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Home → September, 2020

Monthly Archives: September 2020 − News & Stories


Longyearbyen is shrinking. And: the bank does not always win

Longyearbyen is changing during the corona crisis. The population is shrinking: 273 people have left since early March, according to official statistics. In addition comes an unknown number of people who have never registered or who did not give notice of their departure.

Many people lost their jobs when the corona crisis hit hard in spring and summer, and many can’t afford Longyearbyen’s high living expenses anymore and moved back to their countries of origin. The Spitsbergen treaty grants citizens from many countries free access, but the drawback is that Norway does not supply Svalbard’s non-Norwegian inhabitants with any social security regardless how long they have lived there. There was a one-time financial aid by the government in spring because of the corona situation, which also made it difficult for many to move away, but it was made clear that this programme would not be extended.

To many people’s surprise, the bank is also amongst the losers: the mother company, SpareBank Nordnorge, has decided to close 16 branch banks in north Norway. The company says that the reason is a changed customer behaviour as customers use the internet and do not go to the bank anymore, as Svalbardposten found out. It does not surprise that the decision is met with strong criticism in Longyearbyen.

Post office and bank, Longyearbyen

Post office and bank in Longyearbyen: the post stays, the Bank will close.

At least the post office will stay: will most post offices in Norway will be closed, the one in Longyearbyen is amongst the lucky few who will stay. In many places in Norway, postal services will only be available in shops and supermarkets in the future.

Polar bear dead in connection with scientific anaesthetisation

The series of sad news from Spitsbergen does not stop. On Wednesday, a polar bear died in connection with anaesthetisation for scientific purposes, according to the Sysselmannen.

The incidend happened in Wijdefjord during the routine autumn campaign to mark polar bears. In this process, bears are anaesthetised with tranquiliser guns from a helicopter to mark the animal and for other scientific purposes, usually including weighing and taking samples. The bear that died on Wednesday was bear number “30 or 31” of the current campaign.

So far it is only known that the bear did not survive. It is not yet known in public when in the process and how and why exactly he died. The Sysselmannnen opened a case to investigate the incident, so no further details have been released at the time of writing, for example concerning the question if a vet was present or not.

The routine to regularly anaesthetise a larger number of polar bears, involving a helicopter chase, has met criticism already before. According to Jon Aars, leading polar bear scientist of the Norwegian Polar Institute, it is common to “lose” 2 to 4 bears in 1000 anaesthetisations. This was the third time since 2003 that it happened to Aars, as he told Svalbardposten. According to Aars, marking bears is justified by the worth of the data thus obtained for scientists.

polar bear skull

Meetings of humans and polar bears have already cost the lives of 4 bears and one person in Spitsbergen this year.
(The photo is symbolic: harmless find of an old polar bear skull in Hinlopen Strait).

It is already the fourth incident this year where a polar bear died during or after contact with people. There was, of course, the recent fatal attack of a bear on a man at the campsite near Longyearbyen, where a man and a polar bear died. A bear was shot by the police in early January although there was no immediate danger. And in late January, an anaesthetised bear died during helicopter transport away from Longyearbyen. It seems that the latter case has not been handled well and the incident attracted substantial criticism and raised a number of questions, for example if a vet should be present during such operations. It has not yet been revealed if a vet was present when the bear died in Wijdefjord on Wednesday.

Blog: trip to Svenskehuset at Kapp Thordsen

After all the bad and even terrible news of the last couple of weeks, regarding a potentially deadly virus that keeps making everybodies lives difficult and a very deadly polar bear attack, it is easy to forget that Spitsbergen is still a beautiful place. It is time for a few photos to bring that back to mind.

It is a couple of weeks ago now, but that doesn’t matter. Isfjord was flat as a mirror, so we took the opportunity for a Zodiac tour from Longyearbyen to Svenskehuset at Kapp Thordsen.

Gallery: Svenskehuset

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

I am not going to repeat the dramatic history of the “Swedish house” (Svenskehuset) at Kapp Thordsen here, as I have recently compiled a special side dedicated to Svenskehuset – including panorama images, as you may already have guessed. Have a look there if you are interested. I do recommend it. Finally getting these images was a strong motivation to take this trip.

And other than that, spending a long day in fine weather in a place like this, with fine views over Isfjord and all the big and small impressions of the scenery and the tundra, is an experience of the kind of which you (or, at least, I) just can’t get enough in life.

