Monday, August 10, 2009
Sable Island: Shipwrecks & Wild Horses in the North Atlantic
Sable Island is a small Canadian island situated 180 km southeast of mainland Nova Scotia in the Atlantic Ocean.
The island is a narrow crescent-shaped sandbar with a surface area of about 34 km². Despite being nearly 42 km long, it is no more than 1.5 km across at its widest point. It emerges from vast shoals and shallows on the continental shelf which, in tandem with the area's frequent fog and sudden strong storms including hurricanes and nor'easters, have caused over 350 recorded shipwrecks. It is often referred to as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, as it sits astride the great circle route from North America's east coast to Europe. The nearest landfall is 160 kilometres to the northwest near Canso, Nova Scotia.
Sable Island was named after its sand—sable is French for "sand". It is covered with grass and other low-growing vegetation. In 1901, the federal government planted over 80,000 trees on the island in an attempt to stabilize the soil; all died. Sable Island is believed to have formed from large quantities of sand and gravel deposited on the continental shelf near the end of the last ice age. The island is continually changing its shape with the effects of strong winds and violent ocean storms. The island has several freshwater ponds on the south side between the station and west light and a brackish lake named Lake Wallace near its centre.
"The most famous, and perhaps the most popular, of Sable Island's fauna are the wild horses. Although access to the island is restricted - both by location and by regulations - the horses are well-known, and are of great interest, culturally and scientifically. The Sable Island horses have been featured in several documentaries and numerous books and magazine articles, and they were the subject of an exhibition at the Equine Museum of Japan in Yokohama (1994), and a photography exhibition in New York City (Roberto Dutesco, 2002). This population of horses has been the topic of doctoral research (Welsh 1975), and long-term studies have been underway since the mid-1980s (e.g. Lucas et al. 1991)."
"The romantic notion that Sable Island horses are descended from shipwreck survivors persists."
There are frequent heavy fogs in the area due to the contrasting effects of the cold Labrador Current and the warm Gulf Stream. During winter months, the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream can sometimes give Sable Island the warmest temperatures in Canada.
Green Horse Society