First Camera of the Season

3/7/2013 1:34:17 PM

First Camera of the Season

BJ Kirschhoffer

Today is March 5, 2013 and a day before my 30th birthday. Over the past five years I’ve spent my special day on the North Slope of Alaska working with Dr. Tom Smith’s Maternal Den Study. Although I am away from home missing my friends, family, and cake, I always get the gift of having the complete freedom to snowmobile across the frozen sea ice above the Arctic Circle.

This place is so spectacular and today was no exception. The slow steady arctic sunrise left the sky ablaze is pastel colors for over an hour and the wind carried only small bits of snow across the ground, shaping it into beautiful carved drifts like choppy waves frozen in place.

Last week Tom, Wes, and I located two potential polar bear dens with a FLIR camera. Today it was our job to install the first camera on one of these locations so we can record the family’s behavior after they emerge without disturbing them. The job involved snowmobiling nine miles to the east, directly into a 25 MPH headwind. Most of the snow has been locked into drifts so not much of the white stuff was blowing around in the air. This allowed the bright and almost warm rays of sun to be cast across the white landscape.

Upon arriving at the location where we planned to set our camera, Wes and I quickly worked together to assemble the table our system sits on. Next we placed the heavy cooler containing our camera and batteries on top and fired up the small electric heater that keeps the electronics warm. Next we installed the actual camera and hard drive that records any polar bear behavior at the den. We placed the solar panel that keeps the system charged adjacent to the heater with the photovoltaic cells pointing south towards the sun. The final step was to configure the camera with a computer to ensure the clock and HHD are operating correctly. We discovered before departing the fuse between the solar panel and batteries had blown due to the fact it was too small. Wes and I quickly bypassed the fuse with some wire we salvaged from the volt meter. This proved successful and with everything done we pointed our sleds for home, which could be seen in the distance even at nine miles away.

The drive back was peaceful. Knowing we had done a good job, Wes and I held our heads high and because we were traveling with the wind we felt no breeze on our necks. I even got to the point of feeling too warm with the bright sun in my face and only -10°F temperatures outside. We’re looking to forward to going out tomorrow to setup another camera about 30 miles to the east of here. We’re hoping for good weather and good luck.

Snowmobiling across the Alaskan Arctic is part of the work and fun of doing maternal den studies.
© Polar Bears International

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