Inspite of thawing periods in April, the winter season has lasted for quite a long time. Now it is coming to an end. In late April, the weather had finally stabilized with temperatures below zero and many sunny days, bringing good touring weather beyond 17 May, the Norwegian national day.
The spring has brought new inhabitants to inner Isfjord: two polar bear families have been regularly seen in Billefjord and Tempelfjord, including one with 3 cubs, a great rarity. This very pleasant fact brought controversial discussions regarding snow mobile traffic in these frequently visited fjords. The Sysselmannen (local authorities) asked the public several times to execute good self control and keep traffic to an unavoidable minimum. Nevertheless, small groups were observed several times too close or too long near the bears.
Experience for example from Tempelfjord in 2013 shows that polar bears, including families with young offspring, do not necessarily suffer from frequent traffic. In that spring, a mother with 2 first year cubs spent several months in Tempelfjord, which was frequently visited by large numbers of groups. Respectful behaviour contributed to the well-being of the bear family, which was generally not visibly affected by traffic, but seemed to enjoy a good and healthy period, with regular hunting success.
Unfortunately, both cubs from 2013 are most likely dead by now. One died in Billefjord a short time after tranquilization for scientific reasons. There is now evidence for the tranquilization being the cause of the death, but the assumption is not far away.
The second one of those 2 cubs was most likely the one that was shot near Fredheim in late March 2015 by tourists in their camp. The bear had injured one person in a tent and was then injured with several bullets from a revolver. It was later shot by the police.
These observations indicate that a larger number of well-controlled tourists, with respectful behaviour, is less of a problem than a smaller number of visitors (including scientists) with more unusual activities, involving a higher risk. An interesting impression, as the public reception of tourists is generally much worse than that of scientists.
Currently, the greatest public concern is about the polar bear family with 3 cubs. Discussions in social networks make it clear that there is public concern and interest, at least locally, and there is little tolerance for behaviour that might disturb or even endanger the bears. On the other hand, the mother has already been marked by scientists, which involves tranquilization of at least the mother. It is not known in public wether the scientists used snow mobiles or helicopters to get within shooting range, but in any way this can safely be assumed to be a traumatic experience for the whole family, within a period that is believed to be so sensitive for the survival of the young bears that the Sysselmannen asks the public to minimize traffic in the same area.
Now, the snow mobile season is over anyway, which will make life for the polar bears a bit more quiet, as individual do not have the opportunity anymore to get too close to the bears.
Polar bear family in Billefjord, April 2015