Polar bear research expedition finishes

Polar bear research expedition finishes

4 May 2018

The joint polar bear research expedition organised by Russian Arctic National Park and the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences has ended.


The research was carried out on Franz Josef Land, in particular, on the island of Alexandra Land, which is the main site of maternity dens on the archipelago.


This expedition differed from others because it was the first time scientists on the ground observed and marked polar bears in springtime on the archipelago since 1981, according to the national park’s press service.


In 2011-2012, employees of the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution marked female bears by putting tracking collars on them. However, the work was done during other seasons. This year, scientists managed to organise the expedition during the most interesting and important period of the Arctic polar bears’ life: in April female bears leave their dens together with their cubs.


Every day for four weeks, scientists searched the entire accessible and glacier-free area on Alexandra Land, except Cape Mary Harmsworth, for polar bear dens and traces. In addition, they temporarily immobilised animals, collected biological samples and attached tracking collars and individual ear tags. In accordance with the permission issued by the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources, they immobilised 10 bears: seven female bears with cubs, one adult female and two adult males. Tracking collars were put on four females. The researchers travelled around the island almost every day for four weeks and found 29 polar bears in total: 15 adults and 14 cubs born this year.


The scientists also found traces of at least another 10 predators that crossed the island (perhaps from Prince George Land) and left unique traces. They also found eight dens, including four maternity dens, three temporary ones and one undetermined. It is curious that two dens were located just five metres away from each other. One of them belonged to a single bear, while a female gave birth in the other.


Extensive material gathered during the expedition will be analysed at the laboratory of the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, and scientists will make conclusions about the animals’ health. And, what’s more important, they will monitor the movements of the four female bears with cubs to determine how they choose their homes depending on the ice floes, as well as receive updates on how climate changes affect polar bears’ life and how they adapt to the changing long-term weather patterns on Franz Josef Land.