Update on the Svalbard bears | WWF
Update on the Svalbard bears

Posted on 26 June 2012


N7753 and her cub have done some interesting things this spring. They set out on a trip along the longest glacier front in Svalbard, but must at some point have regretted the choice of route, because they turned around and walked back the same way they came. Then they moved out on the little ice that was present in the area and managed to move over to the island south in the Hinlopen Strait. After being on land for some time, they went out on the ice again and started to move south east. When looking at ice maps this area has almost no ice at the moment, but still the little family manages to stay quite far off shore. Bears seem to require very little ice to be able to move and presumably hunt if they have no other choice. It is however far from ideal and it must cost quite a bit of energy to stay in such a dynamic environment, where everything is moving and melting around them. Sea ice in this area is about to disappear altogether, so sooner or later these bears will have to go on to land.


During the last weeks this female has really explored the northers shores of Spitsbergen. During late winter she remained in the inner part of Wijdefjorden where some ice formed late in the season. Ice conditions has generally been very bad this winter, but where the ice formed bears had good hunting conditions with lots of ringed seals hauled out on the ice. After the ice melted this spring N23989 started wandering along the shore lines of the northern fjords. At one point she swam across the mouth of the Wijdefjorden and continued into the Wood and Liefdefjorden area. This area has some very active glaciers and it is common to see ringed and bearded seal hauled out on the glacier icebergs floating in the fjords. This creates opportunities for bears to hunt seals even when the sea ice is gone for the season.


N26098 spent a long period of time on the only ice that still remained in the region, in the area between Barentsøya and Kong Karls Land, before that ice slowly started disappearing too. At one point the positions we got from the collar formed an unexpected and strange pattern. The collar moved in a circular pattern to the south west, and we became suspicious that something was wrong. The collar seemed to follow the path of the ice drift, with the circles being the effect of tidal currents. We believe that the bear has lost the collar on the ice and for some time recorded its drift path. It is of course unfortunate if we are right and that the collar actually has fallen off, but it happens sometimes, and it is nothing we can do about it. Polar bear are extremely hard on the equipment we give them and even the best designed collars sometimes break and fall off.


Some bears just surprise us with their travelling. N26018 has been captured several years in the same area and we were pretty sure that she would stay there in summer as well. Then she and her cub crossed land over to the inner parts of Isfjorden on the west coast of Spitsbergen and then suddenly they decided to head for the pack ice north of Svalbard, presumably because there are seals on the ice there that they can hunt. They set forth on a long journey straight north, walking on land and swimming to get to the northernmost islands of the Svalbard archipelago, called Sjuøyane. We have seen bears use this route before and it is the best way to reach the drifting pack ice of the north at a time when ice is melting further south in the archipelago. It is however risky, because how can they know that there still is ice to walk on further north? They cannot know how the conditions are this year, but maybe their experience says it usually is possible to reach the ice? We will follow their journey and see if they manage to reach the ice.
Svalbard polar bear tracker