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Svalbard polar bears – where are they now?

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In April 2013, our partners at the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) began tracking a number of polar bears on Svalbard using GPS-enabled collars. Here’s an update on two of the bears from NPI’s Magnus Andersen. See all bears on the Polar Bear Tracker.

Polar bear N26135

During the past few months, N26135 has walked all the way from the Svalbard archipelago
, across the Barents Sea, past Franz Josef Land and finally ended up at Severnaya Zemlja. From her GPS track and daily sea ice maps, it seems like she has been forced to the east by the receding ice edge, or at least she has stayed with the ice as the edge has moved further and further east. At one point a few weeks ago, she moved onto land and followed the shore for some time before some sea ice returned to the area and she could go out on the ocean again. The past week, she has been moving in large circles out on the ice west of Severnaya Zemlja, presumably hunting seals. The winter is returning to the Arctic, and sea ice is again expanding southward and westward. We are following her movements with excitement, wondering whether or not she will move over towards Svalbard again during the coming winter.

Polar bear N23637

Winter has returned to Svalbard, and some polar bears have already entered their maternity dens.
For those bears that will not den this year (only pregnant females do), land is still the only available habitat for them – even if the temperature has dropped below freezing, sea ice has still not formed. Higher sea water temperatures in recent years also means that ice forms at a slower rate, so sea ice habitat useful for seal hunting is still weeks away. N23637 has spent several months on land in the southern part of Spitsbergen, Svalbard, patrolling the shores in search for a number of potential food items, such as stranded carcasses of seals and whales, sea birds and their eggs and reindeer carcasses. However, for most polar bears it is the seal hunting that really matters in the long run, and to be a successful seal hunter polar bears must be able to move on sea ice where seals haul out to rest. N23637 is patiently waiting, like she has done every fall, we suspect. We believe she is representative of the local bears in Svalbard that never leave the archipelago – unlike N26135, who walked all the way to Severnaya Zemlja.

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