A handful of Russian researchers are allegedly surrounded by 10 adult polar bears on a minuscule island in the middle of the Arctic ocean — and help is set to arrive in “about a month,” Russian news agency TASS reported.
The weather scientists are stationed on Troynoy island north of Siberia, where the adult bears and some of their cubs have reportedly been circling them for two weeks.
Typically, the researchers use flares and dogs to deter the bears, according to TASS, but their flare supplies have run out and one of their dogs has been killed by a bear.
Vassiliy Shevchenko, who leads the state monitoring network in charge of the station, told TASS on Tuesday that a shipment of guard dogs and flares were on their way and would reach the station in “about a month.”
“We have issued a recommendation for the station’s personnel to use extreme caution, not to leave the station without a serious need and continue only with possible meteorological observations,” Shevchenko said.
While it sounds alarming, this is hardly the first time something like this has happened. Last September, a team of Arctic Russian researchers asked the government for help after their weather station became surrounded by polar bears.
“By late summer, Arctic sea ice is at a minimum and polar bears are effectively landlocked in coastal areas eagerly awaiting the return of ice during the autumn freeze and the chance to hunt seals again,” writes Lancaster University environmental chemist Crispin Halsall in a post for The Conversation.
But it’s also the peak time of year for scientific research, since it’s the warmest and sunniest time of year.
“Polar bears are hungriest when scientists are busiest — ‘encounters’ are inevitable,” Halsall writes.
It doesn’t help that the island on which the researchers are based is tiny. At it’s longest point, it measures just 27 km, just 5 km longer than New York City’s Manhattan Island.
Still, while the situation sounds grim for the scientists, it’s perhaps equally bleak for the polar bears, who are currently listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as “vulnerable,” one category below “endangered.”
According to the IUCN, the world’s most thorough inventory of the conservation status of species, “Loss of Arctic sea ice due to climate change is the most serious threat to polar bears throughout their … range.”
The effects of global warming are felt acutely in the Arctic. In the spring, the snow is melting faster. In the winter, it is freezing more slowly. As a result during the summer, bears — not entirely unlike the scientists awaiting aid — become trapped on land. Landlocked bears are at a far greater risk of starving to death since seals, their main source of food, live in the ocean.
Shevchenko told TASS that this is not the first time a situation like this has happened, and added that the polar bears typically leave the island to look for food in October or early November, when the waters close to the shore begin the freeze.
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