Ilya Mordvintsev: Research continued in 2020 despite the pandemic

Ilya Mordvintsev: Research continued in 2020 despite the pandemic

24 December 2020

In 2020, despite all the difficulties, researchers from the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the Russian Academy of Sciences continued to study islands and archipelagos in the Russian Arctic.


According to the institute’s lead researcher, Ilya Mordvintsev, in August scientists conducted aerial surveys in trial mode to count polar bears and marine mammals, using an LA-8 amphibious aircraft as part of the Master of the Arctic environmental project. The project was supported by the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor) and the Arctic Initiatives Centre.


Based on the aerial and visual observations and the photographs taken during aerial surveys, the researchers could estimate the number and distribution of polar bears, Atlantic walruses and white whales in summer along the coast, as well as on the islands and in the Kara and Pechora seas. 


Mordvintsev said that in October, during the ice-free period, researchers used helicopters to continue to monitor, as they do every year, polar bears on the islands in the Kara Sea within the boundaries of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area. They identified patterns in the distribution and behaviour of the polar bears that stay on the islands of Bely and Vilkitsky. They also assessed the physical and physiological condition of the animals and the sources of food available to them.


“In October and November, specialists analysed the reasons behind conflicts involving polar bears that had been recorded near the settlement of Belushya Guba on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago,” Mordvintsev said. “This was done under the programme for researching the polar bear, developed by the Russian Academy of Sciences and supported by the Russian Geographical Society, in keeping with the comprehensive programme for preventing human-polar bear conflicts on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago.”


The specialists also caught and satellite-tagged polar bears to be able to monitor their migration routes in the area of Novaya Zemlya. 


This year, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment worked hard to develop a new strategy for polar bear conservation in the Russian Federation until 2030. The Severtsov Institute developed and submitted a number of articles and regulations for the draft strategy to the ministry.


Mordvintsev noted: “Those who worked on this important document were guided by the consideration that in order to preserve the polar bear for the next generations, it is necessary to take unconventional measures in many areas that aim to prevent or minimise the negative impact the warming climate and human activities are having on the polar bear.”  


This spring, the coronavirus pandemic did not allow specialists to conduct annual polar bear research at the time when female polar bears were leaving their maternity dens on Alexandra Land of the Franz Josef Land archipelago. Mordvintsev said he hoped the work would resume in April 2021.