'There Are No Words': Tourists Spot Hundreds of Polar Bears Swarming Whale Carcass in Siberia

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum on at

There are around 26,000 polar bears on the planet out there doing their best as the ice caps melt. We’ve all seen the infamous starving polar bear picture, which has become symbol (rightfully or not) of the impact of climate change on vulnerable species. But last week, instead of starvation came a story of gluttony.

On September 19, a bowhead whale carcass washed ashore the remote Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve off the Northern coast of Siberia. Nearly 1 per cent of the world’s polar bears amassed beside it for a Siberian feast.

Image: Alexander Gruzdev; Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve

“You had to live it to believe it, even now there are people pinching themselves to make sure it really happened,” Rodney Russ, Expedition Leader, Owner and Founder of Heritage Expeditions writes in his blog.

Russ counted at least 150 polar bears in the group, while a Wrangel Island news release cites 230 as the most conservative estimate.

Image: Alexander Gruzdev; Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve

The gathering was unique simply because so many humans were there to see it. Scientists from nearby Chukotka, Siberia and as far away as Alaska who study polar bears were informed of the event and were making observations, according to the release.

Polar bears aren’t classified as endangered—many of their populations have healthy numbers, though some are in decline. Yet, due to melting polar ice caps and a warming globe, there’s lots of concern for this charismatic species and its habitat, as well as concern about hunting, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the bears as vulnerable for that reason.

Image: Wrangel Island; Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve

I’ve reached out to the scientists at Wrangel Island for more information about the gathering. But for the tourists on the boat, it was an experience of a lifetime.

“We launched the zodiacs,” writes Russ, referring to a brand name of inflatable rafts, “for a closer look and that is the memory we will all carry with us. There are no words to describe it.” [Heritage Expeditions, Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve]


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