Well folks, it looks like there was a reason that Aurora has not been moving very much lately: she seems to have lost her collar.
After digging through Aurora’s collar details, it looks like the “Mortality mode” has been switched on for the past couple weeks, but don’t worry! This doesn’t mean what you think it might.
Polar bear GPS collars link up with satellites multiple times a day. Every four days, these satellites compile the data from each collar and email the information to the interested scientists. Scientists can then download this data into spreadsheets, on which there are many columns such as Date, Latitude, Longitude, and Mortality. The Mortality column gets filled out with a “No” when the animal is moving steadily, and “Yes” when there has been no movement for 4 hours or more. Sometimes a collar can go back and forth, in and out of Mortality mode many times. However, when a collar has been in this mode for several weeks at a time, it is safe to say it probably won’t move again!
While Mortality mode can mean death in some cases (usually in prey species), it is much, much more probable here that Aurora was able to slip her collar off, likely with the help of her cubs. There are very few things out there that could have harmed this bear, but many easy opportunities to pull her collar off if she got sick of it. The collar continues to send the satellites information from its location, moving slightly due to sea ice drift; we will lose all signal when the ice starts to break up and the collar drops to the bottom of Hudson Bay. In the meantime, we hope Aurora is having a good winter finding seals and teaching her cubs to hunt and we are left to wonder if she ever made it to Quebec or if she turned back toward Churchill at some point.
We will ask the biologists to watch for Aurora this fall and will let you know if she is ever recaptured. Please keep an eye on PBI’s Bear Tracker because there are still plenty of polar bears with interesting months ahead!