10/24/2014 12:44:06 PM

A Day in the Life of a Citizen Scientist

Anyone can play a role in helping to advance polar bear science. The goal of our Citizen Science Project is to work with guests aboard a Tundra Buggy® as they help with collecting data on polar bears—all non-invasively. 

We encourage Tundra Buggy® guests to help us gather information on the polar bears we encounter during the day—including their body condition, age and sex, and group composition. We use a standardized card to assess how much fat is on each polar bear, and take photographs that are later used to measure how big each polar bear is.

A lot of preparation goes into conducting research projects, and the Citizen Science Project that PBI does with Frontiers North Adventures is no exception. Schedules can often be really busy, especially working in the unpredictable north. It is very important to always be prepared.

Here is what a typical day for a polar bear citizen scientist looks like: 

06:30 - Wake up, prepare for the day and pack equipment - not forgetting back ups!

07:00 - Take transport to the Tundra Buggy® launch.

07:30 - Arrive at the Tundra Buggy® launch; begin setting up the buggies for guests.

08:33 - Depart on a tour full of guests eager to see polar bears.

09:00 - Realize our heater is broken; bundle up in warm sweaters and jackets, knowing that the polar bears are worth it!

10:05 - Sight our first bear at a long distance; make group decision to move on so we can view another bear at a closer distance.

10:32 - Spot an adult female and her two small cubs of year (COYs) snuggled up close to one another by the Tundra Buggy® Lodge.

11:13 - Spot an adult male polar bear just east of the Tundra Buggy® Lodge - he stands up and is in a position where citizen scientists can collect good photographs that will help us measure body traits and determine the body condition of the bear. I teach the group how to use the polar bear fatness index card, so we can visually assess how much fat is on each bear. Group determines the bear to be a 3 - an average rating of fatness.

11:30 - I give the group an overview of the research that we are doing from the buggies and answer any questions they have about polar bears, Churchill, and Hudson Bay.

12:00 - LUNCH! We warm up with a bowl of hot soup and sandwiches as we continue discussing polar bear ecology and how to collect data from the buggies.

1:13PM - Someone in the group spots a young female; the Tundra Buggy® slowly makes its way closer to her and she stands up and poses for the citizen science camera! EXCELLENT! Our group gets great shots and we assess her body condition as a 3 - or average.

1:37 - Bear Drive By! This happens when we see a bear that is curled up in the willows, which provide protection from Churchill's gusting winds.

2:00 - Spot a bear laying along the coast at Gordon Point; at first it blends in, looking like a giant boulder amongst hundreds of other boulders at low tide - we don't get any great photographs, though, for use in measuring body condition.

2:20 - See a large adult male. The group is eager to assess the body condition of this bear and we all agree he is a 3 - a big boy! We notice that the male has scars on his nose, and we record that information, as it will help us ID him later in the day or on future tour days.

2:30 - Spot a bear laying down right along the coast of Hudson Bay, about 100 meters from the trail. When polar bears are lying down we aren't able to assess their fatness as easily as when we see the bears standing up. When this happens, the guests and I still record that we saw a bear, but note that we were unable to assign a fatness index score.

3:00 - Time to head back along the Tundra Buggy® trail system to return to the launch; there, guests board a bus and head back to town.

4:07 - Tundra Buggy® tour ends.

4:30 - The buggy drivers and I clean up the buggies and return back to Churchill.

5:04 - Home! After a day out collecting data, it's now time for me to upload all the photographs and GPS data we gathered to our computer. I then analyze the data to get a better idea of the body condition the bears we encountered that day.

9:30 - Sleep!

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