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Home → August, 2016

Monthly Archives: August 2016 − News & Stories

Polar bear shot on Prins Karls Forland

The series of sad news about deadly encounters between polar bears and humans in Spitsbergen does not stop: on August 09, a polar bear was shot in the bay Selvågen on Prins Karls Forland on Spitsbergen’s west coast.

The polar bear was a young female, 2 years old, weighing 155 kg.

Since August 01, 6 Russian scientists were based in a camp in Selvågen. As far as known, the polar bear was for the first time in the vicinity of the camp on August 09. As she was in a distance of 130 metres (yes: one hundred and thirty metres!), one of the scientists fired a warning shot from a flare gun. Immediately thereafter, another fired two sharp shots from a rifle. At least one of these shots must have hit the polar bear on a distance of 130 m.

The wounded animal went into the water where she died soon. The Russians towed her to the shore with a rope.

This happened around 10 p.m. The Sysselmannen was informed about 12 hours later. The law requires to inform the authorities as soon as possible in such a case.

Once local investigations are completed, the case will be forwarded the the federal prosecutor in Troms og Finnmark (north Norway).

Further details have not yet been published, but the distance of 130 m and the short time between the warning shot and the sharp shots may indicate that no serious attempt was made to scare the bear away and save her life.

The bay Selvågen a few days before the polar bear was shot on August 09.

Spitsbergen: Selvågen

Source: Svalbardposten

Bellsund, Isfjord – 17th-19th August, 2016

17th-19th August, 2016 – We made large steps back towards Isfjord, but not without an extensive stop in Bellsund. There, we started with a relaxed afternoon in the panorama lounge of the Arctica II, watching how wind, low clouds and rain turned the arctic into something very grey. Later that day, it cleared up a bit and we went out for a walk in Recherchefjord.

Things got better next day when we went for a longer hike in Van Keulenfjord. After a few hundred metres over fossil beach ridges we were greeted by a large male reindeer. Having as much time as we would need or want is so good. Not having to keep an eye on the watch, just taking things as they come. It does not yet get dark here at nighttime … it took some time, but then the reindeer had really come close to us, just being curious and friendly before it went its way again.

We followed a small river with lovely little waterfalls to that glacier cave that we happened to find in July. When you are lucky enough to find something like that, then you have to make use of it! So we did, we went into the wonderful inside world of that glacier and enjoyed (you can do this now also online, with a 360 degree panoramic view, just by clicking this link).

Finally it was time for the last open sea passage to Isfjord. It turned out to be a bit of a passage due to a stiff breeze which was filling the sail, so we went up north with excellent speed. The friends of sailing certainly had a great evening! This was noticed also inside the ship, as some gusts made the ship lean over quite strongly before we entered Grønfjord to find a sheltered anchorage.

Gallery – Bellsund, Isfjord – 17th-19th August, 2016

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

As the wind kept blowing in Isfjord the next day, we decided to spend the last day of the trip in Grønfjord, which was comparatively sheltered. Anyone who thought Grønfjord does not have nice nature and scenery was positively disappointed during a little mountain hike respectively tundra walk. Finally, we had our first meeting with civilisation again in Barentsburg, before we enjoyed Heinrich’s great final dinner and then made the last miles (of 1192 in total) back to Longyearbyen.

Hornsund – 16th August 2016

Due to the night shift on the wheel, I miss the first landing in Hornsund, but later I hear of a little hike, reindeer, arctic skuas and a glacier as I join group life again around mid day.

Hardly anyone has really slept well last night because of the movements of the boat, so a relaxed little walk at Gnålodden is the perfect choice for the afternoon. It is pure pleasure to lie on dry tundra near the bird cliff – the kittiwakes are still there, making a lot of noise – and let the eye wander over the arctic landscape.

What a life, what a land!

We also have a look at Wanny Woldstad’s home in Hornsund, namely in Hyttevika. She is the one who wrote the previous sentence in her book about her adventurous life as a female hunter here in the 1930s. The hut in Hyttevika, built in 1907, got some serious maintainance earlier this sommer. Good job. Now she is ready for another 100 years. (there is a panorama tour of this hut on this website).

Gallery – Hornsund – 16th August 2016

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

Then we are looking forward to a calm night at anchor. But some of the swell is still rolling in here, so it is not as calm as we had been hoping for. As also the wind is picking up and the anchor alarm is going for the third time, Heinrich lifts the anchor in the early morning hours and we start steaming north.

Storfjord – 15th August 2016

Now we have to move one, we still have many miles to go to the west coast, up to Isfjord, and to Longyearbyen. We are passing Mohnbukta. The overland trip from there to Longyearbyen would just take a few hours, but that’s another season, another way of getting around … Agardhbukta follows, from here it would be a hike of 4-5 days for strong walkers. That is about the amount of time that we still have for the long trip around the south cape.

My personal memories of the following two days are not quite complete, as we keep steaming through two nights. Initially, Heinrich, Kerstin and I take shifts, which we then reduce to Heinrich and me during the second night so Kerstin can take care of landings, which I am missing. A strange experience for me, but this way we can keep moving, which is important now. How did we make this work until last year, without a second guide? I don’t know.

But we do make landings. In Isbukta, we make an unusual observation: a Harp seal on a piece of glacier ice! Very close to us, the characteristic fur pattern is clearly visible. Then the group makes a hike on shore.

Gallery – Storfjord – 15th August 2016

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

We pass the infamous south cape during the night. Calm seas and reasonable weather allow Heinrich to execute a nautical masterpiece as he is navigating Arctica through through a narrow and shallow passage north of the small islands, saving a good 20 nautical miles on our way to Hornsund. Good thing, as it starts rolling as we reach the west coast.

Straumsland – 14th August 2016

The Norwegian weather forecast is currently not worth the paper it is written on (and we don’t even print it). We should have been able to sail and make landings comfortably in calm conditions. In real life, we have had quite strong winds last night and today morning, enjoying some real sailing. But even in a lee side position, it was too windy to make a landing today morning.

So we continued southwards out of Hinlopen Strait in order to make use of the precious time, even though it was a bumpy road on the way to Heleysund. So great there is this well-sheltered bay there, what would we do without it? Even there, we spent the afternoon on board, waiting for the wind to settle down, but we did that in all comfort and safety. In the evening, it calmed down and we enjoyed a nice hike around Straumsland, the arctic showing herself in peace and beauty again.

Gallery – Straumsland – 14th August 2016

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

We are steaming southwards in Storfjord through the night. The remaining days are getting fewer and we have to make sure we are getting back to the west coast now. Skipper and guides are taking shifts, passengers act as co-pilots during the night hours. See where we end up tomorrow. Currently we have Mohnbukta in the most beautiful midnight sun light on our starboard side.

Hinlopen Strait II – 13th August 2016

Miracles of Hinlopen Strait! Today was a day of wildlife. Brünich’s guillemots in amazing numbers – you know the place, we have been there before, more than once. But Alkefjellet is and remains exciting. It is different every time. This time, a lot of the chicks were already on the water, ready to start the long trip to south Greenland together with their fathers.

It is probably less well known where you can find puffins in Hinlopen Strait 🙂

We saw four polar bears today. A mother with a cup up on a hill slope, quite distant. We got a bit closer to this well-fed guy who was spending the afternoon on a very green slope. The veggie food seemed to to him well. Of course we don’t know what else he may have had recently.

Gallery – Hinlopen Strait II – 13th August 2016

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

We do know, however, that people are supposed to keep some distance from walrusses. But nice that the walrusses don’t always know that 🙂

Hinlopen Strait I – 12th August 2016

After the „nerve-wrecking passage“ (according to the pilot book, Den Norske Los) of Franklinsund, which is largely shallow and mostly uncharted, and some windy miles down into Hinlopen Strait, we made Murchisonfjord our first stop in this area. It is, of course, at the same time still part of Nordaustland. One good reason for going there was meeting the smaller sister ship Arctica I, which had brought some sought-after goods from Longyearbyen including fresh fruit and yoghurt.

