Since 2003, WWF has partnered with the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) to track Svalbard polar bears by satellite. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, rapidly altering the sea ice that polar bears depend upon. This research helps scientists understand how polar bears are adapting to changing ice conditions. You can follow the bears here.
Here’s what the Svalbard bears have been up to this summer and fall:
During late summer and early fall, Snovit mainly moved along the shores of the fjord with some shorter trips inland, always returning to the beach.
There’s no sea ice in this fjord now and there won’t be for a few months. She must rely on sources of food other than her favourite, ringed seals, which won’t be available to her until ice freeze up in early winter.
As in previous years, polar bear N23980 took a trip further north on Svalbard this summer before returning to her favourite fjord, where she has been patrolling the shores and taking a few short trips inland.
She has now been completely land-based for several months. However, she’s still moving around quite a bit, challenging the idea that polar bears on land in summer stay put to save energy.
She must find some food to keep her going, however – presumably a mixed diet of both marine and terrestrial origin.
Of the bears we’re following on Svalbard, N26165 has the most restricted movement pattern. She’s hardly moved outside the fjord where she was tagged in April 2015.
After the sea ice melted in early summer, she has been on land, patrolling the beaches and swimming to small islands nearby.
In particular, she’s spent a lot of time near the largest glacier front in the fjord, where she could be hunting seals that have climbed, or hauled out, onto floating pieces of glacier ice. Polar bears in Svalbard quite frequently hunt seals in this habitat. They’re good at it too, even though hauled out seals are suspicious and wary.
As the distance between the coast and sea ice around Svalbard increases, pregnant polar bears on the drift ice face a major challenge – how do they get back to land in time to dig a maternity den?
N26243, aka Isdimma3, spent about spending about two and a half months in the drift ice this summer. By July, the distance between land and ice was quite significant. Luckily, she managed to reach the coast by moving on very loose drift ice and swimming long distances.
It must be important for her to get onto land, say the researchers, since her hunting opportunities would probably be better out on the ice. It’s possible that she’s looking for a suitable denning location, and staying with the ice would jeopardize her chances to reach land later in the fall.