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Home → May, 2022

Monthly Archives: May 2022 − News & Stories


Prins Karls For­land – Fug­le­hu­ken – 31st May 2022

31st May was still to con­ti­nue. We still had time and the wea­ther was so good that we didn’t want to miss the oppor­tu­ni­ty to have a look at Fug­le­hu­ken, the nort­hern tip of Prins Karls For­land. It is one of tho­se pla­ces that are so expo­sed to the open sea that you don’t get here often at all It is real­ly a mat­ter of having a very good day. The most beau­ti­ful pla­ces are often not the easiest one to get to.

220531e Fuglehuken 019

But today was the right day. Guil­lemots and kit­ti­wa­kes are bree­ding in lar­ge num­bers on the steep cliffs high abo­ve the tun­dra, pro­vi­ding suf­fi­ci­ent fer­ti­li­sa­ti­on to the accord­in­gly rich tun­dra. The­re are even thick lay­ers of peat under a sur­face of mos­ses and lichens in some pla­ces. And part of the tun­dra is alrea­dy snow-free, making the rein­de­er hap­py that are gra­zing here in num­bers.

Being able to visit a place like Fug­le­hu­ken is real­ly a pri­vi­le­ge! I am more than hap­py to dedi­ca­te a blog ent­ry to this very enjoya­ble event.

For­landsund – 31st May 2022

We had left yesterday’s den­se fog behind us. Bright sunshi­ne in Horn­bæk­buk­ta – what a start into the voya­ge! Ama­zing views over the bay, moun­tains and gla­cier.

Inde­ed, For­landsund is in its best mood today, with an almost mir­ror-like water sur­face and a beau­ti­ful sky abo­ve the jag­ged, snow-cove­r­ed moun­tains and the famous gla­ciers of Prins Karls For­land.

Gal­le­ry – For­landsund – 31st May 2022

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

Later we drop­ped the anchor in Engelskbuk­ta for a litt­le late after­noon walk. Just a few kilo­me­tres fur­ther north than Horn­bæk­buk­ta, but a cou­p­le of weeks back in the sea­so­nal deve­lo­p­ment. A lot of wet snow, a lot of water. Real­ly in the midd­le of the snow melt.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en & Advent­fjord – 30 May 2022

Pre­pa­ra­ti­ons for a sai­ling ship voya­ge in the Arc­tic will never real­ly be just rou­ti­ne. Next to all the packing, try­ing not to for­get anything, car­ry­ing stuff around, tra­vel­ling etc the­re is always some­thing that doesn’t work and that needs to be repai­red or repla­ced. This time, it was the satel­li­te com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on sys­tem. It seems to have been suc­cess­ful. If the­re are no updates in the arc­tic tra­vel blog here the next days, then it wasn’t …

Gal­le­ry – Lon­gye­ar­by­en & Advent­fjord – 30 May 2022

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

But now we are moving. We boar­ded good old SV Anti­gua this after­noon in glo­rious sunshi­ne and sai­led out into Isfjord and strai­ght into a thick cloud 🙂 so now the world around us is grey and small. Very atmo­s­phe­ric, and it feels a bit adven­tur­ous. Hope it doesn’t stay too long, though …

The tou­rists, of cour­se. Or the Rus­si­ans?

Bewa­re, this arc­ti­cle con­tains a bad play of words.

The who­le thing star­ted in mid May. Ever­y­bo­dy who has been in Lon­gye­ar­by­en knows the famous polar bear warning signs that you can find in several pla­ces whe­re you can lea­ve Lon­gye­ar­by­en and enter are­as whe­re the risk of polar bear encoun­ters incre­a­ses signi­fi­cant­ly.

Polar bear warning sign, Adventdalen near Longyearbyen

Polar bear warning sign in Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

The spe­ci­men in Advent­da­len disap­peared at night time in mid May. Such a theft cer­tain­ly requi­res a bit of bra­va­do in the mid­ni­ght sun peri­od next to a road that seems to lead out into the nowhe­re, but has a sur­pri­sing amount of traf­fic at almost any time of day and night the­se days.

Rumours and spe­cu­la­ti­ons were going wild soon: who could have been the thief? Who in Lon­gye­ar­by­en would be so stu­pid to hang this on the wall in the living room, in a town whe­re real­ly ever­y­bo­dy knows the­se signs?

