Russian polar bear scientist critical of using radio collars

In an update to an earlier story from last month about a male polar bear spotted near Kaktovik with a tight satellite radio collar, a Russian biologist has voiced some some serious criticisms of the use of these devises.

polar-bear-radio-collar_CBC Oct 28 2015

In another news outlet, Andrew Derocher has finally admitted publicly that the Kaktovik bear with the tight collar is a male and is”likely his” (Global News, 23 November 2015; “Is this polar bear really being choked by a research collar?”). The male bear appears to have been fitted with a collar some time between 2007 and 2011. The collar should have fallen off by now but hasn’t. Derocher suggested maybe the collar isn’t really too tight and the blood might not belong to the bear. And that if the bear really wanted the collar off, he “…will be able to remove it himself.”

The criticisms of the use of collars are well worth reading.

UPDATE 25 November 2015: Another CBC report, not much more useful information except confirmation this is a male bear.

Martin Zeilig, in an article published by CBC News late today (23 November 2015; “Polar bear’s plight renews debate about researchers’ use of radio collars”), quoted Russian IUCN PBSG member Dr. Nikita Ovsyanikov about the use of collars in polar bear research:

But Dr. Nikita Ovsyanikov, a Russian wildlife biologist who has spent many years studying polar bears on Wrangel Island in northern Siberia, said collars are no longer necessary and their continued use is slowing development of less invasive technology.

Satellite tracking by collaring bears was critically important for science at early stages of population research, when it was not known how bears are distributed, what are their spatial patterns and what is population structure of the species,” he said in an email.

For the last number of years, the collars have not brought any essential new knowledge about polar bear biology and population structure, he said.

“Although it has been run for decades, for most populations, it does not answer basic questions on population size, does not explain drivers of observed trends and, in some cases, fails to reveal trends or leaves trends questionable,” he explained.

There are recently developed non-invasive methods that allow scientists to collect essential data about population trends, environmental factors, genetics and related information, Ovsyanikov said.

“Non-invasive methods may be more difficult for scientists, but [they’re] usually less expensive, not unethical, and they are not interfering with normal animal life, thus are methodologically more correct.”

There are many examples of how invasive methodology is impacting polar bears, he said, but most such instances are either ignored or misinterpreted by scientists.

Ovsyanikov said invasive science typified by what happened to the Alaska polar bear is “exactly the same as sophisticated torture” of the Middle Ages in human history.

“The animal is left to slowly die in pain and suffering,” he said.

“This is the most cynical and immoral example of what animal science can do to animals and how immoral it can be.” [my bold]

Read the rest here.

Another perspective on this collared bear from Kelsey Eliasson at PolarBearAlley (here and here). I may have more to say on this later.

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