The final trip with Antigua is taking us to the northern lights. In theory, anyway. Soon more about real life. Anyway, we are starting in Tromsø, about to sail to the beautiful Lofoten islands. One week of scenic islands, lovely small fishing villages, and of course northern lights, that’s what we are hoping for.
The weather forecast, shown in the first picture, is determining real life, that’s how it is in the far north. You don’t have to be a meteorologist to understand that this forecast predicts shit weather. Yes, I wrote „shit“ weather. Sometimes you have to be direct and honest, there is no way around it.
This is the update on yesterday’s article (Male polar bear injured by scientific collar). A mixed US-American/Canadian team is out trying to find the bear, which is known as “Andy”. The following update from earlier today (Oct. 28) is from Polar Bears International, with additional comments from Morten Jørgensen:
“… basically … there’s no news: The bear hasn’t been re-sighted since Oct. 13th and a combined US/Canadian team is assessing how to proceed. To further complicate matters, the sea ice has begun to freeze, the bears are dispersing from Kaktovik, and the collar is no longer broadcasting (if it were on the air, it would have been removed earlier). This is a logistically complex problem that they’re doing their best to resolve…”
Comments from Morten:
“This is sad. And it raises more questions than it answers.
The comment that if it had been working, the collar “would have been removed earlier” is a strange one. Does that imply that the fate of “Andy” was known long before the expedition was mounted? Does that mean that the expedition could have been sent out earlier? Does that suggest that the expedition was sent out not so much to save “Andy” as to appease the growing amount of concerned people?
Apart from that, now we know a little (very little) more.
1. We know that the collar is not sending a signal and has not done so for a while – meaning that the bear is wearing it for absolutely nothing.
2. And we know that unless the situation changes, “Andy” is off somewhere in the beginning of the polar night on his own, possibly to slowly die from wounds and infections inflicted by his “instrument”.
This case leaves many, many questions still. Once those responsible are back from their excursion, we expect answers.”
So far Morten’s comments. There will be updates on this pages as soon as there are any news.
The polar bear “Andy” in Alaska, equipped with and injured by a scientific collar with satellite transmitter, is now out on the sea ice. His chances to be found and rescued are getting smaller.
Every year, a large number of polar bears is sedated and marked by scientists in various parts of the Arctic. Samples are taken and some of the bears are equipped with collars that have satellite transmitters to follow their journeys. This is usually only done with female polar bears, as the males have a neck too strong and thick to mount the collars, which would be lost quickly or hurt the bear and even cause difficulties while swallowing food and breathing. It has so far been commonly assumed in public that only female polar bears are marked this way and collars are generally not attached to male polar bears.
As it turned out recently, reality may be different, possibly already for years. Near Kaktivik in Alaska, on the coast of the arctic Beaufort Sea, a male polar bear wearing a collar has been seen and photographed. The collar is cutting into the skin, causing visible injury and most likely pain.
It is believed that the bear has been sedated and marked by scientists in Canada. it is said that male polar bears have been equipped with collars already for some time on an experimental basis. The collars are supposed to drop off automatically after a while, which may be half a year. It is possible that this does not always work in time. It is also possible, actually quite likely, that polar bears can put on a lot of weight in short time when they have access to large amounts of food, for example when a dead whale is stranded on the beach. On the arctic coasts of Canada and Alaska, polar bears sometimes find whale carcasses from indigenous hunting near Inuit settlements. This is unpredictable, according to relevant authorities. These events do indeed not occur on regular intervals, but they are well known and not rare, so they have to be expected and accounted for at any time.
In the USA including Alaska, the United States Fish & Wildlife Services (USFWS) is the authority responsible for managing and protecting marine wildlife including polar bears. According to the USFWS, the polar bear is monitored, but resources are not available to help it. Maybe motivation to take action is limited as the bear received the collar most likely in Canada.
The actual case seems to have been known locally already for months and it is now getting public attention. Interested individuals are approaching the USFWS, adding pressure to help the bear and release it from the collar. More about the present discussion, including contact details of relevant authorities, on the Facebook-page Protect the Polar Bear. Morten Jørgensen from Denmark has taken initiative. Morten is also the author of the book Polar Bears on the edge, where scientific treatment of polar bears is discussed critically.
Organizations such as WWF and Polar Bears International are supporting scientific work on polar bears including satellite collars. The discussion about risks of this work is not new, but has not reached the general public yet.
