Researchers learn more about the life of Arctic bears

Researchers learn more about the life of Arctic bears

15 June 2011

Russian scientists surveying wildlife in the Arctic region have learned more about the life of polar bears, using satellite tracking technology.


In October 2010, zoologists from the Russian Academy of Sciences' Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution put satellite collars on three female polar bears dwelling in the Franz Josef Land area. Over the six months that followed, they monitored the animals in real-time, and were able not only to track the bears' migration, but also to learn about ocean depths and the properties of drifting ice in the area.


For the first time in the history of polar bear surveying, they were able to describe differences between autumn and winter migration patterns.


Last autumn, when the surveying began, the three bears were migrating southward where the formation of new ice was then underway. At the end of February they headed north, back to the archipelago.


As it turns out, polar bears can travel long distances away from the shore in autumn. In winter and early spring, however, they prefer to stay closer to firm land.


The three bears under observation tried to avoid the open sea, opting for solid ice without cracks. This tendency became especially pronounced in the winter, from December 2010 to March 2011.


Each of the three bears walked about 30 kilometres on average daily. Their itineraries were not the same, though. When the surveying began, the animals were based close to one another. Then a ten-year-old mother of two became more mobile than its companions, both several years younger and with smaller cubs to take care of.


Two of the bears met on January 20 and continued travelling together for the next few days. On January 24, they went their separate ways.


Food and drifting ice are two key factors that determine polar bear migration patterns. Another factor influencing their migrations is the depth of the ocean. For polar bears, the deeper the ocean the worse.


The three tracked bears, for example, tried to stick to areas about 200 metres deep, feeding on walruses, and bearded and eared seals.


The latest findings confirm the results of previous studies on the migratory and behavioural patterns of polar bears, while also providing some new insights into the life of bears in the Barents Sea.