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Passing Research Ship Saves Weather Station Staff From Polar Bear 'Siege'

A polar bear stands tall during the summer of 2009 in Svalbard, Norway.
Steven Kazlowski
Barcroft Media via Getty Images
A polar bear stands tall during the summer of 2009 in Svalbard, Norway.

Five people. Ten bears. One desperate call for help.

On a remote Arctic island, five researchers at a weather station found themselves "besieged" by polar bears over the weekend, Russia's TASS news agency reports.

Vadim Plotnikov, the head of the weather station on Troynoy Island, told the news agency on Monday that the staff there had seen 10 adult bears around the station, as well as several cubs.

Two weeks ago, a polar bear ate one of the weather station's two dogs — and hadn't left the station since.

The female bear had been sleeping under the station's windows for days, Plotnikov says.

"It's dangerous to go out as we have run short of any means to scare off the predators," Plotnikov told TASS. He explained that the station's stockpile of flares had run out. Polar bear hunting is illegal in Russia, so shooting the bears wasn't an option.

"We had to stop some of the meteorological observations," he said. He appealed for a new shipment of flares to be sent, somehow, to the distant outpost.

The next supply ship wasn't scheduled to visit the island for another month.

The head of the Sevgidromet State Monitoring Network, which owns the station, toldTASS it would make sure the supply ship is stocked with new dogs as well as flares, but that it wasn't sure if it would be possible to send any supplies sooner.

Vassiliy Shevchenko, the network head, also noted the bears would probably leave the island to hunt by the end of October or early November, anyway. He issued a recommendation to the weather station staff: Don't leave the station unless you absolutely must.

But then salvation arrived on Troynoy Island.

"The flagship of Russia's research expedition fleet, the Akademik Tryoshnikov, happened to be passing nearby and was able to stop at the island," The Guardian reports, citing Sevgidromet.

A helicopter took off from the Akademik Tryoshnikov and delivered "three puppies and pyrotechnical devices" to the beleaguered weather station staffers, TASS reports.

The crew of the ship helped chase away the bears, and meteorological observations have resumed, the Russian news network says.

A spokeswoman for Sevgidromet tells the Guardian that the bears' behavior was unusual, and related to the reduction in sea ice — the bears were trapped when the ice receded rapidly and were stuck on Troynoy instead of the islands where they usually go.

"There's no food on [Troynoy] island, so they came up to the station," the spokeswoman told the newspaper.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.