The polar night has begun in Spitsbergen some days ago, and it won’t be before the second half of February that the sun will be visible again above the horizon. In the darkest time, from mid December to early January, it will be dark 24/7. Only stars, moon and northern lights will cast some bleak light over the snow-covered landscape when the sky is clear.
A good time to sort photos and take care of the website. Krossfjord has now got the site it deserves, being one of Spitsbergen’s biggest and most beautiful fjords. A map makes it easy to navigate through several sub-pages that have got panorama series and virtual tours of a number of places in Krossfjord, of course including some background information.
The polar bear in Longyearbyen (see previous posts) is not in Longyearbyen anymore. Today (Thursday, 16 October) at 12.45 hours, it was sedated and then flown out to a remote part of Svalbard. Before the polar bear actually fell asleep, it still walked for about 3 kilometres from the shore of Adventfjord, where it had been lying for a while, to the old northern light observatory (at the old runway) in Adventdalen. After the usual weighing, measuring and marking, it was flown northwards.
The Sysselmannen wants to get it as far away as possible, preferably to another island rather than the main island Spitsbergen. The exact place will, however, depend on the weather during the flight. The initially northerly direction may, however, point to Nordaustland as a possible new home for the bear. If it becomes similarly faithful to a smaller area there as he did near Longyearben, is something nobody can currently know, probably including the polar bear itself.
A larger number of people used the opportunity to get a glimpse of the bear in a distance of about 540 metres. For some, it was the first time to see a polar bear in the wild.
Approximate position of the polar bear near Longyearbyen when it was sedated (red dot). Image base: Google Earth.
Yesterday (Wednesday, 15 October) a polar bear visited Longyearbyen (see yesterday’s post here). The bear was finally driven away by the Sysselmannen (police), who followed it several kilometres by helicopter to make sure it would return directly.
But it did. Now, the polar bear is somewhere on the sea shore of Adventfjord adjacent to Adventdalen, close to Longyearbyen. Together with the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Sysselmannen is now preparing an attempt to sedate the polar bear and then fly out out to a remote location in the Spitsbergen archipelago.
The Sysselmannen asks everybody to stay away from there area until this has been done.
The polar bear is approximately in the area marked red near Longyearbyen. Image base: Google Earth.
Polar bears were seen in the vicinity of Longyearbyen several times during the last couple of weeks, for example in Hiorthhamn, on the north side of Adventfjord about 3 km from town, in late August, and in nearby Adventdalen.
Last sunday (12 October) morning, a polar bear was seen just east of Isdammen, the lake east of Longyearbyen, near the road. But the “highlight” was certainly the bear that actually entered the lower part of Longyearbyen, near Adventdalen, today (Wednesday, 15 October) in the early morning. The polar bear came from Adventfjord and walked past Ingeniør Paulsen (a shop) and to the row of residential buildings east of Forskningsparken (the UNIS/Svalhardmuseum building), walking directly next to the houses in vei 238, partly between them. Then, it went back into Adventdalen, where it was found by the police near the first dogyard, only a few 100 metres from town. The Sysselmannen (police) scared the bear away and followed it for a while by helicopter to make sure it would not return straightaway. It went into Mälardalen, a valley on the opposite side of Adventdalen.
It was an unpleasant surprise for the inhabitants of the houses in vei 238 to see the polar bear tracks where some had been walking lately in the evening before. The thought of suddenly meeting a polar bear on the way home from school, work or the pub is quite unpleasant. At least, most people do not lock their doors, so in the worst case most houses offer shelter in case it is urgently needed.
The Sysselmannen asks everybody to be careful, especially as the dark season is now starting and a bear may be difficult or impossible to see before it is actually close.
This time, the polar bear was not only in Hiorthhamn, as in this photo from late August, but actually in Longyearbyen, close to Adventdalen. It may have been the same individual.
