsolya Haarberg/WWF
Similarly, on the BC coast, people have relied on salmon for millennia. So have bears, wolves and even trees. On our recent trip to the Great Bear Rainforest I saw the salmon forest in action. Our first night was spent in Salmon Bay. The name fit. The bay was littered with huge floating pale shapes, which on closer inspection turned out to be hundreds of salmon carcasses.
As I paddled along I saw that the sea floor too was full of dead salmon. So was the beach. And when we hiked up the bear-made trail beside Salmon River, the salmon bonanza grew even wilder. Chums and the darker pinks massed in pools and eddies. Fish leapt out of the stream. In some spots it looked like a miniature shark festival as the dark brown humps of the chums, also known as humpies, rose above the waterline. Fallen logs trapped dozens more carcasses. In a few places the corpses piled up high enough to create dams made of salmon. The air stank of rotting fish, and discarded carcasses lay everywhere, providing a nutrient-rich base for the forest floor.
Back to the ducks: Dr. Joel Heath at the University of B.C. led this International Polar Year research project on ducks and sea ice, and also wrote directed and produced the film People of a Feather together with the community of Sanikiluaq. The filmmakers and the community have now formed a non-profit organization to sustain the integrity of sea ice ecosystems.
Eider ducks and salmon: our lives are linked so closely to the natural world.
The next showings of People of a Feather are:
- Wednesday, Oct 5th, 2:30pm at the Empire Granville 7 
- Sunday Oct 9th, 4:00 p.m. at the Empire Granville 7