National Geographic : 2015 Nov
110 national geographic • november 2015 A funeral procession for Johan Kristiansen winds around Uummannaq, the largest town in the fjord, with more than 1,200 residents. Green- land’s population, currently about 56,000, is aging. Barring a surge in the birthrate or an influx of immi- grants, it will soon begin declining. heads out to feed his sled dogs, of which he has too many to keep in the small yard around his home. We board his 14-foot-long open boat, and after we clear the growlers—small icebergs—in Saattut’s harbor, he guns the outboard motor. To the east we can just make out a wall of white—the 200-foot-high face of a glacier flowing out from the inland ice sheet, which Løvstrøm says has retreated more than half a mile in the past decade. To the north and south, umber cliffs dusted with snow tower above the sapphire wa- ters of the fjord. Soon we pull into one of the innumerable inlets. Keenly watching us from a bare outcrop are Løvstrøm’s dogs. Greenland’s dogs are one of the world’s oldest breeds, descended from animals that traveled with the Inuit when they began their journey from Siberia to Greenland a millennium ago. Almost all are kept chained as adults; they’re free to roam only as puppies. They’re working dogs, not pets, fierce enough to confront a polar bear and bred to find contentment harnessed to a sled pulling heavy loads over ice. They’re also one of the lesser known casualties of climate change. Because of the shorter ice season, some hunters can no longer afford to keep their dogs year-round—especially given the easy availabili- ty of snowmobiles, which don’t need to be fed in the off-season. Some hunters have been pushed to an extreme: They’ve been killing their dogs. Neither of the Løvstrøm brothers has reached that point, and for this season they have more than enough meat for their dogs. A few days ago hunters from Saattut killed some 40 pilot whales in a single day—a windfall that will fill Traditionally in places like Uummannaq, it was sea ice that brought an end to isolation and autumnal blues. In winter dogsleds can glide across what had been open water.