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Home → January, 2020

Monthly Archives: January 2020 − News & Stories


Ana­es­the­ti­sed polar bear died during trans­port

The polar bear that was ana­es­the­ti­sed and flown out last night died during the trans­port in the heli­co­p­ter, accord­ing to the Sys­sel­man­nen.

The cau­se of death is cur­r­ent­ly unknown. A post­mor­tem exami­na­ti­on is expec­ted to cla­ri­fy this wit­hin a few days.

Betäubter Eisbär

An ana­es­the­ti­sed bear during pre­pa­ra­ti­ons for a heli­co­p­ter flight to Nord­aus­t­land (archi­ve image, 2016).

The bear is said to have been a fema­le that was not tag­ged.

The­re is always a remai­ning risk inherent to ana­es­the­sy, espe­cial­ly as the weight and health con­di­ti­on of the “pati­ent” are most­ly unknown or can, at best, be rough­ly esti­ma­ted, some­thing that must obvious­ly have been dif­fi­cult last night in darkness.

Anything bey­ond this is mere spe­cu­la­ti­on at the time being until the results of the post­mor­tem are avail­ab­le.

Again polar bear in Lon­gye­ar­by­en area, flown out

Again, a polar bear show­ed up in the Lon­gye­ar­by­en area. The bear was seen yes­ter­day (Thurs­day, 30 Janu­a­ry) at Hotell­ne­set, clo­se to the air­port.

Anaesthetised polar bear

An ana­es­the­ti­sed polar bear during pre­pa­ra­ti­ons for the flight to Kinn­vi­ka (archi­ve image, 2016).

The Sys­sel­man­nen pushed the bear with the heli­co­p­ter across Advent­fjord to Hior­th­hamn. Later, the bear was ana­es­the­ti­sed and flown out to Kinn­vi­ka on Nord­aus­t­land, about 200 km as the crow flies to the north. It is unli­kely that this bear will return to Lon­gye­ar­by­en at any time soon, alt­hough this kind of distance and ter­rain are not an insur­moun­ta­ble obsta­cle for a polar bear. But chan­ces that the bear has the ori­en­ta­ti­on and moti­va­ti­on to set cour­se for Lon­gye­ar­by­en now are low.

The last case when a bear was ana­es­the­ti­sed near Lon­gye­ar­by­en and flown out, also to Kinn­vi­ka, was in April 2016. This bear retur­ned to Lon­gye­ar­by­en in late Decem­ber 2019 and was shot in the ear­ly morning hours of New Year’s Day 2020.

Polar bear experts of the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te were pre­sent during the who­le ope­ra­ti­on, as the Sys­sel­man­nen infor­med on Face­book.

New regla­ti­ons for pro­tec­ted are­as on the west- and north coast of Spits­ber­gen

New regu­la­ti­ons for the Natio­nal Parks on the west coast of Spits­ber­gen – South Spits­ber­gen Natio­nal Park and North Spits­ber­gen Natio­nal Park – have been under dis­cus­sion for a con­si­derable time. They ent­e­red for­ce on 20 Decem­ber 2019, accord­ing to a press release by the Nor­we­gi­an government.

Liefdefjord bird sanctuary: Andøyane

New bird sanc­tua­ry Lief­defjord: Andøya­ne (seen here), Stas­jon­søya­ne, Måkeøya­ne and Ler­nerøya­ne are inclu­ded. Com­mon eiders and other birds may have a hid­den nest behind every drift­wood log, so it has never been a good idea to walk around here during the bree­ding sea­son. Now the­se islands are sea­so­nal­ly pro­tec­ted by law.

New regu­la­ti­ons

The­re are a cou­p­le of chan­ges rele­vant main­ly for ship-based tou­rism in the­se are­as. Expe­di­ti­on lea­ders, tour lea­ders and gui­des as well as indi­vi­du­al tou­rists such as crews of pri­va­te yachts need to be awa­re of the­se new regu­la­ti­ons.