The polar desert around Murchisonfjord is made up of very old rocks, which gives those with some background in geology insight in some of the very early chapters of the history of life on earth. Colonies of algae that around 800 million years ago contributed to the content of free oxygen of today’s atmosphere, which we use for breathing and burning fuels and candles. There is a group of geologists on Arctica I doing research on this, and they kindly gave us a short, but very interesting introduction into their work.

Gallery – Hinlopen Strait I – 12th August 2016

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

We got further insight into geology, a snow cave created by a meltwater river and a beautiful little canyon as we ventured out on land.

Nordaustland – 10th-12th August 2016

10th-12th August 2016 – Exciting days on the north coast of Nordaustland. To the south, there are the large ice caps, and to the north, the Arctic Ocean. Between them, a narrow stripe of barren, ice-free land. It has plenty of rocks and lichens. Anything else is rare or absent.

And yet, there is so much. Impressions that are hard to squeeze into words. Landscapes that have a lot of NOTHING. I don’t mean the absence of anything that could catch the eye or mind. Quite the opposite: there is a lot of something that might be described as NOTHING. Maybe emptyness is another term that makes the point. Any attempt to describe this would soon get bogged down in a long list of stones and rocks, shorelines and glaciers, bays and fjords. Every flower, no matter how small, becomes an attraction, any change of rock catches our attention. It probably doesn’t sound very exciting unless you have experienced the great NOTHING yourself. Many could probably stand in this landscape and wouldn’t experience the great NOTHING, but just see – nothing.

Gallery – Nordaustland – 10th-12th August 2016

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

We happened to visit the Haudegen station, the last outpost of German soldiers during the second world war. A military weather station that was not relieved before September 1945, when a ship came from Norway. Another place we visited was inner Brennevinsfjord, where the Glen expedition from Oxford had a base for their research on the ice cap Vestfonna in 1935-36. The edge of the ice cap is just a few minutes walking away from the shore and it is easily accessible.

Now we are on our way into Hinlopen Strait.

Karl XII Øya, Foynøya – 09th August 2016

The end of the world! Yeah! Remote, little islands are always something special. There is always something to discover, and you never know what will happen. There are often polar bears on small islands in this area. And, of course, the weather. You need some luck to make things work here.

They could never quite agree if Karl XII Island is one island or two. It was described as two islands after its discovery in the 19th century. Later in the 20th century, both islets grew together, it is said. Now it is definitely two islands. We could have gone through between them by Zodiac. If you cannot get from one end to the other with rubber boots without getting you feet wet, even at low tide, it cannot be just one island. Period.

After having a good look around for polar bears and deciding that the only bear around, which way lying up on a slope several hundred metres away from our prospected landing site, was not too much of a bother, we went ashore. Under these conditions, you can’t walk far from the boat, but there was not much space on level ground anyway, and the one and only hill was obviously already occupied. The number of kittywakes breeding up there is remarkable, there is a constant noise and the slopes under the colony are very lush and green. Together with the dark, rugged rocks and the overall shape of the islands, which is long and narrow, with the only real elevation at the northern end and some lower hill at the southern, it makes a nice miniature version of Jan Mayen.

A dead polar bear and some spread bones are silent but clear witnesses of how hard a bear’s life can be. But the strong one up on the hill is obviously doing well, however exactly he is doing it.

Karl XII Øya and especially Foynøya became famous in 1928 when Nobile’s airship Italia crashed in their vicinity. The famous „red tent“ that housed the 9 survivors of the crash – 6 men disappeared together with the airship – drifted for a while on the ice in this area. Amongst many relief expeditions was a dog sledge party with the Dutchman Josef van Dongen and the Italian Gennaro Sora, who nally became stuck on Foynøya on 04 July; they were rescued on 13 July by a Swedish seaplane. (With this last sentence, I copy myself from my Spitsbergen book, I was too lazy to write a new sentence.)

That brings us to Foynøya, which we explored in the afternoon. The northern end, to be precise. Some artefacts from 1928 are said to be still there, a box and a pistol or whatever. I guess you would need weeks to discover it, turning every stone around, if anything was actually really still there.