I can’t deny that the arctic season 2014 is history now. The last entry in my travel blog is already 3 weeks old (ages in times of social media), and in 2 weeks, the polar night will start to shed its darkness over our beloved Spitsbergen. Already now, it is pretty uncomfortable up there, out in the field; the tours in September were already blessed with freezing temperatures and quite a lot of snow and wind. Well. The outdoor season is definitely over north of the arctic circle. Full stop.
So the arctic experience happens, to a large degree, on the computer screen at the time being. But that isn’t as bad as it may sound. Not only that it involves a far smaller risk of frostbite and exhaustion. But also, even in my 18th Spitsbergen summer, all these impressions come down on me as a waterfall. Beautiful, mighty, but also a bit overwhelming, threatening to bury the individual experience under a flood of impressions, sightings, activities … I can certainly recall last summer’s trips day by day, remember pretty much all the hikes, landings, sailings, wildlife sightings, weather etc., not to mention the experience of constantly sharing all this with groups, colleagues, crew, friends (there isn’t necessarily a strict distinction between some of these groups) without referring to any diary or other brain support. But after all this excitement has been every day life for many months, it is a good thing to sit down for a while, have quite a few cups of tea and revive the experience in my head.
This turns a necessity into an advantage. It is a necessity to complete triplogs and slideshows after the season, there is simply not enough time to do it all on the road, and I consider it an important service to my guests. So it has to be done after the season, to some degree. So now I have the pleasure to recall all those trips again, go through countless photos, turn them into photo galleries and slideshows, compile triplogs … unbelievable, these months! Hundreds of kilometres of hiking over tundra and mountains, across snow and rocks, beaches and glaciers, muddy solifluction soil and sandy volcanic ashes, from Bear Island and Jan Mayen to Sjuøyane, Spitsbergen’s furthest north, and a lot of what is in between.
Join me, if you want to, on these retrospectives. It does not take any effort beyond a mouseclick, it does not cost anymore than a few minutes of time – a precious resource, I know, but I am sure, it will be worth it. So have a look at the photo galleries of the 2014 arctic season. These pages are largely complete by know, only one or the other slideshow is still to follow, but it won’t take long. And my tip: the polar panoramas with 360 degree panoramic images from all parts of the arctic (and Antarctic, for that sake) that I have travelled recently. It is by far the largest collection of its kind, and it is growing. It is almost like being there, as you rotate a polar scenery 360 degrees. Make a virtual trip to the arctic every day, explore a beautiful place you didn’t even know existed, be in such a wonderful place, virtually, for a moment. It will give you a moment of peace and beauty, almost as being there in reality. Especially the panoramic tours, which play almost like a little film, illustrating a place and telling some kind of story about it. For example: the famous trapper hut Fredheim in Tempelfjord, the remote, small islands of Ryke Yseøyane or, of course, Jan Mayen.
There won’t be any new travel blogs here for a while. Maybe I will have one or the other blog here, but no reports from “out there” in the new future. But I will feed the Spitsbergen news a bit more frequently, so meanwhile, check them.
View over Lilliehöökbreen in August. One of many priceless moments of the last summer.
Several polar bears have been hanging out in the Billefjord area, north of Longyearbyen, for quite a while already. These have ben seen many times by tourists and the 14 persons who are working and living in the largely abandoned Russian settlement Pyramiden. Several times during the summer, a bear has been seen inside Pyramiden, also directly next to hotel Tulipan, where several people live and where guests are lodged.
Now, the polar bear has literally gone a step too far: during the night to Monday, it went through a window into the bar to have a look around. The human inhabitants of the hotel were woken up by the noise, but preferred to leave the polar bear alone to its business. No information has been published about damaged that is likely to have happened, other than that the living bear was not interested in his padded conspecific fellow. It is not known if the polar bear showed any interested in the strong drinks that are stored in the bar.
In any case, it had already left when the Sysselmannen arrived on the scene. Despite a 1.5 hour helicopter search, the bar bear could not be found.
As repeated attempts to scare the polar bear away from Pyramiden have not yielded anything beyond short-term success, the Sysselmannen has now decided to tranquilize the bear and move him to a remote destination when he comes back.
