Trail Dispatch – Polar Bears and Arctic Hares


polarbear_01_Thumb.jpg Coordinates: 69.53.365 N, 79.27.136 W
Distance Traveled: 30 mi / 48 km
Temperature: 2 °F / -16 °C
Wind: 10-15 MPH / 16-24 KPH
Cloud Cover: Low lying clouds with blowing snow
Sunrise: 3:15 a.m.
Sunset: 11:20 p.m.

It wasn’t the barking of 40 dogs that made me spring from my sleeping bag at two in the morning, though they did wake me from my dreaming. It was the sound of men’s voices, the shuffling of feet in the snow, and the opening of the rifle cases. By the time I heard Stetson announce, “polar bear,” I was already halfway out of the tent. Sure enough, there he was, a mere 40 yards from camp, a male bear weighing close to 1,000 pounds, swinging his long neck back and forth, catching our scent on the wind.

Intersecting wolf and caribou tracks. A shot was fired into the air to ward him off, but he seemed undeterred. Still curious, he came closer. A second shot was fired, and this time he responded, turning quickly and running out into the bay.

Everyone was out of their tents far enough to at least see the bear. Ed was able to capture

polarbear_02.jpg

most of it on film and Sam snapped the photo you see here. The next morning, Elizabeth walked out to where the bear’s tracks lay in the snow — 25 yards, she reported, from camp.

Polar bear tracks aren’t the only prints we’ve seen in the snow. Caribou, wolf, fox, lemming, and Arctic hare have all crossed our path at one time or another. If we are observant enough, the tracks can give a good picture of what the animal is up to (running, hunting, eating, denning). More than a few times we have come across the tracks of two different species traveling in the same line (caribou and wolf, fox and lemming). What we realize, if we pay attention, is that we are witnessing predator vs. prey interaction.

The Arctic is a year-round home to a relatively small variety of animals that have the unique ability to survive a harsh northern environment. Global warming has consequences for animals at all levels of the Arctic food chain, from the krill, to the seal, to the polar bear and everyone in between. Population decline anywhere along the chain has a bigger impact in the Arctic than it might in a warmer climate where there are more animals to fill each niche.

The increase in non-native species migrating north is also a concern in the warming Arctic. These non-native species compete with native species for limited resources in an already fragile food web, creating more stress on the ecosystem.

polarbear_03.jpgKnowing these things, we do not take these tracks for granted, as the story they tell may be different in years to come. We are grateful to get a glimpse of an animal as magestic and awesome as the polar bear and wish him well as he navigates his way through this changing world…we are equally grateful he didn’t over-stay his visit to our little camp.

Hoping for a peaceful nights sleep,

Abby

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