Gallery Karl XII Øya, Foynøya – 09th August 2016

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

And there are a lot of stones. Foynøya has got its very own charme. It is obviously a high arctic island, with lots of granite rocks, weathered and broken into large boulders. Black guillemots are sitting and screaming on high cliffs. Some fog banks add to the atmosphere, without obscuring too much of the scenery.

Northern Spitsbergen – 7th/8th August 2016

7th/8th August 2016 – The day did not just start grey and wet, it also remained grey and wet. We adjusted our day in Raudfjord, which today was a Gråfjord, by making it shorter, just making a little mountain hike to have a view of a cloud from the inside and to stretch our legs a little bit. Then we pushed on to the northeast, the best thing one can do with such a day is enjoying a relaxed afternoon on board while making miles. We reached Sjuøyane after midnight and dropped anchor for some calm hours.

Also Sjuøyane were anything but fog-free today, but visibility was enough for a landing, to visit some walrusses and to make a walk in this high-arctic landscape. We finished the tour a bit earlier, as it turned out that the terrain was occuppied by a polar bear.

Vesle Tavleøya asnd Rossøya are Europe’s northernmost islands, rocks in this sea of fog that does not really want to be an ice sea anymore. But the islands are home to puffins. We saw also some of last year’s juveniles.

Gallery Northern Spitsbergen – 7th/8th August 2016

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We made good use of a breeze by continuing under sail towards the 81st parallel, sailing beyond the edge of most maps on board. Kind of leaving the world behind, for while.

Northwest Spitsbergen – 6th August 2016

The day started a bit foggy, which is not necessarily a bad thing. You can give it a gentle start, slowly kreep out of the sleeping bag and have a peaceful breakfast without missing anything.

But then the day really took off. The sun started to burn holes into the fog, although the remaining fog banks were largely very decorative. The harbour seals on Danskøya turned out to be reliable, and so did the 17th century graves and blubber ovens on Amsterdamøya. Well, they tend to be less mobile than the seals anyway.

Gallery Northwest Spitsbergen – 6th August 2016

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

The little auks in their colonies here in northwestern Spitsbergen are semi-mobile, with their seasonal migrations, but still more mobile than a blubber oven that has been stationary for about 400 years. Now in August, most of them were gone (the little auks, not the blubber ovens). But even if there hadn’t been a single one at all: the two blue foxes would have been more than worth making that landing alone!

Magdalenefjord – 5th August 2016

Around mid-day we had reached Magdalenefjord. Going into Magdalenefjord was not even part of the plan, but as we don’t really have a plan, it didn’t really matter … we keep making decisions as we go along the way, and as it was quite foggy further north, but clear in Magdalenefjord, this decision was an easy one.

During a first little walk on a nice sand beach (no, not Gravneset), we saw arctic turn chicks, maybe flapping their wings today for the first time, doing their first metres in flight … the first of many million more to come, they will spend most of their life migrating back and forth between the Arctic and the Antarctic. So little animals, such an amazing life. Some walrusses were swimming around, with a glacier front providing a good background.

Not far away, a polar bear was resting on the shore. We had a good, reasonably close look at it. It just lifted its head, not giving a sh… about our presence. Or anybody else’s presence. There was about half a dozen of boats drifting or anchoring in that bay, crowding the place. Not that it bothered the bear much. But the place was overcrowded, well, it has been very crowded for more than a 100 years there, it is nothing new. But nothing we would want to be part of, so we left soon and headed on.

Gallery Magdalenefjord – 5th August 2016

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

We left Magdalenefjord in good style: hiking. Hundreds of thousands of tourists have been there over the decades, but few have done that, leaving not on a ship, but on foot. We made a nice glacier passage to the north. On the way to the glacier, we passed a polar bear just a few hundred metres from us. We could only see it when we had already passed it. It was lying further up on the slope, watching us for a moment, then laying its head down again, not taking any further notice of us at all. Good. We went our way up on the glacier, up into the fog, the mountains occasionally coming out between fog banks … a mystery atmosphere, small meltwater streams running down the glacier, disappearing into the ice in large holes. The combination of a glacier, a polar bear and fog made this tour quite unforgettable.

