Dr. Lily Peacock

Research biologist for the US Geological Survey, Anchorage, AK. Lily has studied Polar Bears in Canada where they are still harvested by native peoples.

Lily Peacock is a Research Wildlife Biologist with the United States Geological Survey at the Alaska Science Center, Anchorage, AK. She specializes in population ecology, harvest management, ecological genetics, polar bear conservation.

Interviews

2009

Polar bear biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Dr. Lily Peacock discusses the effects of climate change on polar bear populations and emphasizes the importance of monitoring polar bear harvests. While climate change is likely the primary factor impacting polar bears, monitoring harvests (in Canada native people still hunt the polar bear for food) is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, continuing to harvest polar bears adds to the overall decline caused by climate change. Secondly, climate change is expected to increase polar bears’ interactions with humans, leading to a potential increase in harvest rates. Additionally, due to the heightened international scrutiny surrounding polar bears and their conservation, understanding the impacts of a harvest on bear populations is essential.

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Dr. Lily Peacock had no idea she would end up studying polar bears and large mammals in the Arctic. Originally majoring in entomology and focusing on insects, her interests shifted while studying salmon in Alaska during graduate school. Fascinated by the impacts of human activities on animals, she began studying black bears and their population management in Southeast Alaska. Dr. Peacock found counting animals to be challenging yet intriguing, appreciating the complexity and mathematics involved. Eventually, she applied for a job studying polar bears in Nunavut, an opportunity that led her to a remote Arctic hamlet near Baffin Island. Living there for four field seasons, she and her husband embraced the adventure and the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture. The traditional lifestyle, language, and food captivated them. After deciding to return south, Dr. Peacock took a job in Anchorage, where she continues her research.

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Dr. Lily Peacock, a research biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, is actively involved in polar bear monitoring and research. With a long-term data set spanning back to the 1980s, her work focuses on understanding polar bear ecology and assessing the impacts of climate change on these iconic creatures. Previously serving as the polar bear biologist in Nunavut, Canada, Dr. Peacock engaged in both research and management, collaborating closely with Inuit communities and hunting organizations to set sustainable harvest quotas based on scientific evidence. Her research primarily centered on the Eastern Arctic, particularly Baffin Island, where she studied seasonalized populations of polar bears that spend several months on land during the ice-free period. Through her fieldwork experiences, she gained invaluable insights into the challenges and rewards of conducting research in remote and rugged Arctic environments, relying on specialized techniques, bear-proof cabins, and logistical support from local communities. Dr. Peacock’s dedication to studying polar bears and her contributions to understanding their behavior and conservation have made her a respected figure in the field of wildlife biology.

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Dr. Lily Peacock provides insights into the population dynamics and behavior of polar bears across the Arctic. Based on professional knowledge and scientific data, she estimates that there are between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears divided into 19 subpopulations. These subpopulations exhibit varying levels of interconnectivity and are managed and researched accordingly. Alaska is home to two subpopulations, those in the Southern Beaufort Sea and others in the Chukchi Sea, while Canada has 13 subpopulations, including the South Baffin, Kane Basin, and Davis Strait. Dr. Peacock highlights the distinction between seasonal ice populations–some bears spend several months on land during the ice-free period. Other populations have ice cover year-round, such as those in the Canadian archipelago. She mentions ongoing research focusing on understanding the changes occurring in the polar bears’ behavior, specifically regarding their choice to stay on the ice or come ashore in the fall.

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Dr. Lily Peacock discusses the primary objective of her research, which is to understand and regulate the sustainable harvest of polar bears. To achieve this, she and her colleagues gather extensive population data by marking and tracking individual bears over time. They aim to determine population size, growth rate, survival rates, and birth rates through intensive population ecology studies. The research involves catching and marking a significant number of bears, with capture rates of 20 to 25 bears per day. Permanent marking is crucial to ensure accurate identification, so tattoos are applied to the inside of each upper lip, providing a permanent and unique mark for each bear. These tattoos are used to track bears’ lifespans and mortality rates. In addition to tattoos, satellite tracking devices are attached to some bears, allowing researchers to monitor their movements and behavior. Dr. Peacock mentions the advancement of non-color tags, such as ear tag transmitters and glue-on transmitters, which provide more comfortable tracking options for bears, particularly adult males whose necks are too large for traditional collars. This new technology allows researchers to study the movements of adult males and sub-adults, expanding their understanding beyond just female bears.

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