Update on the Svalbard polar bears, September 2012



Posted on 21 September 2012  | 
WWF Polar Bear Tracker

ID: N23989
Tagging date: 08.04.2012
Location: Wijdefjorden, pos: 79.5354N, 15.2337E
Age:   6 years
Length:  214 cm
Weight:  163 kg
Cubs: no cubs


This summer the waters surrounding Svalbard have been completely ice free. A fair number of bears have therefore been on land throughout the summer months, but they have not only been sitting still on land to conserve energy, several have also wandered long distances in search for food. N23989 is one of the bears that have been quite active this summer, and she has walked along the shores of northern Spitsbergen. Some weeks ago she walked north along the Wijdefjorden (the longest fjord in Svalbard) towards the north. She followed the coast into another large fjord in the north, the Woodfjorden. We have seen this summer movement behavior before, where bears walk long distances along the shoreline, often patrolling a certain stretch of coastline the entire summer. It seem that this search for food is a useful strategy, because dead marine mammals often wash up on shore and these represent a very good food source for the bears, once they find it.

ID: N26098
Tagging date: 24.04.2012
Location: Blåbukta, pos: 77.935N, 23.592E
Age:  11 years
Length:  217 cm
Weight:  220 kg
Cubs: no cubs


During the summer the collar on N26098 stopped working, and we have heard nothing from her since the end of July. We had hoped that her collar would transmit for longer than it did, but we also know that it is not uncommon that these delicate electronics fail after the strain put on them by polar bears. The fact that polar bears may spend as much time swimming as walking on land, their close association with sea ice and their strength all can explain why collars often fail. We expect a certain loss of collars but work continuously to reduce it through improved designs. N26098, however, does not care what has happened to her collar, she most probably is still on land on the southern shores of Edgeøya, where we last heard from the collar before it went silent.

ID: N26018
Tagging date:  20.04.2012
Location: Agardhbukta, pos: 78.058N, 18.928E
Age:  22 years
Length:  215 cm
Weight:  217 kg


Cubs: female yearling (N26052)
Polar bears in Svalbard seem to spend their time in summer walking along the shores in the search for something to eat. Sometimes they get lucky and they find more food than they can eat. After a long journey along Wijdefjorden, N26018 and her cub finally crossed the glaciers over to Isfjorden in midsummer. We could follow her track on our computers and wandered where she was heading, what would she do next, when her track suddenly stopped. We could tell that she was moving, but only within a few hundred meters. She seemed to walk some distance away from a point that she continuously returned to. She had obviously found something of great interest, and she intended to stay there for a long time. We then got reports that a dead whale had washed up on shore in the area, and the position fitted very well with our positions on N26018. We visited the place with our helicopter, as part of our autumn field work, and could confirm that the female and her cub both was in very good shape and that they had still had lots of food left. They will meet the winter in good condition, which is especially good news for the one and a half year old cub.

ID: N7753
Tagging date: 20.04.2012
Location: Palanderbukta, pos: 79.533N, 21.149E
Age: 23 years
Length:  201 cm
Weight:  174 kg
Cubs: male yearling (N26071)


We have had a relatively high number of satellite collar failures this spring and summer, more than usual. The collars we have used are of a new type and they give fantastic detailed and accurate data when they work properly, but on the other hand we seem to have a problem with short collar lifetimes. We will improve this in the future, but right now we there is nothing we can do about the problem. The collar on N7753 has failed transmitting GPS-positions, but we still get a position of lower accuracy determined by another method (calculated by the satellites themselves). The last good positions we got from the collar was from the southern part of Hinlopen. Now, however, it seems that the female (and her cub) have moved north to the drifting sea ice far north of Svalbard. This information is associated with some uncertainty, given the problems with the collar, but if they are real the female has moved north and must have swum a long distance to reach the ice. We have documented this kind of behavior before, so it is absolutely possible. We hope to get more data from the collar that can confirm that this is what she actually has done.

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