Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Big Bears

The latest news from Deadhorse is that it's been warm (-ish, for Deadhorse in October this means high temperatures in the mid-30s) and we've been catching plenty of bears. Not just any old bears mind you, but big bears. Several days ago we captured a female bear that weighed 820lbs, pretty dang big for a female. The fat layer over her rump was almost 6 inches deep. Take out a tape measure and imagine what it would feel like to have your body covered in that! We also captured a male two days ago that weighed over 1000 lbs. I'm not going to lie, it's a little weird being next to a carnivore that big. Our team takes several measurements of all the bears we catch including weight, length, fat biopsy, muscle biopsy, breath sample, hair sample, even a fecal sample. We're cumulatively using all this information to see if there are any differences in the health / body condition of bears that follow the sea ice in the summer compared to the bears that stay on land. So, here are the latest photos.

Early morning light over the arctic ocean. Ice is starting to form up on parts of the shore, but the main ice pack is still quite a ways out.

Here's the big male we caught two days ago. He weighed 1020lbs. The pictures don't really do it justice, but I can assure you this thing was massive.

I think one of the coolest things about polar bears is the size of their paws. This is a picture of the front right paw of the big male. I'm told that polar bears can walk on thinner ice than a human can, in part because these large paws distribute weight over a greater surface area.
I just realized tonight that I don't have a current photo of breath sampling. So this one is from August. The nose cone is attached to a device with two one-way valves. The bears breathes in air from the environment and exhales into the bag. Believe it or not, that little valve costs $700. From the bears breath we can calculate if it's metabolizing primarily carbohydrates, fats, or proteins. Students from Mrs. Banes class take note: I'll show you how to do this on yourself when I get back. Since you won't be anesthetized (well I hope we don't need to), we can even accurately calculate how many calories per hour you're burning.
The tape measure is a little hard to see, but here we're measuring how long the bear is from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail.
Ever wonder how you weigh a 1000 lb bear? A collapsible tripod and a pulley system. As long as the ground isn't too soft, you're golden.
Sunset photo in Deadhorse, airport in the background. Currently the sun comes up at 9:02 am and sets at 6:19 pm. We're losing about 10 minutes of daylight each day right now. By the end of October Deadhorse will be losing 15 minutes of daylight each day. Enjoy sunlight while you can good people of Alaska.


  1. Ok, so I'm thinking I could be great competition with that female polar bear and her 6" of fat over her rump! Maybe I just live in a northern climate and my rump hangs on to the fat . . . . The pictures are just amazing Clark! Good job! I pray to God your anethesia is working!! Thanks for the interesting blogs -I truly enjoy reading these at night with Ray. Someday you'll be able to brag to your kids about the polar bears you worked with and you have pictures to prove it! Have a great week Clark - we all are very proud of you! Love ya, Tam

  2. Your mom says: Wow! The pictures are just sooo good! To think you are a child of mine!! I love looking and reading your comments. Be safe, and be alert. Love you!

    Your dad says: Nice pictures, we enjoyed them! Be careful and enjoy yourself out there. Love, Dad

  3. Clark - Happy 32nd Birthday! What a place to spend your birthday! I am in awe with your pictures - - I've even shown them at work! Love you, Tam

  4. hey!
    havin fun with the polar bears?
    see you soon

  5. Nice post - polar bears pictures ..Keep Posting

    polar bears pictures