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Another beautiful day in the Arctic

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In early April, WWF’s Bering and Arctic Sea program officer, Elisabeth Kruger, traveled to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service field office in the Arctic to assist with interpretation for our Moscow colleague, Natalia Illarionova.

In these blog posts, Elisabeth describes her experiences on the Arctic slope and the work that the FWS does to help us understand the Chukchi Sea polar bear population.

The study is conducted over US waters, just miles from Russia.  Exchanges such as this between Russian and American biologists will help to foster a similar research program in Russia.

Read the previous post here.

April 12, 2011

By Elizabeth Kruger

This is the last day Natalia and I will be flying with the team before we head back to Anchorage, so we are happy to see blue skies in the morning.  After breakfast, we prep for the day and pack up the helicopters.

We see track after track all morning, but all of them appear to be old.  We flew northwest today, in search of larger male bears.  They have definitely been spending a lot of time here, but we have yet to sight a bear.

Ice views from the helicopter. Photo: Elizabeth KrugerIce views from the helicopter. Photo: Elizabeth Kruger

Just as we’re starting to think about refueling, we get a call from Eric and Michelle.  They’ve found a bear!  They give us their GPS coordinates, and we join them on the ground.

This bear has been captured before, both in 2009 and 2010, and still has a good set of ear tags and ID number tattoos.  We take samples and measurements, which will be compared to the data from this same bear in previous years.

Ear tag. Photo: Elizabeth KrugerEar tag. Photo: Elizabeth Kruger

Because he has been captured before, we know that this bear is 16 years old and has previously weighed around 1100 pounds.  This year he’s a little heavier at 1127, and he’s looking good.

When we were done with this bear, our helicopter had to return to the port for fuel.  While we were gone, Eric and Michelle were able to find and process another large male.

We were disappointed to miss out on the last bear, but the views from the helicopter almost made up for it.

Views from the helicopter. Photo: Elizabeth KrugerViews from the helicopter. Photo: Elizabeth Kruger

Back at camp, we hand off the samples to Tom for processing and grab a hot meal.  Natalia goes through the lab one more time, photographing everything and asking lots of questions before we head to bed.

April 13, 2011

It’s another beautiful day in the Arctic, and Eric, Michelle and Tom head out in the helicopters just before lunch.  Natalia and I are sad to leave, but we all express our hopes of meeting again, perhaps on the Russian side next time.  We wish the team a great day and good weather for the rest of their time in the North with the great white bears, and watch them fly off in the helicopters for another day of bear spotting.

After a few more hours, it’s time for Natalia and I to fly back to Anchorage, where it feels like spring in comparison to the white wintery North.

The team. Photo: Elizabeth KrugerThe team. Photo: Elizabeth Kruger

Howard Reed (helicopter pilot), Michelle St. Martin (USFWS polar bear biologist), Tom Evans (USFWS polar bear biologist), Natalia Illarionova (polar bear biologist at the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Nature Conservation), Dr. Eric Regehr (USFWS polar bear biologist), Elisabeth Kruger (WWF Arctic and Bering Sea Program Officer)

Learn more about polar bears on the WWF Global Arctic Programme polar bear species page.

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