Russia, US to carry out aerial survey of seals, polar bears

Russia, US to carry out aerial survey of seals, polar bears

8 April 2016

As part of the 2016-2018 Russia-US wild flora and fauna conservation programme, scientists will carry out an aerial survey of the population of seals and polar bears living on sea ice in Chukotka and Alaska.


The combined research expedition to run between 12 April and 25 May will involve members of the Marine Mammal Council, Giprorybflot Research Institute, TINRO-Centre (Asia-Pacific Research and Fishery Centre) Chukchi branch and Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Flights over Russian territory will cover the ice in the Chukchi Sea and the East Siberian Sea.


The habitat of seals and polar bears in Chukotka and Alaska is open – that is, not enclosed by trees. They move freely across sea ice from Chukotka to Alaska. Therefore, it is especially important that the count is carried out by researchers of the two countries over the same period. American researchers from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will conduct research in their part of the Chukchi Sea.


Russian and American scientists will take the same approach to photographing animals on ice. First, wide-range thermal imaging cameras on the laboratory aircraft locate the heat of the animals on cold ice. The hot spots are then photographed in the infrared spectrum and also by high-resolution cameras to identify gender and age. The research will use the latest monitoring technology and equipment that has proved successful during counts of ice-based seals in the White, Caspian, Bering and Okhotsk seas. It is the first time this method will be used to count polar bears. After processing the results of the aerial survey, the researchers from the two countries will obtain data for a more precise evaluation of the number and condition of the entire seal and polar bear population in the Chukchi Sea.


The research is a joint initiative of the Marine Mammal Council, the Russian Academy of Sciences' Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution, WWF Russia, Russian Arctic National Park, the Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve and the Directorate of Taimyr Nature Reserves.