UPDATE: 6:30 a.m. EDT — Russian researchers trapped for two weeks inside a weather station on a remote Arctic island received help Wednesday. With assistance from a helicopter crew that came to deliver flares and three puppies to the station, the polar bears that had laid siege to the station were chased away.
Vassiliy Shevchenko, head of the Sevgidromet State Monitoring Network, told Russian news agency Tass that a helicopter “took off from the Akademik Treshnikov expedition vessel of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute of the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring” to help the five stranded researchers on Troynoy island in the Kara Sea. Earlier, the expedition vessel itself was supposed to make its way to the island, which was expected to take about a month.
Vadim Plotnikov, head of the weather station, told Tass that all meteorological observations had resumed. Some observations, which required researchers to walk out to the observations sites, had been suspended because of the bears.
Humans may be at the top of the food chain but there are still times when other top predators exert their dominance over us, especially in the wild. Weather researchers from Russia found this out firsthand after polar bears laid siege to their station on a remote Arctic island.
Vadim Plotnikov, head of the weather station on Troynoy island in the southern Kara Sea, told Russian news agency Tass that the bears have been around since Saturday, interrupting some of their work.
“A female bear has been sleeping under the station’s windows since Saturday night. It’s dangerous to go out as we have run short of any means to scare off the predators. We had to stop some of the meteorological observations,” he said.
According to Plotnikov, the bear killed one of the two dogs at the station on Aug. 31 and hadn’t left the area since. After that, the number of adult bears near the weather station went up to about 10, including four females, as well as some cubs. Plotnikov told Tass four to six bears had stayed on the island during the summer.
Stressing the need for assistance after he was told by the Northern Meteorological Department to act independently, Plotnikov said: “The delivery of flares from the continent will require serious funds but we need help.”
Russia’s federal weather-watching service, Rosgidromet, was given instructions Monday by Sergey Donskoy, the minister for natural resources and the environment, to ensure the safety of the research personnel on the island, and to also protect the animals.
On Tuesday, the Sevgidromet State Monitoring Network — it owns the weather station — told Tass that dogs and flares will be sent to the besieged researchers with an expedition vessel that is expected to reach the station in about a month.
Vassiliy Shevchenko, head of the network, said: “We have issued a recommendation for the station’s personnel to use extreme caution, not to leave the station without a serious need and continue only with possible meteorological observations.”
Five people, including two married couples, are currently working at the weather station on Troynoy.
The IUCN Red List classifies polar bears as vulnerable and estimates a total population of only about 26,000. The top predator of the Arctic is also the world’s largest land carnivore and is threatened by habitat loss caused by climate change. Hunting of the animal stopped being a major concern after effective controls were put in place internationally. Russia also lists polar bears as endangered in its Red Book and banned their hunting in 1957.