While out in the field tracking Lancaster Sound polar bear movements, preeminent polar bear researcher Markus Dyck died in a helicopter crash near Resolute Bay in Canada’s Nunavut territory on Sunday (April 25), Nunatsiaq News reports. Dyck had worked for Nunavut’s Department of the Environment studying polar bears for the last decade but had more than 25 years’ experience in the field. The two crew members piloting the helicopter also died in the accident. Friends tell The Toronto Star that Dyck was in his early 50s. 

Born in Riedlingen, Germany, Dyck first became acquainted with polar bears when his military service brought him to Manitoba, Canada. From there, friends tell The Scientist, he found his calling and went on to dedicate his life to studying and protecting them. He moved to Canada in the 1990s and worked in various capacities for different government agencies. He earned a master’s degree in natural resource management from the University of Manitoba in 2001.

Photographs of Dyck are few and far between because, as he would say, “if you have time to take a picture then that means you are not working, and that’s not acceptable,” Harvey Lemelin, a professor at Lakehead University in Ontario and longtime friend and colleague of Dyck, tells The Scientist.

Over the years, Dyck published papers on a variety of topics surrounding polar bears, including ecology, genetics, population management, zoology, and more. Colleagues fondly tell The Scientist about his all-encompassing devotion to the work and to the animals.

While some conservation plans are drafted without input or consideration of the indigenous communities who rely on animals in their hunting grounds, Dyck was passionate about working alongside them. By collaborating with Inuit, Cree, and other First Nation groups, he was able to learn from them about the polar bears’ movements and behaviors as well as support ecotourism that would benefit the local people and the bears themselves.

“I wish every [biologist] would learn to work with indigenous communities as Markus did,” Lemelin says.

The role of a polar bear biologist is hard, perilous work, colleagues tell The Scientist. Tracking the movements of polar bear subpopulations means traveling under precarious conditions. Thick, lingering fogs, snowstorms, and freezing temperatures make flying in helicopters dangerous, particularly given that polar bear territory is so remote and help may not be available. According to his LinkedIn profile, Dyck spent more than 2,000 hours in helicopters tracking polar bears over the years.

“We always knew the work was dangerous,” Lily Peacock, who was Nunavut’s polar bear biologist when Dyck was the technician there, tells The Scientist, “but it was what had to be done to generate the data for appropriate management of the populations and research.”

“I will remember him fondly,” Peacock continues. “It is a great loss for Nunavut and polar bear conservation.”