Latest Polar Bear Programme expedition comes to an end

Latest Polar Bear Programme expedition comes to an end

1 November 2011

Between September and October 2011, a regular expedition was mounted by the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Ecology and Evolution under the Polar Bear Programme, sponsored by the Russian Geographical Society. This year the expedition was to Franz Josef Land (Alexandra Land).


The researchers managed to catch and immobilise 16 polar bears. Five females were fitted with Russian-made ARGOS satellite collars manufactured by ES-PAS. Currently, all collars are emitting signals that will help to map the animals' movements and monitor the condition and drift patterns of the ice in locations inhabited by the bears.


Blood, fur and excrement samples were taken from all the animals, as well as the necessary morphometric measurements. Subsequently, genetic and hormonal analysis will be conducted in a laboratory for the purpose of identifying diseases or chemical pollutants.


The tagged females were with their cubs, which never left their mothers' sides while the scientists went about their job. The animals were immobilised from vehicles (males), and with the help of bait (females with cubs). When placing the bait, the zoologists took into consideration such factors as the density of the polar bear population and their tracks in a particular location, as well as the feasibility of long-term monitoring of the bait from a shelter.


To assess the density of the polar bear population on the island (Alexandra Land), scientists performed over 30 surveys from vehicles, which allowed them to study 80% of the glacier-free plain. Their routes passed along the coastline and traversed locations most likely to be visited by polar bears in relation to weather conditions and time of year. They collected data on ice and weather conditions and studied the distribution of sea mammals in the island's bays.


The zoologists came across 21 polar bears. By monitoring the pattern of their movements, researchers determined that some polar bears had permanent habitats in Alexandra Land's central plain, which is closed in by glaciers on two sides. The animals have to spend long periods on the island when their main habitat, drift ice, becomes inaccessible. When first-year ice melts in July and August, the polar bears remain on the island for the rest of the summer and autumn.


The expedition included zoologists, climatologists, veterinarians, and inspectors from the Russian Arctic National Park (Arkhangelsk), with extensive assistance provided by the Federal Security Service's Border Directorate for the Arkhangelsk Region.


The expedition members are particularly grateful to Directorate Chief Col. V.P. Reznichenko, Nagurskoye Section Chief Sen. Lt. A.A. Bugayevsky, and driver, Warrant Officer A.V. Yunik.


The Polar Bear Programme will be continued in 2012.