It appears that the male polar bear with a too-tight satellite radio collar that was photographed late last year near Kaktovik on the North Slope of Alaska has been captured and his faulty collar removed, says a statement posted on the University of Alberta website 25 August 2016. The animal was reported to be healthy and behaving normally.
As far as I can tell, no press release was issued and no media interviews have been conducted despite the strong interest in the fate of this bear last fall (previous reports here, here, and here) – I found the notice by accident while looking for something else.
Andrew Derocher and his research team from U of A have admitted they collared this bear and the Polar Bear Facts webpage where this recent statement appears was developed to deal with the many inquiries about the status of this bear (dubbed “Andy” by some).
Note the statement, copied below, does not confirm that this is indeed the same bear as was photographed last year – they just assume it is. No photo is provided of the rescued bear, although clearly some were taken. However, if it is not the same bear, then another subadult male spent the winter of 2015-2016 on the ice of the Beaufort Sea with a tight and non-functioning collar that was not about to fall off by itself.
Even though it is well known that subadult male polar bears (≤ 4 years old) continue to grow in mass and bulk as they mature – so that their thick necks get even larger – in recent years Andrew Derocher and his students at the University of Alberta potentially endangered the lives of many subadult males in the Southern Beaufort in the process of learning relatively little they didn’t already know.
Money quote from a just-accepted paper by Master’s student Jody Pongracz and supervisor Derocher (“Summer refugia of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in the southern Beaufort Sea” Polar Biology, in press 2016):
“The number of bears tracked varied over time due to collar design, deployment, and both planned and unplanned collar retention.”
So, how much “unplanned collar retention” issues [collars that did not fall off as expected] went on during this 2007-2010 study? They don’t say.
Is this paper saying U of A researchers knew they had ‘collar retention’ issues as far back as 2010 but continued to deploy them on subadult males after that study was over? It seems so, because they had an issue with just such a bear last year.
The bear with an apparently tight collar that was photographed last fall (see photo above) went out onto the ice and no one knows what happened – there has been no more information on him since, although researchers have apparently been watching for him, updated just yesterday). The University of Alberta statement says (under the June 2 update):
“Ongoing research at the University of Alberta is shifting to ear tag radios as required”
So now they realize that putting collars on subadult males is not such a good idea. Brilliant!
CBC News (28 October 2015): “Photo shows polar bear injured by tight radio collar“. See previous posts here and here. In a Global News interview (23 November 2015), Derocher admitted his team had “likely” put the collar on that bear, prompting the University of Alberta to issue a “Q & A” statement on the incident – which continues to insist that failure of collars to release is “rarely seen.”
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat, Uncategorized
Tagged Andy, Derocher, failures, problems with collars, satellite collars, sea ice, Southern Beaufort, subadult males, thick spring ice, tight collar, University of Alberta
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.
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.
I’ve updated my post from last week to reflect that an inquiry to USGS has generated a statement that the Beaufort Sea polar bear reported by CBC last week is NOT one of their bears. Apparently University of Alberta researchers were also tagging polar bears in the region.
See details in the updated post here.
Kaktovik, where the bear was photographed, is not too far from the Canadian border of the Southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation, see USGS tracking map below.
Original caption: “Movements of 3 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of October, 2015. Polar bears were tagged in 2014 and 2015 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All 3 of these bears have satellite collar transmitters. Polar bear satellite telemetry data are shown with AMSR2 remotely-sensed ice coverage for 31 October, 2015.” Click to enlarge.
How long is it going to take for the people responsible to own up to this situation – and more importantly, remove the tight collar from the bear?
All three of the females with radio collars installed by USGS last spring (see footnote below) spent October out on the sea ice – which suggests the Kaktovik female with the tight collar that made the news last week was either wearing a failed collar, USGS removed her icon from the map, or she was not wearing a USGS collar.
It is possible that the poor bear was the one represented by the purple icon from last month (see map below), the only USGS collared bear that was on shore during September and still sending signals. The bear in the above photo was photographed in Kaktovik, easy walking distance for a bear, near the end of October. The purple icon on shore in the September USGS map is no longer present this month.
As far as I know, there has been no follow-up information on the fate of this bear: we still don’t know whether the collar has yet been successfully removed.