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Monthly Archives: May 2018 − News & Stories

Uni­que pho­tos of mating polar mating at the wea­ther sta­ti­on on Hopen

The litt­le island of Hopen seems to be the place curr­ent­ly regar­ding rare wild­life obser­va­tions. Just a few weeks ago a polar fox atta­cked the station’s dogs, later it appeared to have rabies. Only a few days later, the crew of the wea­ther sta­ti­on Hopen Meteo got a wild­life obser­va­ti­on of cen­tu­ry class. Gene­ral­ly, polar bear sightin­gs are not­hing unu­su­al on Hopen. During some win­ters, the­re are seve­ral hundred polar bear obser­va­tions clo­se to the wea­ther sta­ti­on. But the event obser­ved on 04 May was tru­ly uni­que!

Initi­al­ly, the wea­ther sta­ti­on crew thought that the two polar bears that came clo­se to the sta­ti­on might be a mother and her second year cub, having a litt­le fami­ly dis­pu­te as they kept roaring against each other.

polar bears mating, Hopen

Here, the situa­ti­on is not yet clear. Pho­to © Ted Tor­foss.

Rou­ti­ne­ly, the sta­ti­on crew made attempts to sca­re the polar bears away with making noi­se. The bears went away, but only to return later. They had obvious­ly been hun­ting suc­cessful­ly in the mean­ti­me, as evi­den­ced by traces of blood on the face.

Soon it beca­me appearent that it was not an ever­y­day polar bear visit, but that they were a male and a fema­le about to mate. After a while they got down to serious busi­ness.

polar bears mating, Hopen

Here the case is pret­ty clear: mating polar bears. Pho­to © Ted Tor­foss

Being total­ly busy with them­sel­ves, the bears did not pay much atten­ti­on to their sur­roun­dings but kept mating for a good hour, with obvious plea­su­re as the pho­tos sug­gest. The 4 crew mem­bers of Hopen Meteo hence got the oppor­tu­ni­ty to enjoy an obser­va­ti­on which is not just once in a life­time, but much rarer actual­ly. Obvious­ly, they took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to take uni­que pho­tos. Here are some ama­zing shots by meteo­ro­lo­gist and pho­to­grapher Ted Tor­foss who made good use of this chan­ce of a life­time and I thank Ted for his kind per­mis­si­on to show some of his pho­tos here! For more pho­tos, visit the web­sei­te of the Hopen wea­ther sta­ti­on. May­be the who­le thing was a bir­th­day pre­sent by natu­re to Ted Tor­foss, who could cele­bra­te his 60th bir­th­day soon after the event? Any­way, hap­py bir­th­day!

polar bears mating, Hopen

Polar bears enjoy­ing some cosy moments. Pho­to © Ted Tor­foss

Of cour­se, polar bears are mating every year and the event as such is com­mon in polar bear are­as in natu­re at this time of year. But as a small num­ber of indi­vi­du­als is spread out over immense­ly lar­ge and very remo­te are­as, obser­va­tions are very few and far bet­ween. The­re are not many pho­tos or foo­ta­ge taken. No ear­lier obser­va­tions are known from Hopen, which would be the hot­spot in Sval­bard for such an occa­si­on given the den­si­ty of polar bears in good ice win­ters and the pre­sence of the wea­ther sta­ti­on.

A few weeks ago, a group of lucky tou­rists also saw polar bears mating in the distance in Tem­pel­fjord not far from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Pho­tos taken by gui­de Yann Ras­hid were seen by many on the web and have wit­hout any doubt scar­ci­ty value, but they do not compa­re to the pho­tos taken from a much smal­ler distance by Ted Tor­foss on Hopen.

Polar fox with rabies on Hopen

A polar fox was found to have rabies after having atta­cked dogs on the litt­le island Hopen in sou­the­ast Sval­bard, accor­ding to a note by the Sys­sel­man­nen. The fox atta­cked the dogs which belong to the wea­ther sta­ti­on Hopen Meteo on 26 April; it was kil­led by the dogs during the attack. Rou­ti­ne­ly, the fox was taken to Oslo, whe­re it was found to be infec­ted by rabies.