Male polar bear in Alaska, equipped with and injured by a scientific collar with satellite transmitter. Normally, only female polar bears receive such collars.
Triplets are very rare, twins are normal. The female in question, did, however, not have triplets for the first time: in april 2011, she had already been caught, sedated and examined by scientists on the east coast of Spitsbergen, when she had triplets. Back then, only one of three cubs survived in the end.
In spring 2015, the female was caught and sedated again. At that time, her 3 cubs were so small that they were not sedated, but they were present during the examination of their mother. According to data from the satellite transmitter on the collar that was attached to the female on the occasion, the family then started a remarkable journey northwards to spend the summer north of Nordaustland. Later, they returned south again, crossing Nordaustland, Hinlopen Strait and northeastern Spitsbergen to return to Tempelfjord, where the female was recently seen. Only one cub was still with her, the other two are apparently lost. It is not known when and how they died, but it is common that mother polar bears lose part of their offspring during the first summer or later. Access to food can be difficult, and competition between the cubs can be strong then.
Sunday the 4th and Monday the 5th of October were election days in Longyearbyen. For the upcoming four years the 15 members of the new City Council (Lokalstyre) were elected. The City Council is the supreme organ of the local government in Longyearbyen. 1651 electorates were entitled to vote, having the choice between four parties and their candidates. The counting of votes led to the following preliminary result:
Result in %
(Ap, social democratic)
(H, conservative, economic liberal)
Miljøpartiet De Grønne
(MDG, environmental party, social-liberal)
1006 valid votes were cast, according to a voter participation of 60.93 % (2011: 56.56 %). For the calculation of the seats, both the votes for the single candidates and for the parties in total are relevant.
For the Arbeiderpartiet this result is a setback. With 7 seats so far it was the strongest party in the present City Council providing the head of the local government in Longyearbyen, Christin Kristoffersen. Even in the recent survey from September the Arbeiderpartiet was clearly ahead with 56.5 % of the votes and 9 seats. Here the Høyre achieved only 21 % (3 seats), the Venstre 12.9 % (2 seats) and the green MDG 9.7 % (1 seat). However, 45 % of the respondents answered that they still were undecided, would not vote or didn´t want to answer. Kristoffersen had announced earlier that she would not candidate again for another period. This time Arild Olsen is top candidate of the Arbeiderpartiet.
The Høyre had 3 seats in the Council so far and was the 2nd strongest party after the Arbeiderpartiet. Now the Conservatives are seeing an opportunity to define the politics of the upcoming four years in Longyearbyen in a coalition with the Venstre and to install their top canditade Torgeir Prytz as head of the local government. Both parties already announced the intention to go into coalition negotiations. Together they would have a majority of 1 seat in the Council. Such a coalition might sound strange outside of Norway (Høyre means ‚right-wing‘ and Venstre ‚left-wing‘). But in the Norwegian political landscape these two parties are not too far away from each other (see above, Venstre is not a socialist or communist party as the name might suggest).
Venstre and the green MDG were not represented in the City Council before. Especially for the MDG the representation in the Council is a significant success. With 13.5 % of the votes and 2 seats in the Council the group in Longyearbyen would be the most successful group of the environmental party in whole Norway so far. The top candidate of the MDG Helga Bårdsdatter Kristiansen already promised an active opposition policy.
Longyearbyen is now getting a new city council (Lokalstyre). A lot is changing currently in the little city.
The low coal prices on the world market make life even more difficult than expected for the Norwegian mining company Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani (SNSK). Already in spring, the Norwegian government, which is owning almost all shares, had to help the SNSK out of trouble with a loan. Due to the dramatic situation, the management has decided to take some drastic steps:
The production in the mines at Sveagruva (Svea Nord and the new mine in Lunckefjellet) will be stopped. A minimum crew of about 50 miners will ensure maintainance to keep the option of future production available.
If the coal prices do not recover until 2019, the mines at Sveagruva will be closed.
The production in the smaller mine 7 near Longyearbyen will be increased. 45 miners (until now 24) are supposed to produce 155,000 tons per year (currently 70,000) .
Further occurrences near mine 7 will be prepared for mining to ensure a production period of at least 10 years.
The administration will be downsized.
The maintainance mode in Sveagruva will require an annual budget of 95 million Norwegian Kroner, which will have to come from the owner (the goverment), according to the plans of the management. Negotiations with the government are started immediately.