The most important ones are:

  • The­re is a new bird sanc­tua­ry „Lief­defjord“, which inclu­des the island groups of Andøya­ne, Stas­jon­søya­ne, Måkeøya­ne and Ler­nerøya­ne. The pro­tec­tion mecha­nism is the same as for the older bird sanc­tua­ries: all traf­fic is ban­ned from the islands inclu­ding the waters wit­hin 300 metres from the nea­rest shore from 15 May to 15 August.
    This is pro­bab­ly the most rele­vant chan­ge for ship-based tou­rism and the only one that will invol­ve important restric­tions on regu­lar­ly visi­ted sites.
  • The bird reser­ve Blom­strand­ham­na on the north side of Blom­strand­hal­vøya is enlar­ged: now, Ind­re Breøya is also inclu­ded.
  • The­re is now a per­ma­nent traf­fic ban in an area around the warm springs of Troll­k­jel­de­ne. The exact loca­ti­on is given by a map and a set of coor­di­na­tes.
    Troll­k­jel­de­ne com­pri­se several warm springs with sin­ter ter­races south of Bockfjord, a cou­p­le of kilo­me­tres inland. They are not a fre­quent­ly visi­ted site. Jotunk­jel­de­ne, the smal­ler springs clo­se to the shore in Bockfjord, are not inclu­ded in the new regu­la­ti­ons and can also be visi­ted in the future (with care, plea­se).
  • New site-spe­ci­fic gui­de­li­nes will be intro­du­ced at a cou­p­le of loca­ti­ons. AECO will pro­vi­de the­se gui­de­li­nes to the Sys­sel­man­nen. The­se sites inclu­de: Ytre Nor­skøya, Sal­ly­ham­na and Smee­ren­burg (nor­thwest Spits­ber­gen), Signe­ham­na and Fjor­ten­de Juli­buk­ta (Krossfjord), Fug­le­hu­ken (Prins Karls For­land), Ahl­strand­hal­vøya (Van Keu­len­fjord), Gnå­lod­den and Gås­ham­na (both in Horn­sund).
  • Things have actual­ly even beco­me easier in a few cases: non-moto­ri­sed boats may pass clo­se to the main­land coast wit­hin the 300 m zone of the bird sanc­tua­ries of Bohe­man (near Bohe­man­nes­et in Isfjord) and Prins Hein­richøya / Mie­the­hol­men (east of Ny-Åle­sund in Kongsfjord). That will make life easier for kaya­kers. Any boat that has an engi­ne has to stay out­side the 300 m zone just as befo­re, mea­ning that you can, for examp­le, not pass bet­ween the main­land coast and Prins Hein­richøya / Mie­the­hol­men with a Zodiac.
  • Toi­let water and grey­wa­ter may not be dischar­ged off wit­hin 500 metres from the coast. This was, so far, only valid wit­hin the Natu­re Reser­ves; now it is also in for­ce in the Natio­nal Parks.
  • Moto­ri­sed traf­fic on land is pro­hi­bi­ted in the Natu­re Reser­ves (not new) and in the bird sanc­tua­ries (also not new, but cla­ri­fied). The­re is, howe­ver, an important excep­ti­on: snow mobi­les are allo­wed wit­hin the bird sanc­tua­ry at Kapp Lin­né until 14 May (the gene­ral rules app­ly, of cour­se – no dis­tur­ban­ce of wild­life, no dri­ving on ground that is not fro­zen and snow-cove­r­ed).
Trollkjeldene, Bockfjord

Troll­k­jel­de­ne (Troll springs) in Bockfjord: from now on you have to keep some distance.
Jotunk­jel­de­ne, the springs which are clo­se to the shore and more regu­lar­ly visi­ted, are not affec­ted by new regu­la­ti­ons.

All other exis­ting regu­la­ti­ons remain in for­ce, inclu­ding the pos­si­bi­li­ty for traw­ling in depth grea­ter than 100 metres.

Fur­ther cur­rent chan­ges inclu­de main­ly the exact wor­d­ing of the regu­la­ti­ons without imply­ing much of a chan­ge in prac­ti­ce. For examp­le, the bird sanc­tua­ries or bird reser­ves are now „natu­re reser­ves for birds“ to make it clear that they have gene­ral­ly the same sta­tus as natu­re reser­ves, which are Norway’s most strict­ly pro­tec­ted are­as.