So, no doubt, the be the bad guy couldn’t be a local. Sval­bard­pos­ten repor­ted about this cri­mi­nal case. They found a bus dri­ver who had not seen anything rele­vant to the case, but the man dri­ves tou­rists to their desti­na­ti­ons pret­ty much every day, so he must know exact­ly, of cour­se: “Det er jo turis­tene som stje­ler sånt, sier han.” “It’s the tou­rist who ste­al such things, he says.” (quo­ta­ti­on Sval­bard­pos­ten). It is striking: not only did the thought appar­ent­ly not cross the mind of the jour­na­list that this is a state­ment that, based on not­hing but assump­ti­on, deser­ves some cri­ti­cal ques­ti­ons. No, in the print edi­ti­on, this actual­ly beca­me the head­line of the arti­cle, not even mar­ked as a quo­ta­ti­on. Yes, of cour­se, the­se evil and stu­pid tou­rists! Who else?

Svalbardposten: polar bear warning sign

Arti­cle in the print edi­ti­on of Sval­bard­pos­ten on 19th May:
Head­line “It’s the tou­rist who ste­al such things”.

The abo­ve-lin­ked online ver­si­on of this arti­cle has, by the way, got a new head­line in the mean­ti­me: “Hvem har stjå­let isbjørns­kil­tet?” (“Who has sto­len the polar bear sign?”).

At least, the who­le mat­ter came to a rather humou­ris­tic end some days later when the sign in ques­ti­on was found again – in the car of Lars Fau­se, which was par­ked at the air­port.

Lars Fau­se is the Sys­sel­mes­ter. The gover­nor.

But Fau­se had been on the main­land during tho­se days, so he can not be the thief. And it appeared any­way unli­kely that anyo­ne, let alo­ne someo­ne so expe­ri­en­ced with cri­mi­nal cases (from a poli­ce and juri­di­cal per­spec­ti­ve, that is), would lea­ve the sign, a pret­ty lar­ge item, for days in a car par­ked publi­cal­ly.

So, who was it then? The solu­ti­on (and now comes the game of words): the Rus­si­ans. But not the Rus­si­ans who are mining coal in Bar­ents­burg (it is actual­ly main­ly Ukrai­ni­ans who are working in the coal mine), let alo­ne tho­se who set the world on fire else­whe­re the­se days: the Nor­we­gi­an word “russ” means “high school gra­dua­te”. Add the defi­ni­te arc­ti­cle, which in Nor­we­gi­an comes at the end of the sub­stan­ti­ve, and you get “rus­sen”, which in Nor­we­gi­an is “the Rus­si­an”. Or “the high school gra­dua­te”. The con­text tells you what it is about in any given case. It is obvious­ly the lat­ter. High school gra­dua­te in Nor­way par­ty as much as any­whe­re else (or may­be even more and har­der), and tricks and pranks are part of the game. The theft of the polar bear warning sign was exact­ly that and not­hing else. A suc­cess­ful coup, as most will agree. This inclu­des Sys­sel­mes­ter Fau­se, by the way.

And we could just smi­le sad­ly about the resent­ment­al reflex action to attri­bu­te (almost) all the bad and evil things in the world to tou­rists. It is one thing to utter this over a beer or five or eight in a bar late at night, and it is ano­t­her thing to say this to a news­pa­per. And it is yet ano­t­her thing when a jour­na­lists non­cri­ti­cal­ly adopts such a com­ment and even turns it into a head­line. Still, one could just smi­le mild­ly if the same mecha­nism of sen­ti­ment wasn’t wide­ly app­lied the­se days in much lar­ger and much more rele­vant dis­cus­sions, such as the one that may lead to the clo­sure of lar­ge parts of the Sval­bard archi­pe­la­go.

May­be think twice befo­re say­ing that the thief must have been a tou­rist.

New levels of hys­te­ria. Com­ment by Mor­ten Jør­gen­sen

Com­ment writ­ten by Mor­ten Jør­gen­sen, regar­ding the dis­cus­sion about polar bears being dis­tur­bed by tou­rists (or not), see this arti­cle of the web­site owner. Comments of other per­sons do not necessa­ri­ly need to reflect my (Rolf Stan­ge, the website’s owner) opio­ni­on. But on a per­so­nal note: I have very high respect for Mor­ten regar­ding his know­ledge of polar bears and con­ser­va­ti­on and I stron­gly recom­mend Morten’s fol­lowing com­ment to all reader’s atten­ti­on.

Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties, insti­tu­ti­ons and sci­en­tists harass and end­an­ger polar bears, while the bla­me is shifted onto tou­rism and par­ti­cu­lar­ly inter­na­tio­nal ope­ra­tors

May 21, 2022 – Mor­ten Jør­gen­sen, con­ser­va­tio­nist

In Skin­bo­den, in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, you can buy the remains of a shot polar bear. In Ber­gen, the­re is a store-room with 100 slaugh­te­red polar bears. Nor­way is sin­gu­lar­ly the world’s grea­test per capi­ta importer of legal dead polar bear pro­ducts, and is pro­bab­ly a hub for the laun­de­ring of ille­gal tra­de as well.

In the one mon­th of April 2022 alo­ne, Nor­we­gi­an polar bear rese­ar­chers dis­tres­sed at least 50 live polar bears in Sval­bard (perhaps as many as 20% of the ent­i­re local popu­la­ti­on of bears). The­se bears were cha­sed by heli­co­p­ter, shot from the distance with a dart with seda­ti­ves, then man-hand­led in various ways which inclu­de blood sam­pling, bio­psy sam­pling and tooth extrac­tion, then left lying hel­pless­ly expo­sed in the envi­ron­ment until able to reco­ver enough to go about their busi­ness again.

I have 25 sum­mer sea­sons of expe­ri­ence from Sval­bard. After 2+ years of not working as a gui­de due to the pan­de­mic, I was lucky enough to spot my first polar bear of 2022 back in April, when from the ship I was on and through my high-power bino­cu­lars I noti­ced way in the distance a fema­le bear with a cub-of-the-year eating off a rein­de­er car­cass just in from the shore­li­ne abo­ve a low cliff. An hour later, she was still rela­xed and fee­ding, while her cub was play­ing around her, dar­ting in and out of holes in the snow drifts. The ship was perhaps half a mile or more from the sce­ne, while tho­se with very long len­ses in the two Zodiacs that were clo­ser but at a respec­ta­ble distance were able to get some­what decent shots of the sce­ne. This peace­ful and delight­ful sce­ne was then des­troy­ed by a coast-guard heli­co­p­ter ‘inspec­tion’. The polar bear mother stif­fe­ned alrea­dy when the heli­co­p­ter was still far away (she was col­la­red, so had obvious­ly been trau­ma­ti­zed befo­re), and as the heli­co­p­ter flew low over the area, she had alrea­dy stop­ped eating. Minu­tes later, she was scramb­ling up the hills­i­de, aban­do­ning her meal to go into hiding. In an attempt to pro­ve tou­rists wrong, aut­ho­ri­ties (again) bro­ke their own laws.

The abo­ve three para­graphs descri­be the rea­li­ty of how the offi­cial Nor­way tre­ats polar bears. They are com­mo­di­ties, com­mer­cial tra­de items. They are stu­dy sub­jects that may ran­dom­ly and exces­si­ve­ly be trea­ted as non-sen­tient objects. And they are a tool see­min­gly to be explo­i­ted for the poli­ti­cal agen­da of New Nor­we­gi­an Natio­na­lism, whe­re making Sval­bard more Nor­we­gi­an that the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty actual­ly allows seems to be the dri­ving moti­va­ti­on behind not least the per­se­cu­ti­on of the tou­rism indus­try and espe­cial­ly its inter­na­tio­nal ope­ra­tors.

In an age of fake news and wild con­spi­ra­cy theo­ries, I shall be care­ful not to say out­right that the­re is a coor­di­na­ted attack going on, and that the well-being of polar bears has been taken hos­ta­ge as a con­ve­ni­ent excu­se for poli­ti­ci­zed mani­pu­la­ti­ons. But it sure loo­ks that way.

It loo­ks that way when a jour­na­list from NRK, ins­tead of being fired for lack of sobrie­ty and inte­gri­ty, gets away with a head­line like “Polar bears are dis­tur­bed around the clock by tou­rists” – in a sen­sa­tio­na­list arti­cle full of spe­cu­la­ti­on, fal­se­hoods and fin­ger-poin­ting. (edi­to­ri­al note: click here for the NRK arti­cle).

It loo­ks that way when the Assi­stant Gover­nor of Sval­bard (‘Sys­sel­mes­te­ren’ in its­elf being an unde­mo­cra­tic insti­tu­ti­on whe­re legis­la­ti­ve, exe­cu­ti­ve and judi­cial powers are not sepa­ra­ted), can be quo­ted for say­ing both that poten­ti­al law-breaks are still being inves­ti­ga­ted, but also that it is clear that laws have been bro­ken! Sounds a lot like ‘assu­med guil­ty until pro­ven guil­ty’.

