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Expedition to the Arctic

WWF scientists journey to the Siberian coast to learn more about its wildlife

walrus in laptev

Russia's Arctic coast has lost much of its summer sea ice over the past two decades. As a result, there's increased interest in shipping routes and oil and gas exploration in the Laptev Sea, near Siberia.

We know very little about the wildlife and habitat of this region, and so WWF teamed up with Canon on a research expedition to learn more. In August 2013, a team of scientists and a photographer journeyed to this remote coastal area to gather data on two species: walrus and polar bear.

Team members were surprised by the abundance and diversity of wildlife they encountered: thousands of walrus, plus musk oxen, reindeer, a stoat (weasel-like animal), 50 bird species and 10 polar bears on shore (seven individual adult bears and one sow with two cubs of this year).

During the trip, our scientists collected samples of fur from polar bears and skin from walruses, which will be processed in a laboratory for genetic testing. The results will tell us more about these populations and whether they need special conservation measures, particularly in light of future industrial activities.

While collecting samples, the team witnessed an encounter between a hungry polar bear and a group of walruses. The following photos tell the story of what happened.

  • polar bear approaches

    Slowly Approaching

    Although polar bears mainly eat seals, they will prey on walruses. This is certainly not an easy feat, particularly since walruses stick together in herds. However, polar bears have been known to take advantage of herd behavior by scaring them into a stampede, leaving behind injured and therefore easy-access prey.

  • group of walruses

    Walruses Rest

    On this occasion, there were too few walruses to implement such a stampede strategy.

  • polar bear walking

    Moving In

    The polar bear slowly approached the walruses, who bundled together. Young calves and mothers went straight into the water, while the large males barely moved. But they did keep an eye on the bear.

  • polar bear feigns sleep

    Feigning Sleep

    The bear tried to get between the water’s edge and the walruses, but failed. So it used another strategy: lie in wait. The bear lay down by the water and pretended to be asleep, hoping a small calf would come up on the beach.

  • polar bear gives up

    Giving Up

    This did not fool the walruses, however. For an hour, none came close to the “sleeping” predator. So, the bear gave up and moved further away. Whether it tried again, we do not know.

Be sure to check back in to see the results of the data analysis.

Read more about the expedition and see photos and videos.

 

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