Altogether, the number of jobs in Longyearbyen and Sveagruva will be decreased by 150. Together with those jobs already lost recently, the number of employees is downsized by 150 within 18 months.
Many people in Longyearbyen are worried now about the future. A lot of jobs in many companies still depend on mining, and the fear is there that a massive downscaling of the coal industry and related economy would have a major negative impact on the local economy and society. The political debate about the future economical structure of Longyearbyen has started. One of the measures to fight the economical problems is the envisaged increase of the harbour facilities.
Harbour days are not the most exciting days. There is a lot to do to finish a trip and to get the ship ready again, even though I won’t be on board when Antigua takes off again.
In the evening, I went back to Jan Mayen in my mind. The Svalbardmuseum had invited me to do a presentation about the island and my travels there. For an hour and ten minutes, we went through the geography and the history of the island, over lava fields and moss carpets, from the impressive coastline to the summit crater of Beerenberg. Nice to go through all that again mentally, it was definitely a highlight amongst my polar travels, and these are not few. And in a place like Longyearbyen, people are certainly interested in their remote neighbour island, 1000 km to the southwest. Nice also that some of the Antigua crew are present in the audience, as well as some well-known faces from Longyearbyen.
Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.
What an irony: the first thing that we saw as we stepped out of the museum was a nice northern light. And this after having hoped for it for a week together with the group that left Antigua and largely flew home today! The happier were those few Antigua-guests who had not yet left. The evening was to be a long one, the northern lights came and went. Between the various chapters of a culinary trip to Italy, enjoying and photographing the aurora was one of the main pleasures of the evening.
There were no northern lights last night, but apart from that, it was a very nice evening in Pyramiden, nice and calm.
We spent a nice, long morning there, there is so much to see and to do in Pyramiden, and the photographers can never have enough time.
Nordenskiöldbreen was to be this trip’s final highlight. I could almost get a bit sentimental now. Also because this glacier has shrunk so dramatically since I have seen in for the first time in 1997.
And now we are motoring the last miles back to Longyearbyen, into another colourful sunset. The final miles of this trip, the last miles of a long arctic season. I should calculate how many miles we have done, altogether. Four trips on Antigua, then there was Arctica II, and of course Jan Mayen and East Greenland. In a few hours, when we are alongside, this season’s polar ship-based trips are history, as far as I am concerned (and almost everybody else has already left a good while ago). Of course, there is still the Lofoten trip on Antigua in late October, but that is not the high Arctic. No polar bears, no walrusses, no tundra, no rifles, no Zodiacs (well, maybe occasionally).
Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.
No reason to be sad, still. This year’s Spitsbergen time is not over yet, I still have some time here, shore-based. Calm time in Longyearbyen. Nice light, nice people, and hopefully some productive creativity.
Back in Isfjord, and the lights are going on. A sunset, that is moving more and more towards noon, is throwing a soft pinkish-red light onto the snow-covered mountain tops. The tundra is frozen, the moss beds, soft and wet just a short while ago, are hard as concrete. A few small rivulets are still running under an icy cover, just a few spots of running water are still exposed. Soon, they will also turn into ice, and nothing will move here until well into the next spring.
Only some reindeer are moving here and there, and a group of ptarmigan high up on the slope.
Either there are no whales in Isfjord anymore, or they have already left for the Azores or wherever they spend their winter. Instead, we have time for a short late afternoon landing. Our choice is Skansbukta, a classic. The glowing evening light on Gipshuken, a mountain on the opposite shore, is the undisputed highlight.
Last night it looked pretty awful outside. Well, not awful, it was actually quite exciting. Strong winds and dense snow drift. Arctic in winter mode. There was even a snowball fight on deck.
Towards the morning, the weather calmed down and we could easily go ashore on Blomstrand. While we were hiking, the Antigua could even be moved to Ny London, to Mansfield’s old marble mine, to pick us up there. Very nice. And the light, while we were out, you should have seen that! Light snow drift while the sun was going up above the Tre Kroner … gigantic.
Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.
The harbour in Ny Ålesund is small, and so is Antigua, so we managed to sneak in to the inner side of the pier, which can be very useful. A calm winter afternoon in Spitsbergen’s northernmost settlement, a calm evening in port, and then we went off, towards Forlandsund, towards Isfjord. There is currently still a bit of swell in outer Kongsfjord, but not so bad anymore, and it will be calm again soon, in Forlandsund.