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What’s new with the Svalbard polar bears?

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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

N26135 is continuing her journey far into Russian territory. She crossed the Barents Sea, walked south of Franz Josef Land, passed the northern tip of Novaya Zemlya and continued all the way to the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago. The ice edge has been receding in a north easterly direction and N26135 has continuously followed the ice.

During the last weeks she has moved to the north, again presumably a response to the ice conditions in the area. In the beginning of September she was at about 82 degrees north and 91 degrees east — that is very far away from Svalbard!

During the next month or so the seasonal ice melt will slow down as temperatures drop, and soon we will see a growing amount of ice again. We are following the movements of N26135 closely and cross our fingers that her collar will continue to transmit, so that we are able to document more of this fascinating journey.

Polar bear N23637

The difference in movement patterns between polar bears tagged in the same area in Svalbard is striking, as seen when we compare N23637 and N26135. Where one is crossing oceans the other is simply walking back and forth on a stretch of coastline of less than 100 km.

N23637 is constantly moving, slowly but surely along the coast. She may stop for a few days in one spot, but then continue. We believe that she is searching for food, both marine and terrestrial, and making use of whatever she can find, be it a carcass, plant material or maybe a seal on a piece of drifting glacier ice. She probably knows this area like the back of her paw, and has walked here since she was a cub, together with her mother for the first two years.

Research has shown that several generations of polar bears may stay more or less within the same area in Svalbard, using the same general region for denning and hunting in the same fjords. Fall has come to Svalbard now, the night is darker and the temperature is dropping below zero. Soon the mountain tops will be covered by snow. The bears are waiting for winter to come, and for the ocean to freeze up again.

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