Thursday, October 7, 2010

A polar bear in the yard!

What a birthday present! It never happened before in the 15 year history of the Zackenberg research station, but we knew it could. The other day - on my birthday in fact - we had a polar bear on the station itself. Polar bears have been observed before in the research area in 1998, 1999 and in 2009 but never this close. I am discounting the recent polar bear incident at Kap Breusing were a researcher luckily survived an attack but a small bear sadly had to be shot. It could have seemed from some of the media coverage that this was related to Zackenberg, but it happened 31 km from the research station at the outer coast were polar bears are much more frequent. Our sighting was not very dramatic.
Jørgen, the logistician, spotted the bear outside the new storage facility and notified Charlotte and me over the radio. We were inside the main living quarters and immediately grabbed cameras and signal pistols and went to the little wooden deck on the rear of the building. From here we saw and photographed the bear as it walked away down towards the coast. It was snowing a bit and we quickly lost it out of sight but saw some musk oxen get a bit exited. From the tracks and our pictures we could see it was a rather small bear. It has been predicted that polar bears could be more frequent visitors on land as the sea ice conditions worsen if the climate gets warmer. This would increase the likelihood of encounters. It has been hinted that this is already the case but it has not been documented with data in Greenland. The IUCN polar bear specialist group are testing a database at the moment to collect data and experiences of polar bear encounters. It will be interesting to follow the outcome of this.