Every year, a large number of polar bears is sedated and marked by scientists in various parts of the Arctic. Samples are taken and some of the bears are equipped with collars that have satellite transmitters to follow their journeys. This is usually only done with female polar bears, as the males have a neck too strong and thick to mount the collars, which would be lost quickly or hurt the bear and even cause difficulties while swallowing food and breathing. It has so far been commonly assumed in public that only female polar bears are marked this way and collars are generally not attached to male polar bears.
As it turned out recently, reality may be different, possibly already for years. Near Kaktivik in Alaska, on the coast of the arctic Beaufort Sea, a male polar bear wearing a collar has been seen and photographed. The collar is cutting into the skin, causing visible injury and most likely pain.
It is believed that the bear has been sedated and marked by scientists in Canada. it is said that male polar bears have been equipped with collars already for some time on an experimental basis. The collars are supposed to drop off automatically after a while, which may be half a year. It is possible that this does not always work in time. It is also possible, actually quite likely, that polar bears can put on a lot of weight in short time when they have access to large amounts of food, for example when a dead whale is stranded on the beach. On the arctic coasts of Canada and Alaska, polar bears sometimes find whale carcasses from indigenous hunting near Inuit settlements. This is unpredictable, according to relevant authorities. These events do indeed not occur on regular intervals, but they are well known and not rare, so they have to be expected and accounted for at any time.
In the USA including Alaska, the United States Fish & Wildlife Services (USFWS) is the authority responsible for managing and protecting marine wildlife including polar bears. According to the USFWS, the polar bear is monitored, but resources are not available to help it. Maybe motivation to take action is limited as the bear received the collar most likely in Canada.
The actual case seems to have been known locally already for months and it is now getting public attention. Interested individuals are approaching the USFWS, adding pressure to help the bear and release it from the collar. More about the present discussion, including contact details of relevant authorities, on the Facebook-page Protect the Polar Bear. Morten Jørgensen from Denmark has taken initiative. Morten is also the author of the book Polar Bears on the edge, where scientific treatment of polar bears is discussed critically.
Scientific sedation, examination and marking of polar bears is generally a traumatic event for the animals concerned, not to mention cases where female bears with cubs are treated this way. See also news posts Polar bear dead after anaesthetisation by scientists (II) and Polar bear found dead in Petuniabukta had been anaesthetised for scientific purposes on this website.
Organizations such as WWF and Polar Bears International are supporting scientific work on polar bears including satellite collars. The discussion about risks of this work is not new, but has not reached the general public yet.
Male polar bear in Alaska, equipped with and injured by a scientific collar with satellite transmitter. Normally, only female polar bears receive such collars.
Source: Information from Morten Jørgensen / Facebook-page Protect the Polar Bear