More chan­ges to come

The future will see fur­ther chan­ges espe­cial­ly in cen­tral Spits­ber­gen: a new admin­stra­ti­on plan will look at important are­as inclu­ding Isfjord, Advent­da­len which is next to Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Van Mijen­fjord. Chan­ges may inclu­de a ban on hea­vy oil in Isfjord and a maxi­mum size (pas­sen­ger num­ber) of ships allo­wed to visit the­se waters. But the­se and other pos­si­ble chan­ges are part of ano­t­her pro­cess that is cur­r­ent­ly in an ear­ly sta­ge.

Mone­ta­ry fine for dis­tur­ban­ce of bird colo­ny at Ossi­an Sarsfjel­let

A tour ope­ra­tor has got a fine of 30,000.00 NOK (3,000 Euro) by the Sys­sel­man­nen for dis­tur­ban­ce of bree­ding birds at Ossi­an Sarsfjel­let in Kongsfjord. The ship run by the tour ope­ra­tor had drop­ped the anchor clo­se to the cliff with the colo­ny. The noi­se of the anchor chain cau­sed dis­tur­ban­ce of the birds, main­ly Brünnich’s guil­lemots and kit­ty­wa­kes.

Ossian Sarsfjellet

Brunich’s guil­lemots and kit­ty­wa­kes (upper left, with chicks) at Ossi­an Sarsfjel­let.

Dis­tur­ban­ce of bree­ding birds can have serious con­se­quen­ces, for examp­le when eggs or flight­less chicks fall out of nests on nar­row led­ges or when pre­d­a­to­ry birds such as glau­cous gulls raid unguar­ded nests.

Polar bear again seen in Bol­terda­len

Out­door folks who want to get out near Lon­gye­ar­by­en can not yet return back to nor­mal (wha­te­ver that means in Spits­ber­gen any­way). The polar bear that gave a group of tou­rists and gui­des with dog sled­ges a good adre­na­lin rush on Wed­nes­day was seen again yes­ter­day (Thurs­day) after­noon.

On Wed­nes­day, the bear was pushed up Bol­terda­len and into Tverrda­len by the Sysselmannen’s heli­co­p­ter. The hope was that it would, after a rest, con­ti­nue sou­thwards. But the bear obvious­ly had dif­fe­rent ide­as and retur­ned to Bol­terda­len, whe­re it was met Thurs­day after­noon on Scott Tur­ner­breen (-gla­cier) by Tom­my Jor­dbru­dal and his col­league. Tom­my has been run­ning a small com­pa­ny offe­ring dog sledge trips in that area for many years and was out to check the con­di­ti­ons on the gla­cier, which is a popu­lar desti­na­ti­on for dog sledge excur­si­ons. Scott Tur­ner­breen has an acces­si­ble ice cave and the area is lar­ge­ly snow-mobi­le free: only locals are allo­wed to dri­ve the­re with snow mobi­les and even for them Bol­terda­len and a wide area around it are off limits for moto­ri­sed traf­fic from 01 March every year, mea­ning that locals and tou­rists can enjoy a silent area for silent excur­si­ons by ski or dog sledge.

But polar bears are not ban­ned from the area, so Tom­my and his col­leage sud­den­ly had a polar bear just a few metres away from them, inves­ti­ga­ting their snow mobi­le. Even a warning shot with a revol­ver did not make much of an impres­si­on on the bear.

Bolterdalen

Bol­terda­len (seen from Sol­eietop­pen): cur­r­ent­ly not a polar-bear-free area.
Scott Tur­ner­breen on the left hand side.

Tom­my has been run­ning trips in Bol­terda­len for 12 years now, so during the sea­son he and his gui­des are the­re on a very regu­lar­ly basis and he says that he has never seen a polar bear track or even a bear the­re befo­re. Now the Sys­sel­man­nen went out again by heli­co­p­ter, try­ing to sort the situa­ti­on out.

This aut­hor hopes that he does not have to wri­te again about inci­dents whe­re life, human or ani­mal, came to any harm.

Nor­we­gi­an government wants to dis­cuss cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on requi­re­ments for gui­des

The dis­cus­sion about for­mal requi­re­ments for gui­des is not new, but it has now got a signi­fi­cant boost as the Nor­we­gi­an government has decla­red a need for this dis­cus­sion.

