Aerial surveys conducted near Vaygach Island in Kara and Barents seas

Aerial surveys conducted near Vaygach Island in Kara and Barents seas

19 May 2014

A joint expedition by the Marine Mammals Council and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was held on 24-27 April 2014 in Pechora Sea and near Vaygach Island. Specialists from the All-Russian Research Institute for Nature Protection also participated.


The expedition was responsible for a number of important tasks. Special studies of polar bears were performed in the region for the first time, and helicopter-based aerial surveys of walruses in Pechora Sea were conducted for the first time in spring New data  on the distribution of white whales as well as ringed and bearded seals were obtained.


The helicopter flight covered some 30,000 sq km of water from Russky Zavorot Bay in the southeast of the Barents Sea up to areas of the Kara Sea near Vaygach Island in the northwestern part of Baidaratskaya Bay. The aviation services were provided by Naryan-Mar’s combined aircraft group. 


“We have wanted to research this area for a long time as no special studies of the polar bear had been conducted here before,” said Andrei Boltunov, leading research fellow at the All-Russian Research Institute for Nature Protection and deputy head of the Marine Mammals Council. “We have collected important information on the spring distribution of polar bears in this region. It’s safe to say that we have identified the really key areas of the polar bears’ Kara Sea habitat. While the total number of polar bears in the region was low, in certain local areas the occurrence was high. We saw ten polar bears in six different groupings during the one-hour flight, or 13 bears per 100 km on the route,” Mr Boltunov said.  


The experts believe they have obtained solid data on one of the narrow “focal” corridors used by most of the local polar bear population, which inhabits the southwest of the Kara Sea in winter, and migrate to the north in spring. This phenomenon has to be studied in more detail, which will allow for more effective measures to preserve the polar bear in this actively explored region of the Russian Arctic.  


In addition, data were collected on the distribution of walruses on Pechora Sea ice, where sizable dispersed groups of this Red Data Book animal have been detected. White whales were also spotted in the ice-covered waters, and ringed and bearded seals encountered on the route were recorded.


WWF experts performed ground reconnaissance in order to improve the system of specially protected natural territories. And efforts to strengthen anti-poaching measures were carried out by border service crews of the Federal Security Service and the Ministry of the Interior.  


(Photos © by Viktor Nikiforov)