Second phase of polar bear population count in Yakutia

Second phase of polar bear population count in Yakutia

15 October 2023

The second stage of the polar bear population count took place in the Bear Islands Nature Reserve in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). Scientists obtained over 25,000 high-resolution images using Orlan-10 long-range UAVs.


Processing this many images manually is time-consuming and complicated, so scientists relied on a trained neural network to count the animals. As a preliminary result, AI spotted more than 150 polar bears, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment press service. A more accurate head count and the distribution of the polar bear population across the nature reserve will be determined during the next cameral processing of the data. The collected materials also provide resources for assessing accumulated environmental damage.


“There is no other territory in the world where similar research is being conducted. There is also no data on the impact of climate change or human impact on Arctic ecosystems, or trends when it comes to the changing characteristics of the polar bear population, which confirms the importance of regular monitoring,” noted Ilya Chernook, Development Director at the autonomous non-profit organisation Ecofactor Environmental Centre and head of the expedition.


After the images have been processed, the scientists plan to create a cartographic portal of the nature reserve. There are also plans to develop a five-year programme for regular monitoring of the territories using UAVs to estimate the population size and effects of human activity.


“Keeping accounts of the animals in the Bear Islands Arctic Nature Reserve is an important part of the endangered polar bear census. Last winter, scientists spotted 864 polar bears on Wrangel Island. We will also count the population on Gerald Island and in the waters around Wrangel Island. With this data, we will know how many polar bears there are in the Russian Arctic, which is necessary for conservation programmes,” Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Alexander Kozlov said.