In loo­ks that way when the orga­ni­zed part of the ship-based tou­rism indus­try feels so under attack that its knee-jerk reac­tion is a cowe­ring defen­se mode, inclu­ding the intro­duc­tion of a poli­cy of self-cen­sor­s­hip, becau­se appearan­ces are more important than actions. And when a spo­kes­per­son for that same part of the tou­rism indus­try, rather than coun­te­ring the many outra­ge­ous claims with a digni­fied refe­rence to the over­all posi­ti­ve track-record of Sval­bard tou­rism, ins­tead sto­ops to par­ti­ci­pa­ting in the sca­pe­goa­ting and sowing fur­ther divi­si­on by clai­ming that some parts of the tou­rism sec­tor are inde­ed bad actors, and that it hap­pens to be just tho­se who are not mem­bers of the incre­a­singly exces­si­ve­ly poli­ti­cal­ly cor­rect, pri­va­te, lob­by orga­niz­a­ti­on, from which she draws her sala­ry.

Polar bears are being explo­i­ted in so many ways. Let me high­light five of them.

1. Three nati­on sta­te governments allow com­mer­cia­li­zed polar bear hun­ting, cal­ling it cul­tu­ral reco­gni­ti­on, when it de fac­to is part of the dis­gui­sing of a con­ti­nued neo-colo­ni­al sup­pres­si­on of local (remo­te, Arc­tic) mino­ri­ties.
2. Nor­way cas­hes in on inter­na­tio­nal com­mer­cial tra­ding in polar bear body parts.
3. World-wide fake wild­life con­ser­va­ti­on NGOs use polar bears as icons to collect money, by bemoa­ning how end­an­ge­red they are, while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly sup­por­ting the con­ti­nued exces­si­ve com­mer­cia­li­zed hun­ting of them.
4. Nume­rous sci­en­tists trau­ma­ti­ze polar bears repeated­ly and exces­si­ve­ly to main­tain most­ly irrele­vant stu­dies, care­ers, and fun­ding.
5. Sval­bard tou­rists take pho­to­graphs from the decks of small ships or from Zodiacs of polar bears in their envi­ron­ment, in 99% of the cases without cha­sing them, dis­tur­bing them, fee­ding them, luring them, or put­ting them in dan­ger.

Which explo­ita­ti­ons are benign, and which are offen­si­ve? You be the judge.
Who is actual­ly dis­tur­bing and end­an­ge­ring polar bears? You be the judge. What is the real moti­va­ti­on for this ‘cam­pai­gn’ against tou­rism? You be the judge.

While we slow­ly sink our ship, the fidd­lers keep play­ing.

SAR heli­co­p­ters with the capa­ci­ty to loca­te mobi­le pho­nes

Safe­ty-rele­vant infor­ma­ti­on fur­ther down in this pos­ting!

The ope­ra­ti­on of the SAR (search-and-res­cue) heli­co­p­ters in Sval­bard is regu­lar­ly adver­ti­sed to poten­ti­al com­mer­cial con­trac­tors. After Air­lift and Luft­trans­port, CHC Heli­ko­pter Ser­vice is now fol­lowing as the ope­ra­tor of the local heli­co­p­ter base. CHC Heli­ko­pter Ser­vice is the Nor­we­gi­an daugh­ter of the Cana­di­an com­pa­ny CHC Heli­co­p­ter.

The local per­so­nel remains unch­an­ged to ensu­re a fric­tion­less tran­si­ti­on. Even during the han­do­ver, SAR ope­ra­ti­ons were actual­ly car­ri­ed out without pro­blems.

SAR helicopter

SAR heli­co­p­ter (Super Puma) of the Sys­sel­man­nen (now: Sys­sel­mes­ter):
now upgraded with sta­te of the art tech­no­lo­gy. (archi­ve image, 2015).

Also the two SAR heli­co­p­ters remain the same machi­nes that have been used by Luft­trans­port, but they will recei­ve an important tech­ni­cal upgrade, accord­ing to Sval­bard­pos­ten. They will get new, front-facing infra­red came­ras to “see” mis­sing per­sons in cold envi­ron­ments, and they will be equip­ped with tech­no­lo­gy that can loca­te mobi­le tele­pho­nes – inde­ed inde­pendent­ly of the pre­sence or absence mobi­le net­work coverage. This will be a gre­at advan­ta­ge in Sval­bard, which in most of its land and sea are­as does not have mobi­le net­work.

