Russian wildlife photographer Dmitry Kokh took some photos and video last year of polar bears hunkered down at an abandoned weather station on the Chukchi Sea coast and he apparently won a prize for one of them, shown below. The shots are very cool, so I’ve provided some context for the story and posted the video here.
The photos were taken on Kolyuchin Island in the Chukchi Sea, which happens to be rather close to the enormous beach complex at Cape Serdtse-Kamen (about 20 kilometres long), where some of the walrus footage was shot for the 2019 ‘Our Planet’ extravaganza that got David Attenborough into so much hot water.
Kolyuchin Island is shown in the box below: to the southeast, just across mouth of that huge lagoon, is Cape Serdtse-Kamen and about 300 km or so to the west is Cape Schmidt (south of Wrangel Island), where the ‘Our Planet’ falling walrus film was shot in 2017. The small uninhabited island is only about 11 km from the mainland.
There are also known walrus haulouts on Kolyuchin Island, see below (Kochnev 2012), so there must be good walrus feeding grounds nearby.
The weather station on Kolyuchin was built in 1934 and abandoned in the 1992, so the buildings have been empty for three decades. Two photos of the station taken in 2013 and 2014 show it without bears (courtesy Wikipedia):
As the photo below shows, the station is easily reached from the beach – by man and by bears.
Several photo essays of the bears have been published here, here and here so I’ve copied the short video below. It’s quite apparent that the photos were taken from a drone-mounted camera: you don’t get shots like these from a hand-held Nikon. You can also tell by the way some of the bears look at the camera.
It is said that this is the first year there have been bears spotted on the island – or at least at the weather station. Kokh says the photos were taken in September 2021 but given that sea ice was unusually extensive in the region last year (see the charts below for 2 and 19 September), it must have been in very early September because by the 19th, Kolyuchin Island was surrounded by ice.
Although Wrangel Island was the expedition’s destination, it sounds like the boat never made it there, likely because of the thick ice. Oddly, however, Kokh didn’t mention ice in his Instagram post. He did say that he found out later there had been fewer bears on Wrangel than expected ‘probably due to the cold summer’. That’s one way to describe what was going on.
Kochnev, A.A. 2012. Present status of the Pacific walrus in the Russian Federation. In: A Workshop on Assessing Pacific Walrus Population Attributes from Coastal Haul-outs, 19-22 March, 2012 (Anchorage, AK), USFWS Administrative Report R7/MMM 13-1, pp. 58-60. PDF here.