Death of Nunavut polar bear biologist in helicopter crash ‘a tremendous loss’

Markus Dyck died Sunday when a helicopter crashed near Resolute Bay

Polar bear biologist Markus Dyck, who died Sunday in a helicopter crash near Resolute Bay, sits in a tent during one of his many sessions of field work. His friends say he was happiest out on the land. (Photo courtesy of Jason Carpenter)

By Jane George

The death of a leading Nunavut polar bear biologist, Markus Dyck in a helicopter crash on Sunday near Resolute Bay, is a “tremendous loss and a sad, sad day for polar bear research,” says his close friend, Harvey Lemelin, a professor at Lakehead University.

Lemelin, along with several other friends, confirmed that the Igloolik-based researcher was among the three victims of the helicopter crash. He had been conducting a polar bear population survey aboard the helicopter, chartered from Yellowknife-based Great Slave Helicopters.

The Government of Nunavut, where Dyck had worked for nearly 10 years as the Department of Environment’s senior polar bear biologist, has not yet confirmed Dyck’s death.

Great Slave Helicopters has not publicly identified its employees who died.

But Premier Joe Savikataaq, who is also the territory’s environment minister, acknowledged the crash Monday, saying “this is especially hard and personal, as this crash occurred during a trip to survey the Lancaster Sound polar bear population, undertaken by my Department of Environment.”

Lemelin first met Dyck in the late 1990s when they both worked at the Northern Studies Centre in Churchill, Man.

It was there that Dyck fell in love with polar bears and decided to find a way to study the animals, Lemelin said.

Together, the two started to research interactions between polar bears and tourists and also to look at Cree and Inuit knowledge about them. They were among the first researchers to talk about climate change and how active polar bears were becoming in the summer — swimming, fishing and even catching beavers, Lemelin said.

As a current member of the international Polar Bear Specialist Group, which looks at polar bear population management worldwide, Dyck remained an “outspoken” force for community-based polar bear management in the highly political world of polar bear research, Lemelin said.

Dyck, who held a master’s degree from the University of Manitoba, was certified wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Society, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Before working at the GN, he was senior instructor with the Environmental Technology Program at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit.

Polar bear surveys — and the sometimes dangerous conditions that come with them — were nothing new to Dyck.

In 2014, he told Nunatsiaq News that the M’Clintock polar bear survey’s first year was plagued by fog in an area thick with heavy ice.

“Blizzards, we had fog — we had to sleep in the helicopter, on the sea ice one night, because we couldn’t fly anywhere,” Dyck said.

Mark Mallory, a seabird biologist who knew Dyck well, said working in helicopters in the High Arctic is “dangerous stuff.”

“Working in helicopters in this time of year when things are changing, and you’re starting to get moisture in the air, and the wind is picking up, and you’re out in that interchange between the land … that’s a terrible time to be working there,” Mallory said.

“A lot of people think when you are out doing surveys, that it looks so fun. You’re out in an aircraft counting animals. But it’s actually pretty dangerous. There’s no way around it: when you do this work in harsh conditions, you take risks.”

Mallory and Lemelin said Sunday’s crash brought back memories of other helicopter crashes which killed researchers in the High Arctic: in 2000, when two wildlife biologists died near Resolute Bay, and in 2013, when a pilot, scientist and CCGS Amundsen’s commanding officer died near Banks Island.

The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the circumstances of Sunday’s crash.

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(20) Comments:

  1. Posted by Megan Pizzo Lyall on

    Rest In Peace Markus. Thank you for all the work you did on polar bears. You really believed in Inuit doing their own scientific research with Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit first and foremost. Thank you. <\3

  2. Posted by Ky on

    You will be missed Markus. May you be resting well with Lily

  3. Posted by Terry Adams on

    My deepest condolences to family and friends, Marcus Dyck was a very good friend to Michelle and myself, he did an amazing job in Nunavut with the Polar bear research. I am going to miss you lots Marcus

  4. Posted by Elise Maltinsky on

    I still cannot believe that Markus is gone. He was a wonderful colleague and so dedicated to his work. He will be so missed…..
    My heartfelt condolences to his friends and family.

