Polar bear expedition goes to Bely Island

Polar bear expedition goes to Bely Island

11 August 2015

With the support of the Russian Geographical Society and the government of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area, work has begun to study the Kara Sea-Barents Sea polar bear population on Bely Island and off the northern coast of the Yamal Peninsula. The polar bear is among the little-studied representatives of Arctic fauna. The level of our knowledge about different geographic polar bear populations is fairly inconsistent, as are our estimates of polar bear numbers in different parts of its habitat. A group of polar bear researchers from PBSG IUCN periodically provide estimates of various polar bear populations, including in the Russian sector of the Arctic. However, no data has been provided for the Kara Sea bear population for many years now. In this regard, a separate programme to study the Kara Sea-Barents Sea polar bear population in the area has been developed.


An expeditionary unit of the Russian Academy of Sciences permanent expedition for the monitoring of animals from the Russian Red Data Book and other rare species of Russian fauna, formed at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Arctic interregional expeditionary centre,  will go to Bely Island. The research is supervised by Vyacheslav Rozhnov, head of the permanent expedition of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Director of the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution (RAS) and Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. All approvals by the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor), the Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor) and Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area border control have been obtained and everything has been agreed upon with the Arctic interregional centre, which is behind the comprehensive 2015 Arctic research expedition. The unit will have its logistical base at the Bely Island research station. According to recent polls conducted among the Arctic interregional centre’s employees and volunteers working on Bely Island, there are five to seven adult polar bears currently on the island, which means that the expeditionary unit’s endeavour has a good chance of success.


The purpose of the expedition, to be held in August-September 2015, is to assess the current state of polar bear conservation and to develop a polar bear conservation strategy in the region to protect them against global warming and increasing human impact. The main goals of the expedition include evaluating the polar bear distribution off the Yamal coast and on Bely Island in summer and autumn, tagging polar bear females with Argos satellite collars to track their movements and activities, conducting biotelemetry studies of their reproductive biology, determining the dates the females hibernate, and identifying their den distribution onshore and on drifting ice. The work will also include collecting biological material to assess the genetic structure, diseases and the presence of contaminants in polar bears living off the Kara Sea, and studying the effects of natural and anthropogenic factors associated with the development of coastal and offshore hydrocarbon fields on the polar bear population.


The researchers will focus in particular on how to prevent conflicts from arising between humans and bears in a changing polar bear habitat and amid an increasing human presence in the Arctic.