fb  Spitsbergen Panoramas - 360-degree panoramas  de  en  nb  Spitsbergen Shop  

Yearly Archives: 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.

Sysselmannen releases identity of victim

The Sysselmannen has released the identity of the man who was killed by a polar bear last night at Longyearbyen camping.

It was Johan Jacobus “Job” Kootte, 38 years old, Dutch citizen.

Man killed by polar bear at Longyearbyen camping

The site of last night’s tragic events.

Job worked this summer on the camping. It was his second season in this position.

The official release includes the information that Job was in his tent when he was attacked. The Sysselmannen has not yet released further details. Investigations are ongoing.

The other persons who were on the camping site at the time of the incident were not physically injured. They were seen by medical staff and psychologically taken care of in Longyearbyen. The Sysselmannen is interviewing them as witnesses.

Many, including the author of these lines, are shocked, and many thoughts are with Job, his family and close ones.

Man killed by polar bear near Longyearbyen

At 3.50 am, the alarm went in the Sysselmanne’s office (police) in Longyearbyen: a polar bear had attacked and injured a man at the campsite. The police and rescue forces brought the man to the hospital, where he was declared dead.

The Sysselmannen have not yet released the identity of the deceased person in their press release.

Two shots were fired at the polar bear by other persons. The bear was later found dead at the car park of the airport, only a few hundred metres away.

Man killed by polar bear at Longyearbyen camping

The site of last night’s tragic events.

All other persons who were present at the camping site were brought to a hotel in Longyearbyen. The Sysselmannen’s investigations are ongoing.

Polar bears had been seen a number of times in the vicinity of Longyearbyen, such as in Hiorthhamn and near Todalen (in Adventdalen). A female polar bear with a cub was sedated on Wednesday and flown out to the north side of Isfjord. Additionaly, a single bear had been seen a couple of times in Hiorthhamn and in Adventdalen.

Quarantine for travellers from Germany and Liechtenstein

Yesterday it was an assumption, based on recommendations by the Norwegian institute for public health (Folkehelseinstitutt, FHI), now it is official after a decision of the Norwegian government: travellers from Germany and Liechtenstein will be obliged to stay in quarantine for 10 days upon entry in Norway from Saturday. The same already applies to a large number of other European countries.

Corona: travel restrictions Norway

“Valid in all of Europe” – Corona virus warning.
(Photo composition. This is in reality of course the famous polar bear warning sign).

Travellers have to do their quarantine in one appropriate address upon entering Norway. Changing address during quarantine is not allowed, camping sites are not accepted as quarantine sites and quarantine has to be in mainland Norway, not Spitsbergen. Travellers may be asked for an appropriate booking or invitation when entering Norway.

The Norwegian threshold for introducing quarantine is 20 or more corona infections per 100,000 inhabitants within 14 days.

Travel restrictions for tourists from Germany and Liechtenstein likely to come

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (Folkehelseinstitutt, FHI) has recommended to introduce compulsory quarantine for tourists coming from Germany and Liechtenstein, based on rising corona infection figures from these countries.

Corona: travel restrictions Norway

“Valid in all of Europe” – Corona virus warning.
(Photo composition. This is in reality of course the famous polar bear warning sign).

The Norwegian government has to make a decision whether or not such restrictions will be introduced. Generally, the government will most likely follow the FHI’s recommendations. The Norwegian threshold for the introduction of restrictions is an infection rate of 20 per 100,000 inhabitants within 14 days (two weeks and not one, as was erroneously written here in an earlier version of this article). According to the Robert Koch-Institute, a federal agency responsible for disease control and prevention in Germany, the figure amounts to 10.2 averaged for Germany as of Tuesday, 25 August for the last 7 days, and higher figures occur in certain areas. So far, the Norwegian government has made regional decisions only for Scandinavian countries.

If the Norwegian government decides to introduce travel restrictions for Germay and Liechtenstein, then they are expected to come into force on Saturday at 00:00. The FHI has already sent text messages to Norwegian mobile phone numbers in Germany with a warning that compulsory quarantine may apply for travellers entering Norway later than Friday.

