After three weeks of moving gear from A to B, from B to C, from C to A, and carrying it all over again, many times, our groundwork is complete. We did it!

With the invaluable help of our partners, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and the Norwegian Polar Institute, we successfully deployed remote camera systems in front of five (maybe six) polar bear dens as part of our Maternal Den Study.

Why “maybe six,” you ask? Well, one of the locations we arrived at had two den openings about 60 meters from each other. This could be one polar bear female making herself another shelter, right next to the old den she emerged from. Or it could mean that we found a neighbor of the female that we’ve tracked since last spring.

Geoff York and Christian Zoelly in Svalbard with the Den Cam

Photo: Hilde Fålun Strøm / Hearts in the Ice

Geoff York and Christian Zoelly in the field in Svalbard.

To cover the possibility of a second den, we set up our camera system at a good distance, with both den openings in one frame. But, as with most of the questions in this study, we’ll need to wait until the cameras are retrieved later this year to see the recorded footage! Stay tuned.

The images and footage the cameras provide give us a priceless insight into the first moments of polar bear families emerging from their dens in spring. This sensitive period of a polar bear’s life is a critical compromise, even without pressure from environmental changes. Polar bear mothers need to hunt again, as they have been providing for their cubs for months without eating, but cubs benefit from spending time in the den. The longer they remain protected in the den, the bigger they are likely to be when they head outside and experience the harsh conditions of the Arctic spring.

The team deploying a den cam in Svalbard

Photo: Geoff York / Polar Bears International

In the field to deploy a den cam.

Thanks to the footage collected by the cameras, we gather information about the timing of the emergence, the environmental conditions, and the state of the females and cubs – crucial information that will help inform better conservation measures across polar bear habitat.