A mounted polar bear leaps after a ringed seal in a diorama in the Yellowknife Airport, Northwest Territories. Polar bears require patience in hunting. Patience also applies to Arctic fieldwork.

© Dr. Andrew Derocher

5/29/2013 11:42:33 PM

Patience a Prerequisite

Some field seasons are just different and the spring of 2013 proved to be particularly difficult. My plan was to head to Viscount Melville Sound in the Canadian Archipelago with my PhD student, Nick Pilfold, and pilot Pat Fonseca.

The Viscount Melville Sound polar bear study population, one of the smallest anywhere, is shared between the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. It lies to the north of Banks Island and Victoria Island and extends northward to 77°N. 

Our objective was to help out with a population study being run by the Northwest Territories government (Jodie Pongracz) and Environment Canada (Evan Richardson). No population inventory work has occurred here for about 20 years, and it was time to see if the area had recovered from earlier overharvesting. The last inventory had the population at about 161 polar bears, down from 500-600 bears previously.

The trouble was, we couldn't get to the study area. In a rush to head north (helicopter charters are cheaper in April), I finished lecturing at the university and we hopped on a plane the next day to head northward. After a brief stop in Yellowknife, we pulled into Inuvik in the early afternoon ready to load up the helicopter for the 560-mile trip.

A weather check of conditions further north put the end to that plan. Ten days and several blizzards later, we made a move in a window of weather that meant a longer trip, but it was our first chance and we were itching to go. We stopped in Paulatuk for fuel, then on to Sachs Harbour with a goal of reaching Polar Bear Cabin in Aulavik National Park on the northern end of Banks Island.

About 50 miles from Sachs Harbour, a little light on the instrument panel flicked on saying "fuel pump." I'm kind of twitchy about warning lights in helicopters, and I knew we were in for some additional delays. After three days at Kuptana's Guest Lodge in Sachs Harbour, and a new fuel pump, we were on our way again. We finally arrived at Polar Bear Cabin on April 30th. Better a slow start to the season than no start!

See part two of this series: Polar Bear Cabin and Beyond

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