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An Island of Wild Horses

In just about five months, I’ll be on a small expedition ship that will visit Sable Island. This crescent-shaped island is basically a sand bar about the size of Manhattan. It sits off the coast of Atlantic Canada 150 kilometers or so from the south coast of Nova Scotia. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons, taken by NASA, Public Domain.)

The island is frequently encased in thick fog, the sand bars near it are shallow, and it is surrounded by powerful currents. All these factors contributed to the 350 shipwreck that have occurred on the island. Fortunately modern technology improved the safety of ship travel in the late 1950’s. There haven’t been any wrecks since then.

Sometime in the 1700’s horses were brought to the island. One theory is that someone put the horses on the island to graze with the intention of later selling them. Sable doesn’t have trees, but it has an extensive system of dune grass (called marram) that the horses can live on. In the 1950’s, the horses were slated to be round up and send to glue and dog food factories. Public outcry put an end to that idea. Today, there are more than 500 horses on the island. They are now genetically unique.

Horses aren’t the only mammal on the island, as Sable has the largest colony of gray seals in the world—380,000. On the avian front, it has the Ipswich sparrow, which breeds only on this island.

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