Notes from the Field

Polar Bear Visits Polarstern

April 28th, 2020 by Steven Fons/NASA GSFC

A polar bear checks out the “DroneVille” tent on the MOSAiC floe. Photo by Julia Schmale.

This past week we had the first polar bear sighting of leg 3. In the early morning hours, a curious male polar bear walked through the Central Observatory, checked out a few installations, played with a rubber fender, and continued on to about 800 meters from the ship. There it sat near a small crack in the ice for almost two hours, likely waiting for a seal to surface. It caused no damage and, given that no one was outside working at the time, led to very minor disruptions in our work.

Here on MOSAiC, we are always prepared for the possibility of seeing a polar bear while out on the ice. For one, our logistic team is incredibly experienced when it comes to working in regions where polar bears are present. During working hours, two logistics members are stationed on the ship – one on the bridge and one on the stern – with the job of scanning the horizon for polar bears and communicating with teams on the ice. Additionally, each scientist on MOSAiC was required to complete a polar bear safety course prior to coming onto the ship, which included a section on rifle safety. When out on the ice, each science party must have a “polar bear guard” with them whose sole task is to keep a careful watch for polar bears. The polar bear guard carries a rifle and a safety flare gun with them at all times as a precaution. The comforting news from the logistic team is that in their combined 50+ of years of experience in the Arctic, none of them have ever had to use a rifle on a polar bear.

Steven (left) participating in the rifle safety refresher course on the ice near Polarstern while the rest of the group watches on. Photo by Michael Gutsche. 

It was pretty exciting to see a polar bear outside of a zoo for the first time. However, it also served as a gentle reminder to stay alert while on the ice. We may call this floe “our home,” but now we’ve seen whose home it really is.

The polar bear viewed from the bridge of Polarstern. Here, it is standing behind Met City near a small lead, likely waiting for a seal. Photo by Steven Fons. 

4 Responses to “Polar Bear Visits Polarstern”

  1. Margarita Brown says:

    Thank you, enjoyed reading about it and seeing the image of the polar bear.

  2. William Luke says:

    Great article. Love the science

  3. Saran K. says:

    Thank you, most interesting and informative too. I love polar bears and worry about their future.

  4. Jerry Tate says:

    To see a polar bear outside of a zoo. Awesome!