Interview with a polar bear researcher
PolarQuest is proud to present Nikita Ovsyanikov, a renowned polar bear researcher, as guide and lecturer on our expedition cruises on board Sea Endurance. In this interveiw he tells us about his interest in polar bears, his most memorable polar bear encounter and what he looks forward to the most going to Svalbard.
Nikita has spent most of his life around polar bears in the High Arctic. With a doctoral degree in biology but perhaps more importantly, countless months of field experience, he has a deep insight into the lives of carnivores such as the Arctic fox and the polar bear. Nikita has studied the dynamics of the polar bear population and their behaviour on Wrangel Island for decades. He has also spent one season on Herald Island especially for this research. He has visited polar bear habitats and populations in most other areas of the Arctic, from Hudson Bay to Svalbard, Franz Joseph Land and the North Pole. His research on polar bears has resulted in many scientific papers and several books.
How come you became interested in polar bears?
Predators were my prime interest from the beginning of my scientific career. My particular interests were in behaviour and behavioural ecology of wild canids (Canidae – Wolves and others). My first long term study was on behaviour and behavioural ecology of the Arctic Fox, for which I chose Wrangel Island due to the high density and full protection of the Arctic Fox population. When I had learned more about the behaviour and life strategy of this rather small tundra predator, my interest turned to polar bears. I wanted to understand how this incredible large predator of the Arctic manages its living in this harsh and very special environment, particular as the social behaviour of the polar bear in the wild was not known at all.
Can you please tell us about your most memorable polar bear encounter?
During my 25 years of living among polar bears, there are many encounters that I remember as if they just happened a minute ago. Personality is so strongly expressed in polar bears, that many of the characters that I have been privileged to meet, are quite memorable. Perhaps one of the bears I remember more strongly than many others was a young adult male bear that was constantly coming to my cabin to observe what I was doing. He was really curious. To this day he is the only polar bear that has tried to invite me to play with him. I did not accept his invitations and was deliberately and aggressively rude to him. This was in order to maintain his caution against humans, for his own safety as a first step. But he did manage to trick me into playing with him! This when he realised that, if, when I charged at him, he would run away from me around the cabin, I might turn and chase him from the opposite side of the cabin. And so, he started playing this way; ran around the cabin, looked from another side, waited until I turned, ran opposite way and did the same from the other side. He obviously found this very entertaining.
What do you looking forward to the most going to Svalbard?
It is the beginning of summer season for polar bears and the time when there is more ice around the archipelago. That might be our great chance to observe more polar bears in the ice and the diversity of their behaviour. Early summer is also good time to observe more of their hunting activities on the ice, and better chances to see families with newly born cubs starting their life on the sea ice.
Join Nikita on a Svalbard adventure 2017!
Nikita Ovsyanikov will be one of our guides at several of our expedition cruises on board Sea Endurance 2017.
Since 1999, we have taken travellers on once-in-a-lifetime trips to Svalbard. From May to September our three small expedition ships, carrying only 12 and 51 passengers, explore this magnificent Arctic archipelago. Unpredictability and flexibility are the main keywords when you travel with PolarQuest as the exact route depends on weather, ice conditions and wildlife encounters. Sometimes you might be woken up in the middle of the night if a polar bear has been spotted on the ice.