Hello walruses

As part of the Paris-Montagne festival on the importance of making mistakes in scientific research, I attended a screening last night of Bonjour les morses (Hello walruses). Antonio Fischetti followed CNRS bioacousticians Thierry Aubin and Isabelle Charrier on an expedition to study walrus communication in the Arctic.

The film is unique in that the expedition failed rather miserably: after spending two weeks stuck at the base due to bad weather, the team was finally able to go out. On the second day, they were stranded on an iceberg because the ice had moved. They spent 60 hours waiting for rescue, with no shelter and close to no food. The team members remained surprisingly calm, considering that there was a non-zero probability that they would all freeze to death. They were eventually rescued by a helicopter, but had to abandon all their equipment.

There cannot be many other documentary films on castaways, for obvious reasons. But the main interest of the film was to show that science does not always work as planned; it also served as a reminder that field research is not a piece of pie. Another screening, followed by a discussion with Aubin and Charrier, will take place this Saturday at 5.30pm at the Paris École Normale Supérieure.