“Gui­de” is, so far, not a for­mal­ly qua­li­fied pro­fes­si­on. The­re are efforts, pri­va­te and indus­try-based, to intro­du­ce cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on for gui­des, but until now, basi­cal­ly ever­y­bo­dy can come, claim to be a gui­de and try to find work. This has actual­ly worked well over many years as a limi­ted num­ber of tou­rists was met by an also limi­ted but suf­fi­ci­ent­ly lar­ge num­ber of gui­des who were enthu­si­asts of the out­doors and had, as such, built up suf­fi­ci­ent know­ledge, skills and expe­ri­ence to lead tou­rists in arc­tic natu­re, sum­mer or win­ter, by ski, dog sledge, snow mobi­le, boat, ship, hiking, wha­te­ver.

But times have chan­ged. Recent years have seen a num­ber of new com­pa­nies who want their share of the tou­rism mar­ket in the Arc­tic, often in the attrac­ti­ve day trip mar­ket in Longyearbyen’s sur­roun­dings. A “mar­ket”: that’s what it is now, a mar­ket with a huge tur­no­ver whe­re a lot of money is made by some. Not a niche any­mo­re whe­re a limi­ted num­ber of enthu­si­asts find their way of life with a lot of per­so­nal idea­lism and effort. Of cour­se they still exist, but the total pic­tu­re is by now far more com­plex.

The grown and still gro­wing mar­ket implies an incre­a­sed need for gui­des, and it is not just a few obser­vers who are not always satis­fied with the level of know­ledge, expe­ri­ence and skill that they see.

Tourists with guides: snow mobile group, Colesdalen

Tou­rist group with gui­de in Cole­s­da­len: gui­de is, so far, an open pro­fes­si­on.

This is not just annoy­ing, but may also be dan­ge­rous. In Spits­ber­gen, gui­des hand­le wea­pons, boats, snow mobi­les and dog sled­ges on a regu­lar basis, they deal with arc­tic wea­ther, have to expect mee­ting a polar bear at any time in the field and take respon­si­bi­li­ty for the safe­ty of peop­le in the­se con­di­ti­ons. Addi­tio­nal­ly, gui­des are a key fac­tor when it comes to envi­ron­men­tal issu­es. It is ful­ly pos­si­ble to visit cul­tu­ral heri­ta­ge sites, obser­ve wild­life and walk in the natu­re without des­troy­ing or dis­tur­bing anything, but the oppo­si­te may also hap­pen and com­pe­tent lea­ders­hip out in the field is key in this con­text.

Seen in this light, one may won­der why cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on requi­re­ments for gui­des have not alrea­dy been intro­du­ced a long time ago, also as an alter­na­ti­ve to clo­sing sites and even lar­ge are­as, as was dis­cus­sed no less than a good 10 years ago. Even the local indus­try sec­tor orga­ni­sa­ti­on Visit Sval­bard has now expres­sed them­sel­ves posi­tively towards this issue – of cour­se expec­ting to be part of such a pro­cess. Ever­y­bo­dy in the busi­ness knows that for examp­le a serious acci­dents would do harm not only to tho­se direct­ly invol­ved but to the who­le indus­try if it turns out that lack of qua­li­fi­ca­ti­on on behalf of the gui­des was a fac­tor.

Safe­ty and envi­ron­men­tal mat­ters are issu­es that local gui­des have also been awa­re of for qui­te a while, accord­ing to the Sval­bard Gui­de Asso­cia­ti­on. And of cour­se “old” gui­des with years of solid expe­ri­ence are not always hap­py when young col­leages without rele­vant expe­ri­ence and skills come and take their jobs, an issue that is rele­vant not only for envi­ron­men­tal and safe­ty con­cerns but also when it comes to working con­di­ti­ons in the indus­try.

Spitsbergen’s gla­cier will, howe­ver, pro­bab­ly still lose a good bit of ice until requi­re­ments for gui­de cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on has been for­ma­li­sed on a legal level: The Nor­we­gi­an government’s recent press release just indi­ca­ted a need to dis­cuss the issue. The­re are still a lot of prac­ti­cal ques­ti­ons to be ans­we­red regar­ding the qua­li­fi­ca­ti­on and cer­ti­fac­tion pro­cess.

