Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
. 24/7 Space News .

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

Polar bears crowd on Russian island in sign of Arctic change
Moscow (AFP) Nov 23, 2017

A boatload of tourists in the far eastern Russian Arctic thought they were seeing clumps of ice on the shore, before the jaw-dropping realisation that some 200 polar bears were roaming on the mountain slope.

"It was a completely unique situation," said Alexander Gruzdev, director of the Wrangel Island nature reserve where the encounter in September happened. "We were all gobsmacked, to be honest."

The bears had come to feast on the carcass of a bowhead whale that washed ashore, later resting around the food source. The crowd included many families, including two mothers trailed by a rare four cubs each, Gruzdev told AFP.

Climate change means ice, where polar bears are most at home, is melting earlier in the year and so polar bears have to spend longer on land, scientists say.

This might wow tourists but means the bears, more crammed together on coasts and islands, will eventually face greater competition for the little food there is on land.

Locals are also at risk from hungry animals venturing into villages.

Wrangel Island, off the coast of Russia's Chukotka in the northeast, is where polar bears rest after ice melts in early-August until November, when they can leave land to hunt for seals.

It is also considered the birthing centre for the species, with the highest density of maternity dens in the entire Arctic, Gruzdev said.

"A whale is a real gift for them," he said. "An adult whale is several tens of tonnes" that many bears can feed on for several months.

Studies have shown that, compared with 20 years ago, polar bears now spend on average a month longer on Wrangel Island because "ice is melting earlier and the ice-free period is longer," said Eric Regehr, from the University of Washington, the lead American scientist on the US-Russian collaborative study of Wrangel Island polar bears.

Changing ice conditions could also be responsible for the increasing number of bears flocking there, Regehr said.

This autumn, the number of bears observed was 589, far exceeding previous estimates of 200-300, he said, calling it "anomalously high".

The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates there are about 26,000 polar bears in the Arctic, with a long-term "potential for large reductions" due to ice loss.

Ice is key as polar bears hunt exclusively on the ice surface, often staking out seals by their breathing holes.

- Nothing can replace seals -

Regehr said the polar bear population in the shared US-Russian Chukchi Sea "appears to be productive and healthy" at the moment, but as time spent on land continues to increase, the bears' nutrition and body condition will be affected.

"The question is at what point the population will begin to experience negative effects, is that at one and a half months (more time on land than normal), two months, more?" he asked.

"We don't know exactly, but there is a threshold somewhere in the future."

Despite some food sources on land -- including musk oxen, lemmings, or even grass -- nothing can completely replace the energy-packed seals that bears have evolved to rely on.

"They are resourceful and adaptable animals, and some bears will probably find something to eat, but the number of bears we currently have in the Arctic definitely cannot be sustained on land," Regehr said.

That made the image of hundreds of bears around the whale carcass both impressive and concerning, he said.

"There is evidence that it foreshadows the future: larger numbers spending more time on the island and ultimately less time on the sea ice with fewer prey, with a negative cascade of effects."

- Moving walruses -

One effect is the increasing chance of conflict between polar bears and humans, for example in native Chukchi settlements, all of which are located on the coast.

Since mid-October, polar bears have been coming dangerously close to a Chukotka village called Ryrkaipy, which is located near Kozhevnikov Cape, an important site for walrus gatherings, or haulouts, that lies about 200 kilometres (about 124 miles) south of Wrangel Island.

With changing ice conditions, walruses can be forced to come ashore in steep unsuitable areas.

This year, hundreds died as the huge animals crushed one another, possibly after being disturbed by a predator, said Viktor Nikiforov, a polar bear specialist and coordinator of Marine Mammals expert centre.

The problem is that some walrus corpses then floated to the village, attracting polar bears. "One bear broke the window of a house," Nikiforov said.

The village went on high alert, forbade children to walk to school and cancelled some public events, reports said.

Nikiforov said scientists and locals used bulldozers to move walrus corpses away from the village. He echoed concerns that bears spend more time ashore as the ice-free period becomes longer.

"The concentration of people and animals in one area increases and there is conflict," he said.

"We cannot stop climate change, but we can sort out the situation on the shore and make life easier for the bears," he said, referring to measures such as bear patrols to minimise conflict with humans.

"With changes in nature, that has to be attended to."

Russian military to boost Arctic presence: commander
Moscow (AFP) Nov 3, 2017
Russia is boosting aviation infrastructure in the Arctic and will further increase its air defences there, the commander of the country's northern fleet said on Friday. Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has stepped up efforts to expand its military presence in the Arctic which has become a theatre for rival claims over a sea floor believed to be rich in minerals, oil and gas. "Every ... read more

Related Links
Beyond the Ice Age

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only

Comment using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

New motion sensors major step towards cheaper wearable technology

Can a magnetic sail slow down an interstellar probe

SSL Selected to Conduct Power and Propulsion Study for NASA's Deep Space Gateway Concept

MDA Selects AdaCore's GNAT Pro Assurance Development Platform for ISS Software

Aerojet Rocketdyne supports ULA Delta II launch of JPSS-1

Old Rivals India, China Nurture New Rivalry in Satellite Launch Business

NASA launches next-generation weather satellite

SpaceX postpones launch of secretive Zuma mission

Winds Blow Dust off the Solar Panels Improving Energy Levels

Recurring Martian Streaks: Flowing Sand, Not Water?

From Hannover around the world and to the Mars: LZH delivers laser for ExoMars 2020

NASA Selects Instrument for Future International Mission to Martian Moons

China plans for nuclear-powered interplanetary capacity by 2040

China plans first sea based launch by 2018

China's reusable spacecraft to be launched in 2020

Space will see Communist loyalty: Chinese astronaut

Space Launch plans UK industry tour

Astronaut meets volcano

European Space Week starts in Estonia

New Chinese sat comms company awaits approval

New way to write magnetic info could pave the way for hardware neural networks

Borophene shines alone as 2-D plasmonic material

Metal membranes in construction: From Russia with love

Spin current from heat: New material increases efficiency

Lava or Not, Exoplanet 55 Cancri e Likely to have Atmosphere

Images of strange solar system visitor peel away some of the mystery

Familiar-Looking Messenger from Another Solar System

Space dust may transport life between worlds, research suggests

Pluto's hydrocarbon haze keeps dwarf planet colder than expected

Jupiter's Stunning Southern Hemisphere

Watching Jupiter's multiple pulsating X-ray Aurora

Help Nickname New Horizons' Next Flyby Target

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement