The Eastern Arctic Seas Encyclopedia

2016 Edition
| Editors: Igor S. Zonn, Andrey G. Kostianoy, Aleksandr V. Semenov

Medvezhiy Islands or Bear Islands

Reference work entry

Medvezhiy Islands or Bear Islands – a group of islands in the East Siberian Sea, to the north of the estuary of the Kolyma, the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Russia. The area is approximately 60 km2; the height is to 273 m (on Krestovskiy Island). They consist of six islands: Krestovskiy, Leontyeva, Chetyrehstolbovoy, Pushkareva, Lisova, and Andreyeva. All the islands are composed of granites. This is a rocky Arctic tundra. Vegetation of the islands includes mosses (reindeer moss) and rigid short grass. In the northwest, one can see driftwoods, consisting of larch, fir, and poplar. The wildlife includes wild deer, a great variety of mice, bears, wolves, and foxes coming from the mainland. Medvezhiy Islands were discovered in the second half of the seventeenth to the first half of the eighteenth century by Russian industrialists and sailors. Cossack Yakov Permyakov was the first who visited the islands in 1710, sailing the Arctic Sea from the Lena to the Kolyma. In 1720, Russian industrialist Ivan Vilegin first visited one of the islands, where he came across the ice from the mouth of the Kolyma. In 1740, Dmitry Laptev reached Krestovskiy Island, sailing out of the Indigirka to the Kolyma. He called it the island of St. Anthony. In 1756, Cossack F. Tatarinov and Yukagir E. Konovalov visited the island for commercial purposes. In 1761, the expedition of Shelaurov, while sailing to the Kolyma, sheltered from the ice between islands. In 1763, Colonel F. Plenisner, “the chief of Okhotsk and Kamchatka Krai,” sent there a detachment of Sergeant Geodesy Stepan Andreev for the examination of the islands, who drove around the islands on dogsleds and made their summary description.

In the 1769–1771, ensigns of Geodesy Ivan Leontyev, Ivan Lysov, and Aleksey Pushkarev on three dogsleds went over ice from Nizhnekolymsk to the Medvezhiy Islands and drew up their fairly accurate map. In 1821, the islands were visited by Lieutenant F. Wrangel. In April 1870, the islands were visited by the expedition of Neumann. In the 1980s, an aviation expedition of the Wrangel Island Natural Reserve worked on the islands in search of polar bear dens.

The name was given in 1864 by Colonel Plenisner because of the presence on the islands of a large number of traces of bears, found by the first explorers.

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