Clo­se encoun­ter with polar bear in Bol­terda­len

Yet again, a polar bear has been in the area near Lon­gye­ar­by­en. This time, it was not just tracks in the snow, but a very clo­se encoun­ter of a group of 4 dog sled­ges with gui­des and tou­rists in Bol­terda­len. The group was retur­ning from Scott Tur­ner­breen, a gla­cier that is a popu­lar desti­na­ti­on for (half) day trips by dog sledge, to the dogyard of Green Dog in Bol­terda­len clo­se to Advent­da­len. Sud­den­ly the bear was stan­ding on a ter­race next to the rou­te, much to ever­y­bo­dies sur­pri­se, pro­bab­ly inclu­ding the bear. The bear came and snif­fed on the dogs of the first sledge, while the tou­rists on the sledge – a woman and her 11 year old daugh­ter – were watching. The gui­de, Mar­cel Starin­sky from Slo­va­kia, rea­li­sed that he did not even have time to get is rif­le rea­dy. Ins­tead, he grab­bed a pie­ce of rope and gave the bear a slab on the nose. Then, the bear went a bit away, pas­sed the other sled­ges and disap­peared in the darkness. The who­le event took pro­bab­ly less than a minu­te, as the gui­des told Sval­bard­pos­ten later.

The group then retur­ned to the dogyard and gui­des and tou­rists took their time tog­e­ther to digest this very unusu­al expe­ri­ence. As far as known, ever­y­bo­dy had his or her ner­ves under con­trol during the event and accord­ing to Mar­cel Starin­sky and his col­league, Dani­el Stil­ling Ger­mer from Den­mark, the bear did not show any signs of aggres­si­on. It would be inte­res­ting to hear the sto­ry from the woman and her daug­her on the first sledge. They have cer­tain­ly got a sto­ry to tell now.

Polar night

Out on tour in darkness and snow.
It can be vir­tual­ly impos­si­ble to see what is going on near­by.

Later, the polar bear was again seen near the dogyard, but was then dri­ven away by the Sysselmannen’s heli­co­p­ter through Bol­terda­len and towards Reinda­len.

It is hard to say if this bear had anything to do with the tracks that were recent­ly seen on Lon­gyear­breen. The­se tracks were fol­lo­wed by the Sys­sel­man­nen the west, up to Kapp Lai­la in Cole­s­buk­ta, whe­re­as the bear in the event nar­ra­ted here is assu­med to have come from Advent­da­len, from the east. This at least sug­gests that it is not one and the same ani­mal.

Polar bear track near Lon­gye­ar­by­en

A polar bear track has been found on Lon­gyear­breen (-gla­cier) clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en, accord­ing to the local news­pa­per Sval­bard­pos­ten. It is very unli­kely that the track is from the bear that has kept peop­le in Lon­gye­ar­by­en exci­ted in late Decem­ber and was then shot on 01 Janu­a­ry: mean­while, the­re have been win­dy wea­ther and snow­fall, so the recent­ly dis­co­ve­r­ed tracks are very likely youn­ger. This means that the­re was again a polar bear clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en and it might still be around.

Com­mon sen­se and the Sys­sel­man­nen tell ever­y­bo­dy in and near Lon­gye­ar­by­en to be alert and take care.

Polar bear tracks

Polar bear tracks (archi­ve image; it is dark now in Spits­ber­gen 🙂 ).