Probably, you have to read the headline twice to believe it: yes, people were grunting at walrusses, not the other way around. This remarkable event is said to have happened on July 16 at Torellneset in Hinlopen Strait during a passenger landing from MS Expedition.
A guest wrote a letter later to Sysselmannen and Svalbardposten, because 2 “wildlife specialists” from the ship disturbed walrusses to achieve “good” photographs. The 2 “specialists” are said to have approached walrusses in shallow water to distances of about 2 metres and then to have “barked” and “grunted”, assumably to make the walrusses move for “better” photographs. Later, other staff justified this behavious by saying the “specialists” knew what they were doing.
According to the Svalbard environmental act, it is forbidden to “hunt, catch, harm or kill” animals. The Sysselmannen will investigate if the incident is a breach of legal regulations. In any case, an active approach of less than 30 metres distance is not allowed according to AECO-regulations. AECO is an organisation of ship-based arctic tour operators with, amongst others, the purpose of self-regulation. To achieve this, AECO has created guidelines which are often stricter than legal requirements. These guidelines are binding for members such as the operator of the MS Expedition, who has announced internal investigations and confirmed a general dedication to high environmental standards. AECO is now considering to discuss the incident on their annual member meeting.
In any case, an approach to about 2 metres distance to walrusses for touristic purposes is definitely not acceptable. It is also completely unnecessary: walrusses, usually rather lazy and inactive on shore, are often lively and curious in the water. It is not too unusual that curious walrusses themselves approach people who are standing on land near the waterline to close distances – without any disturbance of wildlife by barking or grunting or whatever.
It is usually easy to see on photographs if animals have been disturbed. Such photos are today hardly accepted anymore by professional publishers.
Walrusses can be very curious when swimming: these animals decided freely to approach a group of tourists, who were not moving, without any disturbance of anyone or anything. An active approach of tourists to such close distance is neither allowed nor acceptable.
After a delay of nearly four months, the Sysselmannen´s new ship Polarsyssel could be named and officially taken into service on Saturday, September 20th. The ceremony was held at the ‘Gammelkaia’ in Longyearbyen in the presence of the Norwegian Minister of Justice Anders Amundsen.
The Polarsyssel replaces the Nordsyssel which in September last year, after it´s eleventh season in service for the Sysselmannen, left Spitsbergen for the last time. To compensate the new ship´s delay the beginning of this year´s season, starting in May, was run by a ship of the Icelandic coastguard called Tyr.
Unlike former ships of the Sysselmannen, the new Polarsyssel was custom-built for service in Spitsbergen and is equipped for the special requirements of the Sysselmannen. The vessel´s main tasks will be in the fields of rescue operations, environmental monitoring and the prevention of oil pollution.
The Polarsyssel is equipped with a helicopter deck, a winch to tow other vessels, infrared and optic cameras to find persons or leaking oil, water cannons to fight fire, a medical room, two work-boats which can be launched quickly and the facilities for an external power supply to save fuel when the ship lies at the pier in Longyearbyen. With the Polarsyssel a ship with the ice class 1B was chosen, differing from its antecessor ‘Nordsyssel’ which had the highest ice class 1A Super. The Polarsyssel has a crew of 9 persons, cabin space for 21 passengers and a capacity for 35 day-passengers.
The hull was built in Turkey and the ship was then mounted and equipped in the Havyard shipyard in the Norwegian town Leirvik. She is leased out to the Sysselmannen by the shipping company Remøy Management. Owner of the vessel is the Icelandic company Fafnir Offshore. The contract for using the Polarsyssel ends in 2020 for the time being. After this, the Sysselmannen has the option to renew it until 2024. The costs for using the ship will be 329 million Norwegian Kroner in the first ten years. Though, each season the Polarsyssel will only stay in Spitsbergen for six months, from May to November. During winter time it will serve on other occasions for example as a supply vessel for the offshore oil industry.
The new Polarsyssel will probably not win beauty contests, but she is an extremely functional ship (Foto: Cemreshipyard.com).