Field camp on Barentsøya | WWF

Field camp on Barentsøya

Posted on
18 April 2012
After two weeks on RV Lance, we left the ship and established the field camp we have on the island Barentsøya, central in the Svalbard archipelago.

We arrived yesterday, captured two bears (a female and a male pair) a few km from the cabins in the afternoon, and got the two small cabins heated and got a trip wire set around the camp to warn about polar bears getting close. Trip wires make noise and a flare when a bear step into it, and is maybe the most important protection we have.

We wake up 6 am this morning when a bear triggered it. It turned out it had been able to get inside first without warning us, maybe because wind had accumulated snow one place so the wire was almost at ground level. The bear had chewed on the helicopter float on one side, and punctuated it. Not good news if we have to land on open water. Fortunately it had not done anything to the rotor blades.

Weather has been really nice today, and we worked all day. In the morning we marked another female-male pair close to the camp, both of them really old animals, in their mid twenties (for polar bears, that is about how old they get). After noon we located an adult female that got a satellite collar, also close to the camp. Further northeast we encountered a subadult female bear, likely a three year old. In the evening, in a nice evening sunlight, we captured a male with known age of seven.

One difference from working on a boat where you get dinner when back from the field is that in the camp we have to prepare food ourselves. Also, we have to spin blood samples to separate plasma and blood cells. However, you always feel good after such days when you have been able to handle some bears and have got samples for different important data analyses. The blood samples tell us about pollution levels and general health of the bears.

Follow these bears at the WWF Polar Bear Tracker.

By Jon Aars, Norwegian Polar Institute

Heli Routti at the Norwegian Polar Institute takes a fat biopsy sample from a sedated mother polar bear. 4 month old cubs in the foreground.
© Jon Aars / NPI
Magnus Andersen and Heli Routti, both from Norwegian Polar Institute, take blood samples from a mother polar bear, the cubs watching.
© Jon Aars / NPI