Hopen is in the far sou­the­ast of Sval­bard, 90 kilo­me­t­res away from Edgeøya, the next lar­ge island, 200 kilo­me­t­res from Spitsbergen’s east coast and almost 300 kilo­me­t­res from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. It is, howe­ver, easi­ly pos­si­ble that other, infec­ted polar foxes are alre­a­dy fur­ther west, whe­re the sett­le­ments are loca­ted and tou­rists have their more com­mon rou­tes, or they may cover the­se distances quick­ly: most sea are­as in the east of the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go are still cover­ed by den­se drift ice, whe­re polar foxes are known to tra­vel lar­ge are­as. It is very likely that the rabies virus came with a polar fox from arc­tic Rus­sia, fur­ther away from Hopen than the main island of Spits­ber­gen. This is not the first time rabies is found in Sval­bard; on the long term, it hap­pens actual­ly more or less regu­lar­ly: the virus has been found no less than 7 times sin­ce 1980, inclu­ding the recent inci­dent on Hopen. The last time was in 2011, when rabies was found in reinde­er and foxes on Hopen, in Horn­sund and near Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Rabies on Spitsbergen (Svalbard): Hopen

Polar fox on Edgeøya: curio­si­ty is nor­mal beha­viour, aggres­si­on in con­trast an alarm signal for rabies.

Rabies is dan­ge­rous also for humans: “If you have acci­den­tal­ly touch­ed poten­ti­al­ly infec­ted ani­mals, then wash your hands very careful­ly after­wards; washing in dis­in­fec­tant is even bet­ter. Get­ting the virus through bare skin cont­act is near impos­si­ble, but mat­ters are com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent if you have been bit­ten. If you suspect an infec­tion, then it is defi­ni­te­ly advi­sed to cont­act the Sys­sel­man­nen as soon as pos­si­ble. Vac­ci­na­ti­on is pos­si­ble for a short while even after expo­sure to the virus. The risk of actual­ly get­ting infec­ted is very, very low, but if things go real­ly wrong, then the result will be fatal.” (quo­ta­ti­on from Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard gui­de­book)

Unu­su­al beha­viour of polar foxes inclu­ding aggres­si­on towards humans or lar­ger ani­mals is a clear war­ning sign of a rabies infec­tion.

The actu­al risk of infec­tions for humans is very low and the recent epi­so­de does cer­tain­ly not invol­ve any gene­ral risk for tra­vel­ling in Sval­bard, but awa­re­ness of the situa­ti­on is, as always, important.

Arc­tic rub­bish: it is not allo­wed to die or to be born in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Or: you are requi­red by law to car­ry a gun

It is incre­di­ble how long-lived some rumours are. They are so per­sis­tent that they are not only often repea­ted by media any­whe­re in the world who do not do their home­work, but – even worse – you can hear them local­ly, told as adven­ture sto­ries by gui­des.

Still, they are rumours and the truth is dif­fe­rent. You as a rea­der of this site know bet­ter or at least you will know bet­ter in a minu­te.

The first and may­be most often told rub­bish is that it is not allo­wed to die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. From a prac­ti­cal view­point, you may ask how to enforce such a rule or law. What hap­pens if you actual­ly die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en? Do you get a fine, or do they put you in jail? Serious­ly: such rumours often have a root some­whe­re in real histo­ry, and such is the case also here. For most of its histo­ry which goes back to 1906, Lon­gye­ar­by­en was not­hing but a com­pa­ny town, com­ple­te­ly owned by a mining com­pa­ny. The­re was no free housing mar­ket, but a com­pa­ny that pro­vi­ded accom­mo­da­ti­on to her employees. When your con­tract peri­od was finis­hed, you had to lea­ve Lon­gye­ar­by­en (theo­re­ti­cal­ly, you could stay else­whe­re in Sval­bard, as some trap­pers actual­ly did!). For this simp­le reason, peo­p­le did not die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en becau­se of age (they often died from other cau­ses, though). Even today, when you are serious­ly ill or you need inten­se care, you will be much bet­ter off on the main­land or some­whe­re else with advan­ced faci­li­ties, which do not exist in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The hos­pi­tal is small and not pre­pared to tre­at spe­cial cases, and the­re is no home for the elder­ly. So, if you need any of that, you fly to the main­land, for simp­le prac­ti­cal reasons.

