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Monthly Archives: October 2012 − News & Stories


Dark nights and blue notes in Longyearbyen

Friday, October 26, was the official onset of the polar night. The sun will remain behind the horizon until February 15. Because of the mountains surrounding Longyearbyen, the sun will not be seen again in town before around March, 08.

The beginning of the polar night is traditionally the time for the “Dark Season Blues Festival”, featuring local, Norwegian and international Blues acts. From Friday to Sunday, good, handmade music can be seen and heard in Longyearbyen’s pubs.

Longyearbyen in the beginning of the polar night.

Dark nights and blue notes in Longyearbyen

White whales and grey weather

And what else did the summer bring in Spitsbergen? Negative stories include the lethal accident at Esmarkbreen (see August news, no further details known so far) and the loss of a private sailing boat at the north coast (see September news), luckily without loss of life.

Beyond this, the summer was largely characterized by unnormally warm water in Spitsbergen’s fjords and around the coasts, which led to a record loss of sea ice in the area and possibly also to the rather grey weather that prevailed through most of the season.

These sub-arctic water masses may also have brought whales up, which were seen around Spitsbergen in unusually large numbers. Especially Humpback whales were observed regularly, mostly in eastern parts of Spitsbergen and often several dozens of them. The most spectacular sighting was probably a completely white individual. White Humpback whales are not unknown to science, but extremely rare.

Dan Fisher, crewmember on SV Antigua, managed to get some exciting photos of this rare animal. Click here for a larger version of the image below.

White Humpback whale in southern Hinlopen Strait, August 11, 2012. © Dan Fisher.

White whales and grey weather: White Humpback whale.

Source: personal communication.

End of 2012 summer season

The summer season of 2012 is now really over. A few days ago, SV Antigua and SV Noorderlicht have left Spitsbergen as the last ships that sailed with passengers during the summer. Noorderlicht is on her way to Lofoten to continue cruising there, whereas Antigua has set course for her homeport of Franeker in the Netherlands. All other ships have already left in late August or September.

SV Noorderlicht has actually left relatively “early” this year: in recent seasons, she used to continue in Spitsbergen into late October or even the first days of November, into the first days of the polar night.

Antigua and Noorderlicht next to each other in the port of Longyearbyen, September 21.

End of 2012 summer season - Antigua & Noorderlicht.

Vandalism on historical “vinkelstasjon” near Longyearbyen

Vandalism is a relatively rare phenomenon in Spitsbergen, but not unheard of. In late September, minor damage was done on “vinkelstasjon”, which is near the road in Adventdalen, east of Longyearbyen and in the entrance to Endalen. The Vinkelstasjon was part of the cableway that was used to transport coal from the mines to the harbour. It has been put of of use long ago. Today, it is protected as part of Spitsbergen’s cultural heritage. Two years ago, some minor repair work was done and subsequently, an illumination system was installed, which is controversial and does not work properly.

In late September, some of the new windows were thrown in and some dirty graffiti was left behind. The Sysselmannen are inquiring.

Vinkelstasjon and coal cableway in the entrance to Endalen.

Vandalism on historical vinkelstasjon - Vinkelstasjon, Endalen.

Source: Sysselmannen

Tourism in Spitsbergen: stable since 5-6 years

Numbers in tourism have been rather stable in Spitsbergen for the latest 5-6 years, if not decreasing. The number of overnights has varied little, having been between 83,000 and 89,000 for 6 years. The year that has seen the largest number of passengers on big overseas cruise ships was 2007 with 33,000 who came this way. Since then, numbers have dropped down to 24,000 in 2011. Numbers of passengers who came to see Spitsbergen on smaller expedition cruise ships have increased slightly.

The numbers within land-based ways of tourism are either more or less stable or decreasing. From 1997 to 2011, between 400 and 750 persons have been travelling individually outside administration area 10 (more or less near the settlements, where registration is not compulsory), but no trend can be seen. Snow scooter tourism is stable, whereas non-motorized winter tourism such as ski tours and dog sledging are on the decrease, possibly as some specialized local operators have downsized or stopped their relevant activities.

Tourists at Alkhornet (Trygghamna, Isfjord).

Tourism in Spitsbergen: stable since 5-6 years - Spitsbergen - Tourists at Alkhornet, Trygghamna.

Sources: Reiselivsstatistikk 2011, Sysselmannen.

Dutch expedition to Edgeøya in 2014

The Arctic Centre of the University of Groningen (The Netherlands) is planning a scientific expedition to Edgeøya during 10 days in late July/early August 2014 with MV Ortelius. The expedition is open for scientists, artists and polar enthusiasts. The expedition is organized by, amongst others, Maarten “Mr. Barnacle Goose” Loonen from the Arctic Centre in Groningen, also leader of the Dutch scientific station in Ny Ålesund.

The expedition is following historical footsteps: in 1968-69, Dutch biologists spent a year at Kapp Lee on Edgeøya.

Get in touch with the project if you are interested to participate or in sponsoring.

Kapp Lee on Edgeøya, where Dutch scientists wintered in 1968-69.

Dutch expedition to Edgeøya in 2014 - Kapp Lee, Edgeøya

Chasing polar bears with helicopter in the name of science

An observation of a female polar bear together with a cub at Nordenskjöldbreen, opposite Pyramiden north of Longyearbyen, did not go as expected. The animals had been observed many times during the summer, always behaving neutrally or curiously towards smaller ships. In late September, however, they were quickly scared and ran away.

Not much later in Longyearbyen, the secret behind the changed behaviour could be revealed. Scientists who put their interest in taking samples higher than the well-being of the animals had chased them over kilometres with a helicopter to tranquilize them. The chase was observed by Czech scientists.

On the run: Polar bear family on Nordenskjöldbreen. The animals went up this steep, snow-covered ice wall at considerable pace. Both are well fed.

Chasing polar bears with helicopter in the name of science - Polar bears at Nordenskjöldbreen

Source: Own observation, local contacts.

Norwegian coastguard and Sysselmannen flying low over walrus colony

On June 24, a group of tourists and guides approached a walrus herd hauled out on Nordaustland, when a small plane appeared, flying repeatedly very low over the walrusses which started to show signs of panic. The plane, a Dornier 228, was flying for the Norwegian coastguard, who „controlled“ cruise ships and contacted them to gather information about the numbers of passengers and crew on board; information which the Sysselmannen has from the mandatory application process prior to all cruises.

Normally, it is the Sysselmannen who controls tourist traffic and not the coastguard. It is not known why, in this case, the coastguard took the job. A Sysselmannen representative was also on board the aircraft.

According to the Svalbard environmental act, all traffic has to be done in such a way to minimize disturbance of humans and animals. All aircraft have to keep a distance of 6000 feet from known walrus colonies. The actual distance in this incidence was a small fraction of 6000 feet.

According to the Sysselmannen, the required distance was possibly „forgotten“. The incident does not seem to have consequences for those involved beyond a gentle reminder of legal requirements.

Walrus colony, Nordaustland.

flying low over walrus colony: Walrusses, Nordaustland

Source: Svalbardposten (3812)

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