This, howe­ver, requi­res – and this is the safe­ty-rele­vant infor­ma­ti­on announ­ced in the begin­ning of this pos­ting – that the mobi­le pho­ne in ques­ti­on is tur­ned on and not in flight mode. Then, the pho­ne will send a signal that can be picked up by the heli­co­p­ter, enab­ling the crew to loca­te the device. This is said to work on a distance of up to 35 kilo­me­tres, given the­re are no ter­rain obsta­cles blo­cking the direct line bet­ween the pho­ne and the heli­co­p­ter.

It seems to be necessa­ry the the SAR sys­tem knows the mobi­le pho­ne num­ber, but this is often the case when a per­son is repor­ted mis­sing by friends or fami­ly, who usual­ly have the pho­ne num­ber of their mis­sing friend or rela­ti­ve.

Con­clu­si­on: if you are out in the field on your own in Sval­bard in a situa­ti­on whe­re dis­as­ter may poten­ti­al­ly strike, then lea­ve your mobi­le pho­ne on and acti­ve even when you lea­ve the area cove­r­ed by mobi­le net­work, against up-to-now’s prac­ti­ce which has been to turn the pho­ne off or at least into flight mode to save bat­te­ry power. And it goes without say­ing that whenever you are out the­re, someo­ne in civi­li­sa­ti­on should know about your whe­rea­bouts, your pho­ne num­ber and when to rai­se the alarm in case you do not return in time.

Polar bears dis­tur­bed by tou­rists “around the clock”?

The first “nor­mal” – without major dis­tur­ban­ce by Covid19 – sum­mer sea­son in Spits­ber­gen has begun. Actual­ly, the win­ter has just star­ted to loo­sen its icy grip, the islands are still lar­ge­ly snow-cove­r­ed, many fjords still fro­zen and the­re is cur­r­ent­ly qui­te a lot of drift ice on the north and east coasts of Sval­bard.

But crui­se ships have star­ted trips of several days alrea­dy weeks ago, and the first ship-based day-trips out of Lon­gye­ar­by­en were offe­red as ear­ly as March. It is not that long ago that the win­ter sea­son (no ships) las­ted until around mid May, then the­re was a break of several weeks with litt­le acti­vi­ty during the snow­melt and then the sum­mer which invol­ved ship-based acti­vi­ty star­ted in June. But that is histo­ry, tour ope­ra­tors are star­ting ear­lier and ear­lier every year, some as ear­ly as March.

Now, around mid May, the­re are alrea­dy several dozen tou­rist ves­sels crui­sing Spitsbergen’s coas­tal waters, and the­re is alrea­dy trou­ble alt­hough most of them have just star­ted their sea­son. The­re are pho­tos cir­cu­la­ting on social media showing clo­se encoun­ters of polar bears on ice and tou­rists on ships, and the public dis­cus­sion is in full swing. The issue is alrea­dy cove­r­ed by NRK, Norway’s most important news plat­form. The head­line of the lin­ked-up arti­cle claims that Svalbard’s polar bears are dis­tur­bed by tou­rists “around the clock”.

Polar bear and ship

Polar bear on ice clo­se to a ship: who moved to visit the other part? Who was cha­sed, dis­tur­bed or even put at risk? May­be: noo­ne. (Archi­ve image, 2015).

The cur­rent dis­cus­sion is fuel­led by pho­tos like this one, showing polar bears and ships with tou­rists in clo­se distance. The­re have been situa­tions like that also in recent weeks in Spits­ber­gen, pho­tos are cir­cu­la­ting and the dis­cus­sion is going high. A reac­tion may also come from offi­cial side: the Sys­sel­mes­ter (gover­nor) has announ­ced to inves­ti­ga­te rele­vant cases.

The­re is no doubt: vio­la­ti­on of valid law, writ­ten and unwrit­ten, and unethi­cal beha­viour, are inac­cep­ta­ble and should be fol­lo­wed by strict­ly by the aut­ho­ri­ties, invol­ving fines whe­re­ver appro­pria­te.

Ille­gal beha­viour, unethi­cal action or accep­ta­ble beha­viour?

But the ques­ti­on is if it is real­ly as easy as that. It seems so: many public com­men­ta­tors inclu­ding jour­na­lists (NRK) take it as given that the polar bears are dis­tur­bed by tou­rists, even “around the clock”. But what does a pic­tu­re like the one abo­ve actual­ly show? The actu­al pic­tu­re that has fuel­led the cur­rent deba­te has, by the way, been remo­ved from social media posts by the pho­to­gra­pher. But it shows – from the per­spec­ti­ve of ano­t­her, not direct­ly invol­ved ship – a situa­ti­on very simi­lar to the one in the pic­tu­re abo­ve. So, is a situa­ti­on like this a pro­blem, may­be even legal­ly rele­vant, or not?

