Nortwest Greenland Biota

Because of the short growing season and the long dry cold period no trees or shrubs grow in the homeland of the Polar Eskimo. The tallest tree is the Arctic willow, a scant three inches in height. Over a hundred species of vascular plants grow in the region. The sedges, blue grasses, and similar grassy plants grow luxuriantly. Two are particularly abundant -- Poa pratensis and Alopecurus alpinus. On some of the talus slopes manured by nesting birds, the mat of grasses is thick and heavy. Mushrooms are common and lichens clothe the rocks. Flowering plants, though small and relatively inconspicuous, grow in dense mats on favorable slopes where the sun shines warmly, and moisture is ample.

Due in large measure to the rich carbon dioxide content of the water and the continuous sunlight, the plankton development in the sea is incredibly rich throughout the summer, and the heavy growths of laminaria and other sea weeds on every shoal ledge are particularly luxuriant.

The bird life is incredibly abundant, not in species but in individuals. Of the land birds the ptarmigan and snowbunting are the most common. Shorebirds, ravens, snowy owls and falcons are rather numerous. The redpolls, wheat-ear, and Lapland longspur all nest in the area. The ptarmigan, ravens, and snowy owls are permanent residents. Of the sea-birds the dovekies are the most numerous. They nest in suitable slopes of easy gradient along the entire coast in such numbers that they cover the sea when feeding and darken the sky when in flight. Almost as numerous as the dovekies are the murres, that nest on the ledges of the steeper shore cliffs along the coast. The old squaw is common, the red-throated loon frequents the inland pools, and the merganser and greenwinged teal are occasionally seen along the coast. The eider duck frequents the coast in thousands, and the black brant is common. Kittiwakes, guillemots, gulls, jaegers and the fulmars are numerous. All the seabirds find an abundant supply of food in the small life of the cold, well-lighted waters off the shore.

Animal life on land is relatively scarce. The muskox (Ovibos moschatus wardi) is extinct along the Greenland shores of Smith Sound though still common in Ellesmereland, Grantland, and westward. The caribou (Rangifer groelandicus), though still fairly abundant, is generally restricted to a few isolated areas not readily accessible. The fact seems fairly well established that the caribou migrate across the ice-cap to Northwest Greenland from the east coast and the regions to the north. The Arctic hare (Lepus groenlandicus) is widely distributed and common. The blue fox and the white fox (Alopex groenlandicus) are abundant in the bird-cliff localities where they feed upon both the eggs and the birds. They are color phases of one species, both occasionally being littered by the same dam. The Arctic wolf (Canis tundrarum is almost extinct, and the lemming and the ermine do not frequent this part of the Greenland Coast. The muskox, caribou and hare feed upon the willows, grasses, and small herbs; the wolf and fox feed upon the muskox and the caribou.

The sea animals, because of the ample supply of food, are very numerous. Four species of seal -- the ringed seal, the bearded seal, the hooded seal, and the harp seal -- are all rather common, though the ringed seal is by far the most abundant. The walrus frequents the coast during the whole year, especially when the mussel-shoals furnish good feeding grounds. The narwhal and the white whale are numerous. The killer whale and the bowhead, and occasionally the right whale, visit the coast. The sleeper shark feeds over the deeper bottom. Fish are few. Salmon are caught along shore and in some of the inland lakes.

Mollusks are particularly abundant and number upwards of 72 species. These are all marine, no land or fresh water species having been reported from this part of Greenland. These are all of Arctic forms, including Buccinum, Astarte, and Saxicava as leading types.

The polar bear (Thalarctos m. maritimus), an animal of both land and sea, is as much at home out on the open sea among the icebergs as along the shore. He avoids all habitations of man, particularly when there are dogs about. Keen of scent and of all perceptions, as well as of intelligence, the polar bear is certainly the most superb animal of the North, though not nearly so dangerous as the walrus.

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