Life and no ban on dying in Longyearbyen

Peo­p­le live hap­pi­ly in Lon­gye­ar­by­en …

In case an inha­bi­tant dies, the­re is often the wish to be buried in a home com­mu­ni­ty in main­land Nor­way (or else­whe­re). Only very few fami­lies are con­nec­ted to Lon­gye­ar­by­en over gene­ra­ti­ons. Most peo­p­le have a stron­ger fami­ly con­nec­tion else­whe­re, so in case, they want to be buried else­whe­re. If someone choo­ses to rest etern­al­ly on the ceme­tery in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, then this is abso­lut­e­ly pos­si­ble. The­re is only one rest­ric­tion: only urn buri­als are allo­wed, no coff­ins. The so far last buri­als in Lon­gye­ar­by­en have been in 2014, but the­re will be more in the future when the occa­si­on calls for it.

This is the fac­tu­al back­ground of the rather sil­ly rumour that it is “not allo­wed to die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en”. The­re is no law like that, and the­re has never been one.

Law against dying in Longyearbyen: does not exist

… and some­ti­mes (rare­ly, though), they hap­pen to die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The­re is no rule against dying in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Why are peo­p­le, even gui­des, tel­ling such sil­ly things? May­be it is the attempt to make Lon­gye­ar­by­en even more exci­ting and exo­tic than it actual­ly is. Quite unneces­sa­ry, as Lon­gye­ar­by­en is alre­a­dy quite exci­ting and exo­tic as it real­ly is. May­be it is too much effort to make some quick rese­arch, and may­be some peo­p­le think that the facts don’t mat­ter in times of fake news (and the “rule against dying” is real­ly more fake than news any­way). This is not the case! Things should be told as they are. One who did that regar­ding the right to die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en was local priest Leif Magne Hel­ge­sen, a while ago in a let­ter-to-the-edi­tor in Sval­bard­pos­ten.

While we are at it, let’s have a quick look at the other, more plea­sant end of the life cycle, name­ly birth. When it is said that it is not allo­wed to die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, it is also often said that it is not allo­wed to be born the­re eit­her. That is rub­bish just as well.It is only becau­se of the abo­ve-men­tio­ned prac­ti­cal reasons that pregnant women will take a flight to the main­land a few weeks befo­re they are expec­ted to give birth. In case of dif­fi­cul­ties, it will be much safer to be in the uni­ver­si­ty hos­pi­tal in Trom­sø or else­whe­re in or near big­ger, more advan­ced medi­cal faci­li­ties, just in case. The­re is no law or rule of any kind against being born in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Ano­ther sub­ject, simi­lar level of bull­shit: it is often said that peo­p­le are requi­red by law to car­ry a gun in Spits­ber­gen. Has anyo­ne ever seen such a law? No! Becau­se the­re has never been such a law. It is self-evi­dent that your chan­ces of sur­vi­val in the worst case of mee­ting a real­ly angry polar bear will be much bet­ter in case you have a sui­ta­ble wea­pon when you are in the field in polar bear coun­try, so it is inde­ed very com­mon to car­ry a gun. But this is sim­ply not requi­red by any law! The only thing that you are legal­ly obli­ged to have is some kind of deter­rent, usual­ly a signal pis­tol with spe­cial ammu­ni­ti­on. If you app­ly for a tour per­mit, which you need for remo­te are­as (out­side the so-cal­led admi­nis­tra­ti­on area 10), then the Sys­sel­man­nen will also requi­re that you car­ry a wea­pon for polar bear pro­tec­tion, but based on safe­ty con­side­ra­ti­ons and not on law. If you deci­de to walk out­side Lon­gye­ar­by­en wit­hout a gun, then you may be a bit sui­ci­dal, but you don’t do any­thing ille­gal. Again: the­re is no law that requi­res anyo­ne to car­ry a rif­le in Sval­bard!

Law that requires carrying a gun in Svalbard: does not exist

It is not for­bidden to die in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and the­re is no law asking you to car­ry a rif­le in Sval­bard. Not having any­thing to pro­tect you against polar bears might, howe­ver, be a life-threa­tening mista­ke.

So, now we have clea­ri­fied a good bit of arc­tic rub­bish. See you soon!


News-Listing live generated at 2024/June/18 at 19:38:41 Uhr (GMT+1)