Over the years, I have been in situa­tions like this one a num­ber of times: a ship is par­ked at the ice edge or bet­ween ice floes. A polar bear gets a sen­se of the ship. Often being a curious and inqui­si­ti­ve ani­mals, chan­ces are that the bear comes clo­ser to inspect the object of his (or her) curio­si­ty. The bear may come clo­se enough to even touch the ship, snif­fing on the hull, while the peop­le on board are taking pic­tures, and then walks his (her) way again. (I high­light “her” becau­se both males and fema­les may show curious and inqui­si­ti­ve beha­viour).

It is, of cour­se, hard to say what actual­ly hap­pen­ed in any given case unless you have been the­re and seen it. Hard­ly anyo­ne who is con­tri­bu­ting to the cur­rent dis­cus­sion has been the­re. In this given case, I have coin­ci­dent­al­ly been clo­se enough to see a few bits and pie­ces (more on that below), but too far to see any details. Gene­ral­ly spea­king, a wide ran­ge of sce­n­a­ri­os is pos­si­ble: did the peop­le on board to some­thing to attract the bear actively? Did they even feed it? Both is pro­hi­bi­ted and com­ple­te­ly inac­cep­ta­ble, the­re is no room for dis­cus­sion about this. But unless the­re is any infor­ma­ti­on that points towards such beha­viour, the­re is no no need to assu­me that anything like that has actual­ly hap­pen­ed: the pre­sence of a ship, not moving, may well be enough to work up a polar bear’s curio­si­ty; after all, being curious is natu­ral beha­viour for a polar bear, and this is often rea­son enough for a polar bear to come clo­se and check out a ship (or hut or tent). This is not at all unusu­al and it is not con­demnab­le. Neit­her is it unethi­cal as long as the peop­le on board don’t take any inn­a­pro­pria­te action and as long as the­re is no dan­ger for man or beast (peop­le on board a ship a gene­ral­ly safe – which again means that also the bear is safe – unless the ship is so small that a bear can jump on board; some­thing that would, howe­ver, be a very unusu­al beha­viour. I have never heard of a polar bear jum­ping on a boat with peop­le on deck). Also from a legal view­point, the­re shouldn’t be anything to com­p­lain about: §30 of the Sval­bard envi­ron­men­tal act pro­hi­bits any action to “attract polar bears, to feed them, to fol­low them or to seek out a polar bear actively in such a way that may invol­ve a dis­tur­ban­ce of the polar bear or that may put humans or the polar bear at risk” (my own trans­la­ti­on). It should not hard to under­stand that none of the­se actions – or equi­va­lent ones – need to be invol­ved when a ship stands still and a polar bear deci­des out of curio­si­ty to come clo­se.

So, is ever­ything fine then?

As men­tio­ned abo­ve, of cour­se it is pos­si­ble to think of sce­n­a­ri­os that invol­ve unac­cep­ta­ble and even ille­gal beha­viour. But this appears unli­kely in the given recent case, whe­re the ship was par­ked in the ice. As men­tio­ned abo­ve: I was too far to see any details of what peop­le on board were doing, but clo­se enough to noti­ce that the boat in ques­ti­on was not moving for hours. It was not actively moving any­whe­re.

It is, by the way, not a rea­listic sce­n­a­rio for a boat to fol­low a polar bear in den­se ice; even at a rela­xed pace, a polar bear will be more than fast enough to just walk away unless it is a strong ship that can push or even break ice at speed (brea­king ice is, by the way, also gene­ral­ly for­bid­den).

Snow mobi­les on fjord ice may – given unethi­cal beha­viour of the dri­ver – be a dif­fe­rent thing, but for that rea­son moto­ri­sed traf­fic on fjord ice has been lar­ge­ly ban­ned in rele­vant fjords alrea­dy for years. Also fast motor boats in open water may easi­ly be used in ways that can cau­se gre­at dis­tur­ban­ce to polar bears. Unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly, we have to assu­me that not ever­y­bo­dy has enough com­mon sen­se and rele­vant know­ledge to behave appro­pria­te­ly: stop­ping immedia­te­ly as soon as the bear shows the sligh­test sign of fee­ling une­a­sy about the pre­sence of boats and moving away care­ful­ly without delay when necessa­ry. In such a situa­ti­on, any fur­ther approach that would invol­ve dis­tur­ban­ce is for­bid­den by law as it as been in for­ce sin­ce 2001 (Sval­bard­mil­jøl­o­ven).

