Tracks in the Snow

5/3/2011 7:42:59 AM

Tracks in the Snow

Once the storm lifted, we had an incredible run of good weather over the following two weeks - almost too good! After the winds dropped and the snow settled, the tracking conditions were wonderful. We could easily pick up tracks and follow them to the bears.

Helicopter hovering over evidence of a seal kill

Given that we were targeting mothers with young, good tracking snow makes it easy to be sure you're on the right set of tracks. Being able to follow a polar bear for a few days gives us lots of data on their movements and allows them to lay a long snaking path for us to follow. 

Polar bear cub

The downside of all the good weather came when we could no longer assess how fresh the tracks were: is the bear one day or seven days away? The difference is huge with major ramifications for those prone to airsickness. Twisting and spinning to follow a trail above sea ice can churn the stomachs of many.

Following tracks for an hour is hard but a good return on the helicopter time. If we have to follow a seven-day trail, there's a good chance that we'll run out of fuel and have to abandon the tracks.

After almost two weeks without any wind or snow, the Beaufort Sea was like a polar bear barnyard, criss-crossed by trails in the snow. Nonetheless, we were able to find the bears we needed and deploy the collars. These collars provide six GPS locations per day and relay this information to a satellite, which sends the data to us by e-mail. After two years, an automated drop-off opens and the collar slips off.

The team works swiftly to put a collar on a bear

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