Siberia – Five Russian scientists, who are in charge of the weather station on Troynoy Island, were forced to stop their work after a pack of about ten adult bears — four of which were females with cubs — practically laid siege against them.
One of the two dogs stationed with the scientists was killed and eaten, a window was smashed, and there was great worry that the bears would get a hold of the crew’s year-long food supply.
The quest began on August 31 when one of the bears hunted and ate one of the dogs living with the scientists. Help finally arrived on Wednesday, when a small rescue team managed to scare off the bears with their dogs and flares.
The five researchers had done their best to fend off the wild animals, using their flares — but panicked after quickly burning through their supply of pyrotechnical devices. Since they could not effectively scare off the bears, they could not leave the relative safety of their hut.
As stated by the station commander Vladimir Plotnikov in an interview with the Russian news agency Tass, the bears were “practically sleeping under the windows.”
The heroic rescue
However, just yesterday help managed to arrive. Armed with their dogs and flares, the rescuers managed to scare off the pack of polar bears. Additionally, they delivered via helicopter three extra dogs and an unspecified number of flares to the researchers.
Plotnikov has said that the meteorological operations have successfully resumed. Additional assistance in the form of a proper resupply ship is expected to arrive in approximately another month, equipped with more dogs and pyrotechnical devices.
“We have advised station personnel to be on high alert, not leave the building unless necessary,” says Vasily Shevchenko, head of the Sevgidromet State Monitoring Network, which is Russia’s northern meteorological service.
Shevchenko, who is also in charge of the station where the incident occurred, told the local Russian press about the resupply ship that is expected to arrive within a month. He also clarified that the incident is not much different from others that had happened previously on the island.
Russia’s federal weather watching service has been tasked with ensuring the safety of the researchers at Troynoy Island, as instructed by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Sergey Donskoy.
The incident is not the first and won’t be the last time polar bears accost researchers in the remote Arctic. Just last year, a team of scientists stationed at the Vaygach Island was forced to leave because of bears that decided to camp right outside their weather station.
The Arctic has become unpleasant for the bears
These incidents have been increasing in the recent years, and it’s been speculated that the ever present problem of global warming might be at fault.
Around four and six polar bears tend to spend their summer months on the island. However, about ten were stranded on the island, according to Plotnikov.
A recent study published in the journal The Cryosphere found a decline in ice-covered days in every region of the Arctic where polar bears live.
Polar bears use sea ice to hunt, and this means the less time they can spend in the sea ice is less food they can eat, forcing them to scavenge on dry land.
As time passes and this behavior becomes more frequent, the scientific community worries that this means the bears will soon start suffering from malnourishment, or even begin to starve.
Besides the problem this poses to the bears themselves — an endangered species, registered in both the Red Book of Russia and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as such — this also means that desperate bears are more likely to get close to the few human settlements, such as weather stations with researchers and their supplies, and endanger both their lives and the lives of people.
About 25,000 bears are estimated to live in the wild, split up in nineteen subpopulations all through the Arctic.
The scientists found in their study that in seventeen of these subpopulations, the ice retreats on Spring have been happening earlier, and in sixteen the sea ice advance was considered to be coming later than normal.
The changes, recorded in satellite data from 1979 through 2014, show a change rate in these phenomena of about three to nine days every decade, with the earlier spring melts closely associated to the later fall freezes in most cases.
Adding to these troubling results, the concentration of sea ice in the summers have been declining one to nine percent in most regions.
The total number of “ice days” the bears had at their disposal to hunt and eat has been reduced between seven and nineteen days every decade. The situation looks grim for the polar bears, as models have shown that ice-free Arctic summers could be expected by mid-century.
One of the authors of the study, Kristin Laidre, a polar bear expert and principal scientist at the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington, says that she hopes these results lead to a positive influence in decision-making at the higher levels, moving policies about climate and greenhouse gas emissions.