Back to the given case: the­re is not­hing to see or to read in pho­tos and infor­ma­ti­on publi­cal­ly avail­ab­le that points towards such beha­viour. NRK jour­na­list Rune N. Andre­as­sen claims that polar bears in Sval­bard are dis­tur­bed by tou­rists “around the clock”. His arti­cle (link abo­ve) does not pro­vi­de infor­ma­ti­on which would actual­ly indi­ca­te this. It appears that the head­line sup­ports the same public opi­ni­on that it may well be deri­ved from (rather than fac­tu­al infor­ma­ti­on): the com­bi­na­ti­on of tou­rists and polar bears is gene­ral­ly bad, and if both are clo­se tog­e­ther, it is just assu­med that this is not accep­ta­ble and pro­bab­ly ille­gal.

It is clear that pho­tos like the ones in ques­ti­on that are (were) cir­cu­la­ting on social media easi­ly give rise to a hea­ted public dis­cus­sion, espe­cial­ly when the view­er has never made a simi­lar expe­ri­ence him- or herself, obser­ving the actu­al event from the begin­ning to the end. May­be the aut­hors of arti­cles such as the abo­ve-men­tio­ned one on the NRK web­site have infor­ma­ti­on that I don’t have, but I doubt it. It would be good to have solid infor­ma­ti­on to base one’s opi­ni­on on when voi­cing such a strong state­ment such as a claim of polar bears being dis­tur­bed by tou­rists “around the clock” (or at all). Espe­cial­ly in nati­on­wi­de media, but also else­whe­re.

And espe­cial­ly when it comes at a time of a hea­ted poli­ti­cal deba­te: Nor­we­gi­an legis­la­ti­ve aut­ho­ri­ties are cur­r­ent­ly con­si­de­ring – amongst many other things – a legal requi­re­ment to keep a gene­ral mini­mum distance of 500 (five hund­red) metres from polar bears under any cir­cum­s­tan­ces.

Rather than let­ting a polar bear car­ry on with fol­lowing his (or her, for that sake) curio­si­ty even if it does not invol­ve any risk or dis­tur­ban­ce, this would mean that you would have to start moving your boat or even use deter­rents such as a fla­re gun. Both opti­ons are much more likely to dis­turb the ani­mal than just stay­ing whe­re you are as long as ever­y­bo­dy and ever­ything is safe. Some­thing that will gene­ral­ly be the case as long as peop­le are on the ship and the polar bear is on the ice. And this is what we are tal­king about. Not­hing else.

By the way, NRK aut­hor Andre­as­sen uses in his arti­cle (links abo­ve) a pho­to taken by a Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te field bio­lo­gist, taken “from a pro­per distance” accord­ing to the com­ment under the pho­to. I would esti­ma­te the distance bet­ween the pho­to­gra­pher and the two bears in this pho­to to be some­whe­re near 50 metres. On tenth of what Nor­we­gi­an legis­la­ti­ve aut­ho­ri­ties cur­r­ent­ly are con­si­de­ring as a legal­ly bin­ding mini­mum distance for polar bear encoun­ters.

Natio­nal day cele­bra­ti­ons without child­ren from Bar­ents­burg

The 17th of May is the Nor­we­gi­an natio­nal day and it is cele­bra­ted ever­y­whe­re in the coun­try with gre­at enthu­si­asm and a lot of public atten­ti­on and acti­vi­ties.

In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, this usual­ly inclu­des the tra­di­ti­on to invi­te repre­sen­ta­ti­ves from the Rus­si­an sett­le­ment of Bar­ents­burg, only 40 kilo­me­tres away from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Repre­sen­ta­ti­ves from the mining com­pa­ny Trust Arc­ti­cu­gol and the con­su­la­te came as well as child­ren who met the local child­ren in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

17. May, Longyearbyen

Repre­sen­ta­ti­ves from Bar­ents­burg hol­ding speaches next to the Sys­sel­man­nen (now: Sys­sel­mes­ter) and the mayor of Lon­gye­ar­by­en on the 17th of May (here in 2019).

