Wildlife Encounters; the tundra edition

Snakes, spiders, wolves, bears, sharks and even mosquitoes; most places on Earth have wildlife that may be dangerous or even lethal. When you work outside, scientists need to be constantly aware of their surroundings and know enough about their study site to know what can and cannot hurt them. Being safe is the number one priority.

A wise wise man once told me that conducting research on the arctic tundra is much like playing checkers in the middle of a busy intersection. You look down a lot but that needs to be paired with looking up and being aware of your surroundings. We Arctic researchers become masters of the “tundra scan”; every once in a while you need to get your head up, eyes in the binoculars and scan the horizon in a 360° safety check.

Our study site; East Bay Southampton Island Nunavut Canada. The landscape is very flat but also very heterogeneous.
Our study site; East Bay Southampton Island Nunavut Canada. The landscape is very flat but also very heterogeneous.

It’s amazing what the untrained eye can be missing without a little help in the magnification department. For the super serious scans and shorebird behavioural assessments we’ve been using our spotting scope graciously provided for us from KEEN Canada (VORTEX CANADA- my eyes in the Arctic).

The top predator we encounter is the polar bear.

A resting polar bear.

Did you know:

  1. An adult polar bear can reach up to 40 km/hr in a sprint
  2. Polar bears have very special heat absorbing hair:

    Arctic Facts: Polar Bear Technology

     

    3. They have an amazing sense of smell. Polar bears can smell a seal on the ice 32 km away! Seals are their main source of food.  (www.livescience.com)

4. Polar bears weigh 1 pound when they are born and grow to full adult weight in 8-14 years for males and 5-6 years for females. If the average male polar bear weighs somewhere between 775-1200 lbs (as reported by www.livescience.com), then the male is on average 987 lbs and grows to that full weight in 11 years. Well…..that means male polar bears grow 90 lbs a year!

All that being said, working around polar bears is very serious but with the right safety protocols, it’s manageable. Polar bear sightings are not rare but they are certainly not common at our study site. Regardless, seeing one (or even two) can really get the blood pumping.

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