Researchers collect new information on polar bears

Researchers collect new information on polar bears

29 August 2011

From June 27 through July 21, the research vessel Ivan Petrov sailed on a joint expedition organised by the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Ecology and Evolution, the Russian Arctic National Park, and the State Meteorological Service's Northern Department as part of the Polar Bear Programme. Zoologists at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences worked on the vessel during the expedition, which focused on studying how climate change tells on polar bears. The research was supported by the Russian Geographical Society.


The Ivan Petrov travelled from Arkhangelsk to the Novaya Zemlya archipelago (Cape Zhelaniya) and back. Over the course of six days, from July 8 through July 13, researchers landed on the western coast of Novaya Zemlya's Severny Island (Zayats, Vize, Pinegin, Bolshoi Ledyanoi, and Zhelaniya capes), as well as on the eastern coast of Natalya Bay, and in the passage between the Aran Islands. On the first day, nine polar bears, including a mother with a year-old cub, were located on the territory of the former polar station Cape Zhelaniya.


The animals were very calm and watched the researchers with interest. All the polar bears looked well fed. They spent their time mostly looking for food in meadows and along the coast among the piles of seaweed. They would rest on snowfields, and walk on fine pebble, snow or sand, even on large boulders, to avoid sharp stones. Observations revealed that around 12 polar bears permanently live on the territory of the station. Some of them would leave for remote fields across the lake. New polar bears would come from the south and remain on the northernmost edge of Novaya Zemlya in search of food. At the time, the bays had no ice cover.


On July 12, researchers who landed on Novaya Zemlya's Cape Zhelaniya managed to sedate a large male polar bear. After taking the necessary biometric measurements as well as blood and fur samples, the animal was transported to the southeast coast of the bay in an all-terrain vehicle. There the polar bear recovered from the sedation and then set off deep into the interior of the island.


In all, 23 polar bears have been located. They include four females with cubs of various ages, and solitary males.


During the exploration of the Cape Zhelaniya station, researchers collected samples of tissues, teeth, fangs, and bones of sea mammals, which will undergo genetic analysis. Researchers took photos of the station and described the condition of the facilities on the territory of the former polar station. Scientists assessed the pollution level at the station and in the surrounding area caused by petroleum products, oil drums, metal constructions and abandoned equipment. They also studied the state of the fresh-water lake near the station, which is a source of drinking water.


At present, all the data obtained during the expedition is being thoroughly analysed. The results will be published in scientific journals.