As expec­ted, the dis­cus­sion around the bear that was shot in the ear­ly morning hours of New Year’s Day in Hanas­kog­da­len, about 10 kilo­me­tres away from Lon­gye­ar­by­en, is high­ly con­tro­ver­si­al. Nor­we­gi­an offi­cials con­firm that they had to shoot the bear in order to gua­ran­tee the safe­ty of the peop­le in Lon­gye­ar­by­en espe­cial­ly during the dark sea­son as this ani­mal was not shy any­mo­re and did not hesi­ta­te to go near and even enter the sett­le­ment. Others, such as the Rus­si­an polar bear sci­en­tist Niki­ta Ovs­ya­ni­kov who has gathe­red a lot of expe­ri­ence with polar bears in the Rus­si­an Arc­tic, even speak of “mur­der” and accu­se the Syss­sel­man­nen of not having used all opti­ons to sca­re the bear away per­ma­nent­ly. Here, Ovs­ya­ni­kov men­ti­ons pep­per spray which is not a com­mon polar bear deter­rent in Nor­we­gi­an ter­ri­to­ries, it is actual­ly not even legal acces­si­ble for mere mor­tals under Nor­we­gi­an legis­la­ti­on. An inte­res­ting dis­cus­sion and it would cer­tain­ly be inte­res­ting to inves­ti­ga­te fur­ther non-let­hal tech­ni­ques to sca­re polar bears away from sett­le­ments, a field whe­re a lot might be learnt from peop­le like Ovs­ya­ni­kov. Pep­per spray might cer­tain­ly expand the ran­ge of opti­ons of Nor­we­gi­an poli­ce when it comes to non-let­hal polar bear deter­rents and the­re are tho­se who say that it might also have a place in a wide con­text. Pri­va­te per­sons might use it, for examp­le, from the rela­ti­ve safe­ty of a hut or even a tent, some­thing that would, howe­ver, requi­re know­ledge and ner­ves that not ever­y­bo­dy has.

To make it clear again: pep­per spray is cur­r­ent­ly not legal in Nor­way inclu­ding Spits­ber­gen and this is unli­kely to chan­ge at any time soon.

100 years ago: Spitsbergen’s lar­gest mining acci­dent

Spitsbergen’s lar­gest mining dis­as­ter ever took place exact­ly 100 years ago, 03 Janu­a­ry 1920, in mine 1 in Lon­gye­ar City. The mine is today most­ly known as the “Ame­ri­can mine” and Lon­gye­ar City is cal­led Lon­gye­ar­by­en sin­ce 1926. Mine 1 was in ope­ra­ti­on from 1906, when Lon­gye­ar City was foun­ded by the Ame­ri­can Arc­tic Coal Com­pa­ny, foun­ded and owned by John Mun­ro Lon­gye­ar. In 1916, Lon­gye­ar sold his pro­per­ty to the Nor­we­gi­an com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni, known as Store Nor­ske, short SNSK. Store Nor­ske con­ti­nued to pro­du­ce coal in mine 1 (later cal­led mine 1a, as the­re was a mine 1b in ope­ra­ti­on from 1939 abo­ve Sver­drup­by­en, the sou­thern­most part of Lon­gye­ar­by­en).

Mine 1 (American mine), Longyearbyen

Mine 1, known as “Ame­ri­can mine”, abo­ve the church in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.
26 miners died here during a coal dust explo­si­on in 1920.

Mine 1 explo­ded in the ear­ly morning hours of 03 Janu­a­ry 1920. It was a coal dust explo­si­on that kil­led 26 miners. The­re were only eight sur­vi­vors, two of them inju­red. Blas­ting is sup­po­sed to have igni­ted the coal dust. The explo­si­on was so strong that a pit pony is said to have been blown out of the mine and across the val­ley!

This acci­dent was a cata­stro­phe for the small mining sett­le­ment Lon­gye­ar City/Longyearbyen, which was back then com­ple­te­ly iso­la­ted during the polar night. Darkness and bad wea­ther made res­cue ope­ra­ti­ons dif­fi­cult. Mine 1 was clo­sed after the acci­dent.

With 26 vic­tims, this acci­dent remains the lar­gest cata­stro­phe rela­ted to mining ever in Spits­ber­gen (the explo­si­on in the Esther mine in Ny-Åle­sund on 05 Novem­ber 1962 kil­led 21 miners).

Miners' memorial, Longyearbyen

Memo­ri­al for tho­se miners who died during their work for Store Nor­ske from 1916.
Mine 1 is visi­ble in the upper right cor­ner.

A memo­ri­al was erec­ted in 2016 near the road below mine 1. It is dedi­ca­ted to tho­se miners who died during their work for Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni sin­ce the com­pa­ny bought Lon­gye­ar City in 1916. Today, 100 years after the acci­dent of 03 Janu­a­ry 1916, a cere­mo­ny will be held here to com­me­mo­ra­te tho­se who died in Spitsbergen’s lar­gest mining acci­dent.