Polar bears flown out from Longyearbyen area

Again, Longyearbyen had polar bear visitors, and not just once: a polar bear that had tried to break into several huts in Hiorthhamn, on the north side of Adventfjord just 2.5 km away from Longyearbyen, was scared away by the police (Sysselmannen) with flare gun shots.

Shopping Lompensenter Longyearbyen

Polar bear inspecting a hut in Hiorthhamn near Longyearbyen (archive image).

Not much later, a female bear and a cub came to the same area. In this case, the authorities decided quickly to anaesthetise the bears and to fly them away with a helicopter. A similar operation earlier this year had had a fatal outcome for the bear, an event that later attracted substantial criticism in the public but also from relevant Norwegian authorities. As a consequence, the routines were improved this time: Jon Aars, leading polar bear scientist of the Norwegian Polar Institute (NP), was personally present, together with a vet – a new procedure for the NP. A different drug was used and the bears were given additional oxygen during the flight and an antidote upon arrival to give them an accelerated wake-up, a process that was also supervised this time, as Aars told Svalbardposten.

As the two bears were known to be resident in Isfjord, there were flown to the northwest part of this fjord, rather than to a remoter area such as Nordaustland or Edgeøya, as is common in such cases.

The bears were said to be well. The mother is 15 years old and relatively thin, something that is not unusual considering her age and the season. Nevertheless, she weighed several 100 kg. Most likely, they had recently found something to feed on. The cub weighs 49 kg and is said to be in good condition.

Spitsbergen blog 2020: Sassenfjord

The Arctic season 2020, at least as we know it, went completely to the bin. But I don’t want to moan about that now, I rather appreciate that the summer nevertheless gave us quite a bit of arctic beauty. Just in a different way. The boat was a bit smaller than what we usually use, so we went to a couple of beautiful places in Isfjord, rather than venturing to Nordaustland or Edgeøya.

Over a while, I will share a couple of photos of our recent excursions in Spitsbergen. A bit different from what we usually have, in “normal” years … we start with a Zodiac trip to Sassenfjord. Beautiful landscape, arctic silence, friendly reindeer, lovely flowers – including some of the more rare ones such as Mertensia maritima and the Northern Jacobsladder – and fossils (shells and ammonites from the Jurassic. Flavoured with fine weather and plenty of time. Life in the Arctic 🙂

Galleri: Sassenfjord – Deltaneset

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

Tourism collapsing, new travel restrictions

It is hardly surprising: the tourism industry in Spitsbergen has largely collapsed and there is hardly any light on the horizon, as recent infection rates give the Norwegian government reason to put travel restrictions on tourists from more and more European countries. According to available tax statistics analyzed by Svalbardposten, 51 Longyearbyen companies have altogether lost a sales volume of 170 million Norwegian kroner (about 17 million Euro or 19 million US-$) during the months from April to May, compared to the same period in 2019 – and this does not even include some major players such as Hurtigruten Svalbard, the biggest supplier of tourism-related services in Longyearbyen. The real numbers will, thus, be much higher and certainly devastating. During the same period, local companies have received 16 million kroner as public support, less than 10 percent of the turnover loss.

Shopping Lompensenter Longyearbyen

Shopping in Lompensenter in Longyearbyen: not much fun without tourists.

And the numbers of tourists keep dropping, although there have obviously never been many this year. Last week, the hotels in Longyearbyen had just 178 overnight guests per night in average. Officially, Longyearbyen has lost 96 inhabitants since the beginning of the corona crisis – and again, real life is much worse as the statistics are anything but complete. They do, for example, not include the large number of seasonal workers who come during the tourist season. This year, many of these have lost their jobs early in the crisis, while others did not come at all.

