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From: Susanne Miller
Subject: Re: Barter Island Polar Bears
To: Michael and Audrey Lambert
Cc: Jennifer Reed
Date: Monday, August 27, 2012, 3:19 PM

Hello Michael,

In regard to your question about bear viewing opportunities in July, I agree
that mid to late July would not be a time when one could reliably expect to see
bears on shore at Barter Island. Our research and monitoring results indicate
that polar bear density along the coast is primarily related to the distance
from the coast to pack ice edge. When ice is present over the shallow
Continental Shelf waters, bears will use that ice as a platform to hunt seals.
As pack ice recedes over deeper, less productive waters and the opportunity for
polar bears to hunt seals diminishes, a small proportion of bears from this
particular (southern Beaufort ) population come to shore and remain along the
coast until freeze-up (early to mid-October). The rate and extent of pack ice
recession varies from year to year. Ice is often still present over the Shelf
waters in July so fewer bears occur on land (confirmed by reports from locals
and oil and gas workers). We begin our field work in late August or early
September because that is when ice recession is reaching its maximum, and polar
bear use of the coast is greatest. Although it is possible that bears would come
to shore in July depending on ice condtions, that would still not guarantee that
they would be available for viewing because you wouldn't necessarily know where
to find them, or how long they would stay in a given location. 

Later in the season (September to mid-October), bears can reliably be viewed at
Barter Island because the local community of Kaktovik begins its subsistence
whale hunt, and bears are attracted to whale carcasses that Native hunters
deposit in a "bone pile" a few kilometers from town. The bone pile is accessible
by vehicle from town, and the nearby barrier islands (where bears rest during
day) are accessible by boat. Since I have been working in Kaktovik (2001),
whaling has always started on Labor Day weekend and the peak bear viewing season
follows soon thereafter. 

As far as "local FWS representatives in Kaktovik", that provided info to your
guide: I'm not sure who that refers to; a name would be helpful. The FWS has no
permanent employees in Kaktovik but does maintain a bunkhouse where field crews
stage for a variety of wildlife-related projects throughout the season. 

If you decide to try again to go on a guided tour to see polar bears at Barter
Island, please feel free to contact me or my colleague Jennifer Reed, Visitor
Services Coordinator for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for additional
information. Commercial polar bear viewing is an inherently risky activity and
should be coordinated with local guides that know the area, and who are working
with FWS to ensure that polar bear viewing activities are done in a manner that
is safe, legal, and respectful of local residents and Native culture. 

Best regards,

Susanne (Susi) Miller
Wildlife Biologist, Polar Bears
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Marine Mammals Management Office
1011 E. Tudor Road
Anchorage, Alaska 99503

--- On Fri, 8/17/12, Michael and Audrey Lambert wrote:

From: Michael and Audrey Lambert
Subject: Barter Island Polar Bears
To: Susanne Miller
Date: Friday, August 17, 2012, 11:53 AM


My name is Michael Lambert. I found you while researching polar bears on the
Fish and Wildlife Services web pages. I was wondering if you could help me out
by offering an opinion on the possibility of seeing polar bears on Barter Island
in July.

I recently was in Kaktovic on a tour offered by photographer Mark Lissick (July
20-25). The website offering the tour can be seen here:

We had a number of problems with the tour, not the least of which was the fact
that we saw no polar bears. The locals we spoke with indicated that the chances
of seeing polar bear on/near Barter Island in July were slim. 

The tour operator Mark Lissick indicated that he had spoke with "the local
representatives of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife division in Kaktovik" who had
advised him that the ice would be gone from the region by early July and we
would be able to see the "arrival of the polar bears back from their long winter
hunting for seals on the polar ice." 

I've read some of your research and it seems to indicate the primary reason the
polar bears are in the area is due to the native whaling in the fall and the
attraction of the bone pile. I noted that July predates your study time frame

Given the research you have done on the polar bears in the Barter Island area I
would be interested in hearing your opinion on the possibilities of polar bears
being seen on Barter Island in July.


Mike Lambert

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