Shot polar bear was alrea­dy flown out in 2016

The polar bear that was shot on New Year’s Day at 4 a.m. tur­ned out to be an old acquain­tance. It was a seven year old male.

Dead polar bear, New Year's Day 2020

The polar bear that was shot on New Year’s Day 2020. Pho­to © Sys­sel­man­nen på Sval­bard.

As it tur­ned out, it was the same bear that was around Lon­gye­ar­by­en for several days in April 2016. Per­so­nal­ly, I had a litt­le mee­ting with this very bear in mid April back then as I step­ped out of a hut in Sas­sen­fjord and noti­ced this bear not far away at all. It had also noti­ced me and was alrea­dy on the run. Most likely, it was the same bear that was shot yes­ter­day. Back then, it was seen several times near various huts.

Polar bear, Diabasodden

Bet­ter days: the bear is run­ning away after a brief, harm­less encoun­ter in Sas­sen­fjord.
It was very likely the ani­mal that was shot on New Year’s Day 2020.

A few days later, mid-day on 22 April 2016, this bear was sud­den­ly seen near the shore in Advent­da­len, an area that is fre­quen­ted by lar­ge num­bers of snow-mobi­le tou­rists, ski­ers and dog sled­ges. Back then, the bear was aana­es­the­ti­sed and flown out to Kinn­vi­ka on Nord­aus­t­land, a good 200 km away from Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Polar bear, Adventdalen

The polar bear on 22 April 2016, slee­ping peace­ful­ly in Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en.
It is the same bear that was shot on New Year’s Day 2020.

So this bear show­ed up again just after Christ­mas 2019, after three and a half years, near and even wit­hin Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Several attempts to sca­re it away with heli­co­p­ters and other means fai­led in the end, and the Sys­sel­man­nen deci­ded to kill this bear. This hap­pen­ed in Hanas­kog­da­len, about seven kilo­me­ters north of Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Aggres­si­ve beha­viour of this bear towards humans is, as of now, not publi­cal­ly known.

Polar bear, Adventdalen

In April 2016, the bear was ana­es­the­ti­sed and flown out.

Also this time it was con­si­de­red to ana­es­the­ti­se the bear and fly it out then. Accord­ing to offi­cial state­ments, the lack of experts in Lon­gye­ar­by­en due to the Christ­mas holi­days was the main rea­son why this did not hap­pen.

It is not sur­pri­sing that the kil­ling of the bear is now met with a lot of cri­ti­cism and a con­tro­ver­si­al, part­ly hea­ted, deba­te in social media.

Polar bear shot near Lon­gye­ar­by­en

The new year starts with sad news: the polar bear that had been seen several times clo­se to and wit­hin Lon­gye­ar­by­en was shot on New Year’s Day at 04 a.m. by poli­ce for­ces (Sys­sel­man­nen).

Just after mid­ni­ght, the bear had been seen in Advent­da­len clo­se to the sett­le­ment after it had disap­peared in Bjørn­da­len in bad wea­ther on Satur­day. It seems as if the Sys­sel­man­nen initi­al­ly mana­ged to sca­re it away from Lon­gye­ar­by­en last night.

Polar bear, central Longyearbyen

Polar bear in cen­tral Lon­gye­ar­by­en (Thurs­day morning).
Pho­to © Sys­sel­man­nen på Sval­bard.

The bear was shot in Hanas­kog­da­len, on the north side of Advent­da­len, at 04 a.m. Accord­ing to a press release by the Sys­sel­man­nen, the bear was not shot in a acu­te situa­ti­on. The beha­viour of the bear, which had been seen four times clo­se to or even wit­hin the sett­le­ment area, had been con­si­de­red and the offi­cial con­clu­si­on was that aut­ho­ri­ties were not able to gua­ran­tee public safe­ty with the avail­ab­le for­ces any­mo­re.

The opti­on to tran­qui­li­ze the bear and to aen­esthe­ti­se the bear to fly it out to some­whe­re more remo­te had also been con­si­de­red, but dis­car­ded due to the lack of absen­se of spe­cia­lists who were not in Lon­gye­ar­by­en at that time due to the Christ­mas holi­days.

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