At the same time, the Norwegian government introduces travel restrictions for tourists from even more European countries. “Red” countries currently have too high infection rates, while data for those shown with hachure is incomplete or deemed unreliable by the Norwegian authorities. In either case, tourists from these countries will have to stay in 10 days quarantine upon entering Norway. The map shown here, published by the Norwegian health authority (Folkehelseinstitutt), will be in force from 22 August.

Norwegian Corona-map published 19 August 2020

Norwegian Corona-map published on 19 August 2020 (in force from 22 August).
© Folkehelseinstituttet.

So far, no cases of corona infections or Covid-19 disease are known from Svalbard’s settlements.

Norway expands travel restrictions; tourism in Longyearbyen behind expectations

The Norwegian government has made a couple of significant changes to the existing travel restrictions due to the increasing number of positive Corona-cases in many European countries. More tourists will have to stay in quarantine upon entering the country (if they still decide to come at all). At the same time, the government reminds all Norwegians that travelling to any foreign country is not advised unless necessary. This travel warning is expected to remain in force until at least 01 October.

The category “green” does not occur anymore in the list of European countries published and regularly updated by the Folkehelseinstitutt (institute for public health). Instead, countries are shown in yellow. According to prime minister Erna Solberg, this is to prevent misunderstandings and to make clear that there is always an inherent risk to travelling, so Norwegians are advised to stay in the country as much as possible. For non-Norwegian tourists, the category “yellow” is practically what “green” used to be before: tourists from these countries and regions may enter Norway without quarantine.

Norwegian Corona-map as of 12 August 2020

Norwegian “Corona-map” for Europe as of 12 August 2020. © Folkehelseinstituttet.

But also beyond colouring, the most recent version of Norway’s “Corona map for Europe” has changed significantly compared to previous versions. There is a larger number of countries now in red, meaning that tourists from these countries will have to stay in quarantine for 10 days upon entering the country. Quarantine has to be in one address on the mainland (not Svalbard). The latest map now shows countries such as France, the Netherlands and Iceland in red. “Hatched” countries are those were information is considered insufficient or unreliable; also here, tourists have to stay in quarantine for 10 days upon entering Norway.

The new map, as shown here, will be in force from 15 August. It will be updated after 14 days or earlier if needed.

Different rules apply for travellers with a background other than tourism.

As had to be expected, tourism has largely collapsed also in Spitsbergen. In June, the total number of tourists was 85 % less than in June 2019. In July, the quote increased to 50 % due to a larger number of Norwegians taking the opportunity for a trip to Svalbard. In total numbers, this means that 3448 tourists came in July, compared to 8789 in July 2019. The capacity use of the hotels was 35 %, in contrast to 77 % one year earlier, according to Svalbardposten based on statistics by Visit Svalbard.

Ian R. Stone (1943-2020)

Ian R. Stone, highly esteemed as a friend, colleague and polar historian by this author and many others, left on his final journey on 10 July 2020. Many readers of these lines will remember him as a brilliant historian and gifted lecturer on board small expedition ships in the Arctic and Antarctic, such as the Russian ones used by Oceanwide Expeditions in years now gone past, or in more recent years also on cruise ships in warmer waters, an experience and way of life that he shared with his wife Olga. I enjoyed Ian‘s knowledge and friendship during a number of cruises both in the Arctic and Antarctic. He never hesitated to share his vast knowledge and experience in a warm, friendly, humorous but always professional way with a younger colleage.

Ian R. Stone (1943-2020)

Ian R. Stone (1943-2020), in March 2005 at Base Orcadas on the South Orkney Islands.

Ian was a gentleman academic in a classical way, the kind that they just don’t make anymore these days. His endless knowlege of polar (and other) exploration was always readily available, certainly not just after a quick, secret glimpse at an online resource. At the same time, he was ready to take it up with surf and Zodiacs or with an angry polar bear, if needed.

It has always been good to know that there was someone who would be able to answer any historical question that could be answered, something I have often benefited from also as an author. Ian always supported others with pleasure. I have fond memories from the times that I could share with him.


News-Listing live generated at 2020/September/18 at 14:16:39 Uhr (GMT+1)