Arctic Hare Travels A Record 388Km

As satellite tracking has become more common, we’ve learned more about the impressive long-distance treks of supposedly non-migratory creatures. Two years ago, we reported on an arctic fox that wandered 3,500km from Norway to Canada over the Arctic Ocean ice. Now an arctic hare, normally a stationary creature, has hopped almost 400km in 49 days. It’s the longest journey of any hare or rabbit on record.

BBYY takes a breather. Photo: Charline Couchoux

 

The individual, known un-anthropomorphically as BBYY because of the color of her ear tags, was collared in the summer of 2019 at Alert, an old Canadian Forces base dating back to the Cold War. It was built to eavesdrop on Soviet communications and is still active.

Canadian Forces Base Alert, northern Ellesmere Island. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko

 

BBYY was one of 25 hares fitted with a satellite transmitter. She gave birth around Alert, then in mid-September, she began her marathon trek southward over the Hazen Plateau until well past Lake Hazen, the largest High Arctic lake in the world. The Hazen area is one of a handful of polar oases, where summer weather is mild for its latitude and the vegetation is particularly rich.

The hare trekked almost 400km from Alert past Lake Hazen.

 

Campers beside a mostly frozen Lake Hazen in midsummer. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko

 

Other hares took slightly shorter jaunts

Of the 25 hares collared at the same time, 20 of them likewise undertook long fall treks between 113km and 310km. But BBYY covered by far the most ground of all.

Of all the species of hares and rabbits, only the black-tailed jackrabbit is classed as migratory — and its wanderings take it less than 10km.

Besides their unparalleled restlessness, arctic hares that far north have two other unique habits: Every few years, they form herds, sometimes a few dozen, sometimes in the thousands. An observer flying in a helicopter near Lake Hazen once spotted a snow-covered mountain. Not an unusual sight 1,000km from the North Pole — but in this case, the snow was moving. Arctic hares in lower parts of the Arctic do not form herds.

They also hop sometimes on their hind legs. Explorers who first saw this did not believe their eyes until they saw just the hind prints in the snow.

A small herd of arctic hares on the Hazen Plateau, Ellesmere Island. Photo: Jerry Kobalenko

 

After its long journey, BBYY doubled back toward Alert, eventually stopping about 100km away. Then, as the long winter darkness settled in, it died, according to ecologist Dominque Berteaux of the Université du Québec, who led the study.

Jerry Kobalenko is the editor of ExplorersWeb. Canada's premier arctic traveler, he is the author of The Horizontal Everest and Arctic Eden, and is currently working on a book about adventures in Labrador. In 2018, he was awarded the Polar Medal by the Governor General of Canada.


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