Update - Thursday, September 15: Help has reached the scientists. A relatively nearby passing Arctic vessel has delivered relief to the besieged scientist, the BBC reports. They received flares, two dogs, and other supplies. All of the scientists are reported to be healthy and well. Our original story is below.
A team of Russian meteorologists are currently being held hostage by a gang of polar bears on a secluded Siberian island, Russian news agency TASS reported on Tuesday.
The five weather experts have been unable to leave the outpost on Troynoy Island in the Kara Sea for around two weeks after it became encircled by 10 polar bears and their cubs. The polar bears even managed to kill one of the station’s two dogs on August 31.
"We have issued a recommendation for the station’s personnel to use extreme caution, not to leave the station without a serious need and continue only with possible meteorological observations," Vassiliy Shevchenko, the head of the Sevgidromet State Monitoring Network that owns the station, told TASS.
“Things like this have happened before on Troynoy island because bears inhabit the area and people work there. At the end of October, or in the beginning of November, the near-shore waters will freeze and the bears will leave the island in search of food.”
The 27-kilometer (16 miles) long Troynoy Island, part of the Izvestiy Tsik Islands, is some 275 kilometers (170 miles) from the nearest human settlement of Dikson, although this port is one of the most isolated settlements in the world. It’s also some 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles) from the capital Moscow. In short, it's a long way from help.
Not only are the scientists unable to carry out much of their work, as they need to go outside to access observation sites, they have also run out of flares used to ward off bears in an emergency. The polar bears also appear to be making themselves at home, with one adult female sleeping underneath one of the station’s windows.
Under the advice of the Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, the federal weather-watching service is shipping fresh supplies of flares and guard dogs. However, the outpost is so remote that it will take a whole month to get there.
According to the IUCN Red List, polar bears are listed as a vulnerable species. They also note that human and polar bear interactions are becoming more common because of the destruction and decline of their habitat, namely through climate change and the increased number of oil drilling projects. As such, it is also illegal to kill polar bears in Russia unless it’s in self-defence. Nevertheless, the IUCN estimates up to 200 polar bears are poached each year in eastern Russia.