  5. Posted by James Tegler on

    I had the pleasure of knowing Marcus. A rare individual who chose a considered life rather than just living the life he was given. He did a little wildlife work in Nunavut two decades ago and his intense focus was instantly on working on the supreme species. Rest in Peace Markus. Don’t know if I’ll ever meet another guy like you and that makes me very sad.

  6. Posted by Jay Arnakak on

    What a terrible loss! He was a great friend.

    few people know this but he was always an advocate for ‘non-intrusive’ polar bear research and came up with or begged, borrowed or stole methods of collecting samples and data. Every time I saw him he’d be so excited to tell me what he’d been up to; he lived his life and work with rare, genuine passion.

    • Posted by Harvey Lemelin on

      Thank you for reminding us of his desires to use all types of research. I remember biking along the Hudson Bay Lowlands and Markus telling us to “keep on eye for bear scat and to bring it back if you found some”.

  7. Posted by Wayde Roberts on

    RIP Marcus, it was an honour to work with you, become your friend and witness the passion, dedication and love you had for the north. Our condolences to family, fellow scientists and friends.

  8. Posted by Deepest sympathy to his immediate families on

    Oh what a loss 🙁

    Deepest condolences to his immediate families, just like we recently lost a good photographer Pierre Dunnigan whom was found dead from kite-skiing. He was so fond of Nunavik, from following Ivakkak dog team racers, full of Nunavik photos as well with many good friends of Kuujjuaq Nunavik

  9. Posted by PPolanow on

    I had the pleasure of getting to know Markus in Igloolik. He was such a unique human being who was so dedicated to his work and his path in life. He’ll be dearly missed. Rest in peace buddy.

  10. Posted by Peter Van Coeverden de Groot on

    From Gateshead Island, Prince of Wales and Cape Sydney to Kingston and beyond, you were the same genuine reliable friend and colleague. Your willingness ‘to do’ versus ‘to talk’ – as many of us do – will be missed in ways you cannot imagine. Auf wiedersehen, Herr Dyck.

    • Posted by North Baffiner on

      Danke! I met Markus back in 2003 when I was the regional director for Sustainable Development in Pond Inlet whilst forging the next 5 year plan for research for the GN prior to the separation of Environment and ED&T.
      I am deeply saddened by this event, but everytime you fly, you are literally taking your life in your hands and giving it to a rotatory motor that spins one way.

  11. Posted by Troy Mckerral on

    Rest Easy Markus! My Deepest condolences to your family, and friends. I have always enjoyed supporting the important work you and your colleagues have preformed over the years.

    Troy McKerral
    Capt Kenn Borek Air

  12. Posted by Donna Atkinson-Wilson on

    My Brother knew Marcus as a friend for many years. Paul lived in both Churchill and Yellowknife for many years. My condolences to his Family & Friends.

  13. Posted by Marcus Bermann on

    Rest in peace Markus. I considered you a friend and colleague for almost 20 years. You will be greatly missed.

  14. Posted by Shannon Johns on

    Condolences to his family and many friends. Markus was a member of our CNGO-GSC geology mapping field camp on northern Baffin Island 16 years ago. I remember him as a dedicated researcher who was willing to go that extra mile. One of the first to look at changes to feeding habits of polar bears (fishing) in response to changing sea ice conditions and climate change. I am glad he was able to continue the work he loved, despite the risks involved. I hope the research community will recognise his efforts.

  15. Pingback: Death of prominent Canadian polar bear biologist a tragic loss to science – Climate-
  16. Posted by Graham Cairns on

    I did not know Markus personally, but from his reputation and the way his friends talked about him. If there is ever a good way to go, it might as well be doing something you loved to do. Rest in peace Markus.

  17. Posted by Heather Macleod on

    I knew Marcus from the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in Manitoba and was terribly sad to hear of his passing. One thing about Marcus is that you never forget him! It is a big loss to the scientific community. My condolences to his family and friends. RIP

  18. Posted by Michelle Higgs on

    We are saddened by his passing, and his team – their efforts and passion will be missed, however, their contributions will live on in all those they have touched through their work.

    Please stay strong & continue to carry on their legacy.

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