2011 Spring Track results

2011 Spring Track results

18 July 2011

The decline in the polar bear population of Chukotka and Alaska became most apparent in the early 2000s when the Arctic Region was strongly affected by climate change. Unfortunately, the conditions that the polar bear population needs to recover are still lacking: the ice layer in the region is still shrinking and the danger from poaching remains high.


The ice sheet covering Chukotka's Arctic shore now forms one month later than in the past, forcing the polar bears to spend longer on land. This means that people come into contact with this dangerous predator more frequently and makes it more likely that the polar bears will fall victim to poachers.


In 2006, a group of volunteers supported by ecologists was formed in one coastal village in Chukotka. The group initially intended to patrol the area from October to December, when polar bears come ashore from the drifting ice floes in the eastern part of the East Siberian Sea and travel down the coast from the north-west to the south-east. The volunteer group, unofficially known as "the bear patrol," was able to warn villagers about approaching polar bears and in some cases took action to usher the animals out of the villages.


Specialists from the Marine Mammal Council (MMC), recognising that the group had potential, suggested that the "bear patrol" also gather basic data including the time and place of the encounter, and the number, gender and age of the polar bears involved. The observers phone this information through to the MMC office in Moscow, which is working with conservation groups to extend the network of coastline observation points in the Russian Arctic. The monitoring team changes from time to time. Both individuals and organisations are actively involved in the project. The network currently comprises 15 villages, six weather stations and seven protected areas.


Between March and April this year, the bear patrol made repeated research trips to the Arctic coast, covering the area from the mouth of the Indigirka River in the west to the Bering Strait in the east. They found polar bears are unevenly dispersed across the area. Not a single set of polar bear tracks was found in the western part of the monitored region. There were surprisingly few bears on Chukotka's western Arctic shore while the population in the eastern part remained unchanged. At the same time, a significant number of bear dens were found on the Medvezhyi Islands in Yakutia after two year hiatus when the group only occasionally came across tracks or dens.