For the first time in 11 years the number of individuals in the Norwegian-Russian stock of polar bears will be counted. In 2004 scientists counted some 3000 bears in the area.
“The Barents Sea stock is one of 19 defined stocks of polar bears in the Arctic. These are bears that use the whole area from Franz Josef Land to Svalbard, and all of the territory north of this,” polar bear researcher Jon Aars at the Norwegian Polar Institute says to NTB, according to Forskning.no.
A Letter of intent was signed last week between Norwegian and Russian authorities to conduct a joint counting of the polar bear stock this autumn. Norway has allocated NOK 10 million (€1.1 million) to the project through the state budget.
The expedition starts in August. The scientists will sail to the edge of the ice and fly northwards by helicopter.
Less ice “Since 2004 the ice sheet in the Barents Sea has shrinked considerably, something that has limited the area where the polar bear can live. It is important to do the counting now, to see how this has affected the stock,” Minister of Climate and Environment Tine Sundtoft says.
For polar bear researcher Jon Aars it is vital to see if the changes in the ice cover has affected the total number of bears. He is not sure:
“Less ice is generally bad news, and will surely have consequences for the polar bears. But this does not necessarily mean that there are fewer bears than in 2004,” Aars says to NTB, and adds that the shallow waters west of Franz Josef Land still have much ice. “It might be that it is just as good to be a bear in these areas now, as it was 10-15 years ago.”