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Polar Bears Tour Ursa Major Boat Exhibit

Updated: Apr 27, 2023

Friends of Aurora Bearealis (see friends' footprints in photo 1 and Aurora in photo 2), recently toured our exhibition of wooden boats laid out as the constellation Ursa Major (aka Big Dipper) on landfast sea ice near the Arctic village of Utqiaġvik Alaska.

Unfortunately, we weren’t on site to welcome them, but Marine Biologist, Kate Stafford from Oregon State University (OSU), discovered traces of their visit during her tour of the exhibit yesterday (Picture 1, 3 -5, and Video 1). The large paw tracks in the pictures below are prints from a mother bear and the smaller prints were made by the two cubs. One of the wooden boats appears to have been handled or bitten by the bears (picture 3). Ms. Bearealis was so embarrassed by her cubs behavior, however, the student Anne Osoosa at Whittier Community School on Prince William Sound in southern Alaska who decorated this particular boat was ecstatic that a bear actually played with their boat. “I mean come on, how many kids can say their art provides toys for threatened creatures?” said Rachel Patton, teacher at Chugach School District.

Later in the day Dr. Stafford met the family as they were strolling on the sea ice (Picture 6). Mama bear apologized for Junior using one of the boats as a toothpick, and promised that the cubs would behave better in future visits and not touch the art. Dr. Stafford asked mama bear not to worry since the wooden boats are there for all to learn and enjoy in their own way, and happy that the bear family can connect with students in Alaska, the lower 48 states of the USA, and Italy too.

Photo 1: Tracks left by the family of bears at the Ursa Major exhibit. Photo by Dr. Kate Stafford
Photo 2: Aurora Bearealis supervising the design of the Ursa Major exhibit. Aurora is the mascot of the US National Ice Center (USNIC). Also pictured from left to right are Ryan Sales, USNIC; LT Sarena Padilla, USNIC; and Sarah Johnson, Wild Rose Education. Photo by Ben Evans.

Aurora Bearealis is the mascot of the US National Ice Center. She really enjoys viewing the Aurora Borealis while in the Arctic.

Photo 3: Wooden boat that was gnawed on by polar bear. It was decorated by high school student Anne Osoosa from Whittier Community School, Chugach School District, Alaska. Photo by Dr. Kate Stafford
Photo 4: Tracks left by the family of bears at the Ursa Major exhibit. Photo by Dr. Kate Stafford
Photo 5: Tracks left by the family of bears at the Ursa Major exhibit. Photo by Dr. Kate Stafford

Video 1 above by Dr. Kate Stafford following the tracks of the bears.

Photo 6: Mama bear with (approximately) 1 year old cubs. Polar bears typically live and den in the rubble of sea ice formed by the winds and ocean currents on the Arctic Ocean. Cubs will stay with their mother till they are about 2 years old. Photo by Dr. Kate Stafford.

Acknowledgements and Disclaimers:

Picture 2 by Ben Evans, Lincoln Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; remaining pictures and video provided by Dr. Kate Stafford, Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University.

Pictures are real. Story is pure fiction. No bears were actually approached for this story.


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