Why were polar bears crowding Russian island?


  • A boatload of tourists in the far eastern Russian Arctic thought they were seeing clumps of ice on the shore, before the jaw-dropping realisation that some 200 polar bears were roaming on the mountain slope.
  • The bears had come to feast on the carcass of a bowhead whale that washed ashore, later resting around the food source. The crowd included many families, including two mothers trailed by a rare four cubs each.

Climate change:

  • Climate change means ice, where polar bears are most at home, is melting earlier in the year and so polar bears have to spend longer on land, scientists say.
  • This might wow tourists but means the bears, more crammed together on coasts and islands, will eventually face greater competition for the little food there is on land.
  • Locals are also at risk from hungry animals venturing into villages.
  • Changing ice conditions could also be responsible for the increasing number of bears flocking there.
  • Ice is key as polar bears hunt exclusively on the ice surface, often staking out seals by their breathing holes.
  • The polar bear population in the shared US-Russian Chukchi Sea “appears to be productive and healthy” at the moment, but as time spent on land continues to increase, the bears’ nutrition and body condition will be affected.

Wrangel Island:

  • Wrangel Island, off the coast of Russia’s Chukotka in the northeast, is where polar bears rest after ice melts in early-August until November, when they can leave land to hunt for seals.
  • It is also considered the birthing centre for the species, with the highest density of maternity dens in the entire Arctic.

Nothing can replace seals:

  • Despite some food sources on land – including musk oxen, lemmings, or even grass – nothing can completely replace the energy-packed seals that bears have evolved to rely on.
  • That made the image of hundreds of bears around the whale carcass both impressive and concerning.


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