In 2006, the Tara Expedition ventures to the Arctic ice cap to research ice-melt and climate change. The story of the two-year mission as experienced by two Siberian huskies with the Tara crew, Zagrey and Tiksi, a puppy.
The Ice Dogs - Two Siberian Huskies at the Top of the World
NARRATOR: September, 2006. The research ship Tara sails farther north than any ship before her, into the Arctic Ocean, to the top of the world.
Onboard, an international crew of eight scientists and polar specialists, and two Laika Yakout dogs, also called Siberian Huskies, “ice dogs.” The older one, Zagrey, is nine. The puppy, Tiksi, is just three months old.
The crew’s mission: freeze the ship into the Arctic ice for two years…and chart the ice cap’s seasonal changes: freezing in the polar winter, melting in the arctic summer. The ice dogs’ mission: be Tara’s early warning system…for polar bears – the greatest threat in the Arctic, after the flash-freezing cold.
Zagrey is a fearless hunter and tracker. Tiksi is…not. Yet. Tiksi doesn’t spot the first polar visitors to the Tara ice camp…but Zagrey does.
GRANT REDVERS, Tara Expedition Leader: They’re hungry. They’re looking for food. They see this boat that smells very nice on the ice. And they’re very inquisitive.
(In French, subtitled) “Here, ok, fire a first shot in the air.”)
NARRATOR: There is a set drill when polar bears are sighted. The crew fires rifles and flares over the bears’ heads to scare them off. Zagrey often gives chase – a risky thing to do to the world’s largest land predator.
Ice dogs are also trained to bark when they sense the ice start to move –which it does, catastrophically, in mid-September. Huge swells, from a storm farther south, roll under the solid Arctic pack ice…shattering it – and Tara’s camp.
Critical instruments, monitors, machinery – the entire kerosene fuel supply – all are suddenly adrift, in all directions.
(in French, subtitled: “We’ll probably lose all the scientific equipment.”)
NARRATOR: The crew works – all-hands-on-deck and around the clock – for 10 days. Finally, almost unbelievably, they’ve pulled everything of value on board –
except the predator warning system: Zagrey is stranded.
The Tara’s captain puts on a cold-weather survival suit – and walks the plank…to ‘fetch’ the drifting dog.
(in French, subtitled – “He’s holding Zagrey!” “Slide slowly!”)
Captain and Zagrey are only in the lethally- cold Arctic water for a few fast heartbeats.
(in French, subtitled – “You ok?” “It’s ok.” “You’re not cold?” “It was for Zagrey’s sake./ “You’re jealous, Tiksi…”)
NARRATOR: November. The Arctic ice has fused around the Tara. The sun has set – for six months. Polar winter has set in.
Zagrey – bred to survive in a sub-zero climate – is usually outdoors. Keeping watch. Keeping still. Letting the snow frost his fur until he is camouflaged – like the polar bears, who are even harder to see in the Arctic night.
Tiksi is better at play than guard duty – he has yet to detect an approaching polar bear. Unlike Zagrey – a lone wolf, topside – Tiksi is more a “man’s best friend,” in the crew quarters below.
That changes when, after almost 200 days of darkness, the sun rises again.
It is time for a re-supply plane to fly in from Norway, bringing a fresh team of scientists and specialists – but first, the winter crew has to carve a long, flat runway out of the ice.
This time, it’s all hands – and paws – off-deck. The work is back-breaking …jaw-breaking…but they succeed – almost. The runway is 90 percent finished…when there is another upheaval in the ice.
(in French, subtitled: “The runway has cracked, it’s cracked. There’s a fissure running – not the length of the runway, but almost.”)
NARRATOR: Low in spirits and energy, the winter crew and the ice dogs set to work again…and build a runway that holds. The relief plane lands – weeks late. The turn-around is quick. Six of the eight winter crewmen board for the flight out…leaving the expedition leader, the Captain – and Zagrey and Tiksi – on the ice, with the new crew.
They still have work to do. The crew has data to analyze…melt rate to calculate…ice drift to map. The dogs still watch for polar bears at the camp perimeter – Tiksi can spot them now.
The Tara marks a full year on the ice…then 400 days…then 500. Tiksi marks his first birthday. Zagrey turns 10. The Tara will stay at the top of the world until January of 2008. After the expedition, Zagrey will retire to a new home on the Norwegian tundra.
Tiksi will stay alongside Tara’s Captain…eventually sailing home with him to France…a full-fledged Ice Dog.
Aligned to Common Core English Language Arts and Math Standards
Ask students (depending on grade/ELL level) to:
Raise their hands whenever they hear the words “arctic” or “polar” or “crew” in the video (small groups can be assigned different words). Distinguish between the North and South Poles; find both on a global map. Make timeline of notable expeditions to Antarctica, and the role of dogs in those journeys. Listen to or read a grade-appropriate story about sled dogs (e.g., “Bothie the Polar Dog,” or stories about Balto). How are dogs in these stories like and unlike the dogs in the video? Identify the meaning of suffixes and prefixes in this video and transcript: -less (fearless); -inter (international); mid- (mid-September); un- (unbelievably); re- (re-supply). List words that rhyme with “ice.” Spell, define, and/or find synonyms or antonyms for the following words in this video: ice, fused, guard, crew, fuel, predator, stranded.
Math & Statistics Activities:
If Tiksi is 3 months old at the start of the expedition, how old is she two years later? In terms of months?
The sun sets for six months in polar winter. What is that length of time in terms of days? That is what percent of a year?
The darkness of polar winter lasts for 200 days. What is that length of time in terms of months?
The two dogs represent what percent of the crew? What fraction of the 10 onboard the ship are dogs? What is the ratio of dogs to crew members?
In the winter, thick snow blankets Alaska's Denali National Park and Preserve. It is one of our nation's most incredible wild places. The wilderness stretches over 6 million acres. That's bigger than the state of New Hampshire. It's home to North America's tallest peak, as well as wolves, moose, snowshoe hares and grizzly bears.
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