Regarding the small impressionf of the tundra: I have always experienced it as slightly disappointing to photograph the flowers. Because of the limited depth of field with macro photography, only a small part of the flower appears in focus. But today, photo technolocy enables us to take it a good step further. “Focus stacking” is the key. It requires some effort regarding preparations, equipment, photography and editing, but I think it is worth it in the end:

Arctic bell-heather, Svenskehuset

Arctic bell-heather near Svenskehuset.
Fokus-stacking makes it possible to have almost the whole flower in focus.

Phippsøya polar bear (MS Bremen, 2018): proceedings closed

The legal case of the polar bear that was shot in 2018 by crew members of the German cruise ship MS Bremen is closed, as the Sysselmannen informed in a press release on Friday.

Polar bear, Phippsøya

Polar bear on Phippsøya, feeding on a carcass.
It was most likely this bear that was shot
by crew members of MS Bremen in this place 11 days later.

The incidend happened on 28 July 2018, when 14 crew members of MS Bremen went ashore on Phippsøya, which belong to the islands of Sjuøyane, to prepare a landing for passengers. The group included the expedition leader, four polar bear guards, a photographer and other crew members. Two polar bears guards were soon sent out to check a part of the terrain that could not be seen from the landing area. They met the polar bear which had been hidden in a terrain depression. The bear attacked one person, who suffered head injuries. The bear did not stop the attack in spite of several warning shots being fired, so two persons fired in total three shots against the bear which killed him. The person who was attacked survived with minor injuries.

The photographer took photos of the event, which hence was well documented and easy to reconstruct.

Now the public prosecutor of Troms and Finnmark (north Norway) has decided to close the case. Shooting a polar bear is principally illegal and under punishment, but this was now officially found to be a case of self defence.

The case that had been opened against the company was also closed. Here, the companies safety routines had been investigated.

The investigations were finished in November 2019, but competence between different authorities was initially unclear and then the Corona crisis led to further delays.

Cruises in Spitsbergen now only with 30 persons in total

The Norwegian government has put more restriction on cruises in Spitsbergen: they are now only allowed for ships carrying 30 persons in total – that is, passengers and crew together. Day trips without overnight stays on board are not concerned by this restriction.

The government says that the difficulties a Covid-19 outbreak would bring on any larger ship would be difficult to control, hence the new restriction.

Le Boreal, Spitsbergen

The Le Boreal (here seen in Liefdefjord in 2015) was one of only a few ships at all that have been able to do cruises this summer in Spitsbergen.

In June, the government opened the possibility to do cruises in Spitsbergen. But already then, restrictions such as a reduction of passenger numbers by 50 % kept many tour operators and ship owners from starting the season in Spitsbergen at all. After a Covid-19-outbreak on MS Roald Amundsen, also Hurtigruten stopped their expedition cruises completely. Beyond Hurtigruten and Ponant (Le Boreal), only a very few smaller ships were active with cruises over several days this year in Spitsbergen, such as Origo, who managed to do a handful of trips, and Cape Race, who just finished one successfully, only to cancel the rest of the season because of the recent introduction of quarantine for travellers from Germany. Cape Race will now try her luck in Scotland – fingers crossed!

The government has announced to re-consider this most recent restriction until 01 November. I would say: no rush. Then the season is over anyway, if it has ever happened in the ongoing Corona-year at all.

Wreck of Northguider removed

The wreck of the Northguider is now completely removed from Hinlopen Strait.

The shrimp trawler ran ground in Hinlopen, very close to the coast of Nordaustland, in late December 2018. The crew could be rescued by helicopter in a dramatic operation in very cold and stormy conditions and complete darkness. Later, environmentally dangerous materials including fuels and lubrication oils, paints, electrical equipment and fishing gear could be removed.

Wrack Northguider

The wreck of the ship trawler Northguider and salvage vessels
in August 2019 in Hinlopen.

It was planned to remove the wreck during the summer of 2019, but difficult ice conditions delayed the operation and then it turned out that the wreck could not be removed in one piece because it was too heavily damaged.

Now the Northguider has been cut into several smaller pieces which could be taken to Norway. Divers confirmed that no wreckage is left on the sea flour either, according to the Sysselmannen.

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News-Listing live generated at 2020/September/20 at 09:56:57 Uhr (GMT+1)
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