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Turns out it was the bears, not the scientists, trapped on a Russian island

  • Author: Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Updated: September 14, 2016
  • Published September 14, 2016

BERLIN — Five Russian scientists trapped by more than a dozen polar bears for two weeks used a shipment of flares and air horns to free themselves this week, according to Russian and European news reports.

Because of the endangered status of polar bears, the scientists were willing to use only non-lethal methods to scare the bears away.

The researchers were on Troynoy Island, north of eastern Russia and inside the Arctic Circle, when on Aug. 31, one of the many bears known to live on the island killed a dog at a meteorological station. After that, the bear apparently decided to stick around, and was joined by nine other adult polar bears, and as many as four cubs.

The scientists, who had run out of any means to scare off the bears, were advised to "stay inside" unless absolutely necessary and that new supplies were on the way. They were, at first, advised that the new supplies would take a month to reach them, but a passing research vessel was able to reach them within two weeks.


During the siege TASS quoted one of the scientists, Vadim Plotnikov, about the ordeal.

"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," Plotnikov said. In addition to being in danger of being eaten if they left the research hut, he noted that: "We had to stop some of the meteorological observations."

Troynoy Island is a 16-mile-long island in the Kara Sea, part of the Russian Arctic that is thought to be home to as many as 7,000 polar bears. TASS reported that initial pleas for help sent back to the Arkhangelsk-based Northern Meteorological Department, advised the scientists to stay calm, stay inside and figure it out for themselves.

They were also told new supplies would be sent as soon as possible.

"Things like this have happened before on Troynoy Island," TASS quoted Vassily Shevchenko, the head of the state monitoring network that owns the station, as saying.
A spokesperson for the group told TASS that climate change was in part to blame for the siege.

"The bears usually go to other islands, but this year they didn't. The ice receded quickly and the bears didn't have time to swim to other islands," she said. "There's no food … so they came up to the station."

A polar bear walks along the beach in Kaktovik. (Alaska Dispatch News file)