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Mother of triplets for the second time

The cubs of 2011. Only one of them survived the first year of life. FOTO: Jon Aars, Norwegian Polar Institute

Mother of triplets for the second time

'N26018' has delivered her contribution to the polar bear population, but it is still uncertain if there will be a Norwegian-Russian census this summer.

The bear family aroused great interest when it settled on the ice at Tempelfjorden. Good ice conditions provided an ample supply of food and the four ate well.

Better odds
During the spring they set inward Billefjorden, continuing along Austefjord and Widjefjorden before they looked eastward to Nordaustlandet. Since then they have followed the ice, footprints show.

Svalbardposten reported last week numerous females with cubs were observed during a research cruise in April. Jon Aars, a polar bear researcher for the Norwegian Polar Institute, said 11 of 20 females had cubs, including the mother in Tempefjorden. In April, she was captured just northwest of Austfjordneset.

It's not the the first time the bear, known as N26018, has had triplets. Another set was observed when she was captured and tagged on April 19, 2011, on the east coast. But Aars said there is nothing sensational about her.

"What was special about her was that it has gone so well," he said. "Usually one cub dies pretty quickly if they have triplets."

But the odds of survival increase over time.
Three litters
It is still not certain all three will survive. The likelihood is at least one will die during their first year of life. When the bear family was captured in April, the largest cub weighed 20 kilograms and the smallest 13 kilograms.

Only one cub from her litter in 2011 survived the following year.

But the mother, now more than 20 years ago, seems well experienced, Aars said, noting he has seen larger weight differences where the runt of the litter was even smaller.

"There are only two to three percent of female bears who have triplets in Svalbard, so in that way one can say that she is a very good mother," he said.

"We have had another bear in Svalbard that has had triplets three times. She had triplets once in the late '90s, then we caught her in 2003 with three yearlings and a few years ago she was again caught with triplets," the polar bear researcher said.

READ MORE: Norwegian-Russian polar bear project may crash

Although it has been a good year for the polar bears, it doesn't change their overall situation. The bears are facing serious long-term problems due to climate change and rapidly diminishing sea ice.

A large-scale census of polar bears in the Barents Sea was conducted in 2004, but there is considerable uncertainty about the population today. A new joint census by Norway and Russia was scheduled to begin this month, but as Svalbardposten went to press Wednesday the Russians have still not provided authorization for their territory. Norway's Ministry of Climate and Environment is continuing to press for a response and will limit the count to the Norwegian side if matters are not clarified quickly.

"There has, unfortunately, not yet been any clarification with regard to permission from the Russian side," Jens Frølich Holte, a political advisor for the ministry, told Svalbardposten on Wednesday. "We still hoping that this will find a resolution."

Norway has allocated 10 million kroner for the census intended to provide an overview of the Norwegian-Russian polar bear population and an indication of which direction it is taking.

Translated by Mark Sabbatini


Se bildet større

The GPS tracks of the polar bear family. FOTO: Norwegian Polar Institute

Se bildet større

Cubs of 2015, picture taken in April. FOTO: Jon Aars, Norwegian Polar Institute

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