Kongsfjord – 04th August 2016

After a quiet morning on board with great views of the hanging glaciers on Prins Karls Forland and a bit of geological infotainment (what a stupid word! It was a presentation, or a lecture, if you prefer that. Period.) we reached Kongsfjorden. Both Kongsfjordbutikken and airship mast have a remarkable drawing power also for advanced Spitsbergen travellers. And we want to re-fill diesel anyway, to be able to reach the remotest parts of the Svalbard archipelago should the opportunity arise. We will see what the weather tells us to do.

The great weather with light exactly from the right direction made an excursion to the glaciers almost mandatory. Arctica II under sail near Kongsvegen, some of Spitsbergen’s most impressive mountains in the background, all in sunshine, and then a big calving just behind the boat. An amazing scene, a spectacle, almost too much for the senses.

The weather is still fine, but supposed to turn to the worse tomorrow. So we ignore time and tiredness but head of for some good hiking on Blomstrandhalvøya. Well-known terrain, you should think. But even here, there is always something new to discover. One group takes off for some mountain hiking, enjoying fine views of the surrounding glaciers and mountains from an elevated position. The others do some caving. Not without success.

Gallery Kongsfjord – 04th August 2016

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It is late as everybody comes back on board. Breakfast is delayed next morning and not really synchronized. We are already back to the west coast, heading north, as we get up one by one.

Trygghamna – 03. August 2016

So we are off again, this time with Arctica II. Sixty feet of steel, 12 souls inside, including skipper and boat owner Heinrich from Longyearbyen, Kerstin Langenberger as guide and me. Yes, this year we have got two guides on board.

Pizza from the pub in Longyearbyen is the first highlight on board, and then we sail out of the harbour. There is still a moderate breeze blowing in Isfjorden, so we can get used to life at sea a bit. Not too much, but enough for some. Not too long though, it is getting calmer again as we approach the northern side of Isfjord and it is calm as a lake as we are getting into the sheltered bay of Trygghamna.

The highest mountain tops are in clouds as we wake up next morning, but it is nice, clear and dry, so we start for a little mountain hike. Knuvlen is a tempting little top, just 325 metres high but with great views of surrounding glaciers, mountains and the fjord. The view is worth every single one of the many rocky metres.

Gallery Trygghamna – 03. August 2016

Click on thumbnail to open an enlarged version of the specific photo.

It is getting grey as we continue into Forlandsund. We enjoy views of the coast as we pass Daudmannsodden nearby, but then it is a good opportunity to rest a bit, to read, to sort pictures … until we drop anchor in a little bay at Prins Karls Forland for a calm night. We took the opportunity for a little evening walk, discovering the tundra with the colours of some late flowers and the remains of a hunter’s cabin, once solidly built with driftwood logs, a material otherwise rarely used for that purpose.

Polar bear family shot at Austfjordneset: shooter gets fine

The case of the polar bear family shot in June at Austfjordneset has been matter of this blog in two previous articles (click here for the first one and here for the second one).

The verdict of the public prosecutor in Tromsø has now been published. The shooter has got a fine of 20,000.00 NOK (just above 2100 Euro) because of negligence (“uaktsomhet”). The man has accepted the fine, the verdict is accordingly in force.

Polar bear family shot at Austfjordneset – Course of action

The polar bear mother and her cub had been around the hut already for a while, when the shooter wanted to scare her away with a rubber bullet. The the weapon, probably a pump-action shotgun, was loaded with a mixture of sharp ammunition and rubber bullets. The shooter did not know exactly how the weapon was loaded and fired a sharp cartridge rather than a rubber bullet, killing the polar bear mother instead of scaring her away with a harmless hit.

There was no acute danger to human life during the situation, as the shooter was on the roof of the cabin and the second person inside.

Both trappers are back on Austfjordneset and will continue their wintering. A few days ago, another polar bear that could not be scared away from the station area had been tranquilized and flown out to Nordaustland by the authorities.

Polar bear family at Nordenskiöldbreen (archive image, September 2012).

Spitsbergen: polar bear family

Source: Sysselmannen


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