It had been made clear in advan­ce that offi­cial repre­sen­ta­ti­ves would not be wel­co­me this year, but the child­ren and “necessa­ry entou­ra­ge” were invi­ted. Their visit was, howe­ver, can­cel­led by Bar­ents­burg after “inter­nal dis­cus­sions”, accord­ing to Sval­bard­pos­ten As a con­se­quence, the­re was no mee­ting bet­ween the neigh­bours Bar­ents­burg and Lon­gye­ar­by­en in the con­text of the 17th of May 2022. The ori­gi­nal idea that the Rus­si­an and Ukrai­ni­an child­ren from Bar­ents­burg and the Nor­we­gi­an and inter­na­tio­nal ones from Lon­gye­ar­by­en would sing tog­e­ther had to be can­cel­led.

Local offi­cials hope that cir­cum­s­tan­ces allow a nor­mal rela­ti­on bet­ween the neigh­bou­ring towns again soon.

Isfjord

Again, the snow-cove­r­ed arc­tic land­s­cape was glit­te­ring in the sun around us as we awo­ke to ano­t­her day in Isfjord. Stun­ning beau­ty ever­y­whe­re around us.

Ymerbukta

Ymer­buk­ta.

Rein­de­er are roa­ming in lar­ge num­bers over the snow-cove­r­ed tun­dra. They are loo­king for­ward for the snow to disap­pe­ar soon.

Reindeer, Erdmannodden

Rein­de­er at Erd­mannod­den.

In the after­noon, a strong visu­al con­trast and a bit of regio­nal histo­ry fol­lo­wed in shape of the aban­do­ned Rus­si­an sett­le­ment in Cole­s­buk­ta, which belon­ged to the coal mine of Grum­ant­by­en. (Click here for some back­ground infor­ma­ti­on about Rus­si­an coal mining in Spits­ber­gen.)

Colesbukta

Cole­s­buk­ta.

Pho­to gal­le­ry Isfjord

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

Bellsund-Isfjord

We star­ted the day in Van Mijen­fjord, again with bril­li­ant sunshi­ne. Lar­ge parts of the fjord are still fro­zen solid, and we spent qui­te some time mar­vel­ling at the ice edge.

Meander, Eiskante, Van Mijenfjord

SV Mean­der at the ice edge in Van Mijen­fjord.

The after­noon brought a lovely pas­sa­ge under sail up north to Isfjord, whe­re we were gree­ted by a polar bear soon after reaching the ancho­ring posi­ti­on.

Polar bear, Ymerbukta

Polar bear in Ymer­buk­ta.

Pho­to gal­le­ry Bellsund-Isfjord

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

Bellsund

Oh yes, first came the cros­sing from Bear Island. Well, we could have done with a bit of wind from ano­t­her direc­tion – any other direc­tion – than from strai­ght ahead. But we made it up here in the end, and that’s what counts.

Drift ice, Barents Sea

Drift ice in the Bar­ents Sea, north of Bear Island.

Beau­ty all around us as soon as we ent­e­red Bellsund. A first lan­ding in the win­ter land­s­cape near Mid­ter­hu­ken. With polar bear (peace­ful and beau­ti­ful).

Polar bear, Bellsund

Polar bear in Bellsund.

The fjords are still lar­ge­ly fro­zen, it is still win­ter more than anything else. The shore­li­ne is blo­cked by ice in many pla­ces. Beau­ti­ful to see, and beau­ti­ful play­grounds for small boat crui­ses.

Meander, Bellsund

Mean­der near Akseløya.

Pho­to gal­le­ry Bellsund

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

02nd May 2022 – Bear Island

Bear Island! It took us a while to get here, con­si­de­ring the con­stant nort­hern winds that we have had in qui­te a while now.

But on Sunday evening we could see the island from a distance of more than 40 nau­ti­cal miles!

Barentssee

During the night we found out that lar­ge parts of the island are actual­ly sur­roun­ded by ice, which is a pret­ty rare event the­se days. The bay of Sør­ham­na whe­re we ori­gi­nal­ly inten­ded to anchor was blo­cked by ice, so this was not an opti­on and we ended up ancho­ring at the oppo­si­te and of Bear Island, near the nor­thwes­tern cor­ner.

Kapp Duner

The­re, we were able to get out with the ding­hy. It was the only place around the who­le island whe­re the rather dif­fi­cult com­bi­na­ti­on of swell, wind and ice allo­wed small boat ope­ra­ti­ons at all. It tur­ned out to be a litt­le crui­se that inclu­ded a short lan­ding on a beach – for sure not the lon­gest excur­si­on ever on this island, but without any doubt sweet, with the impres­si­ve rocky coast­li­ne part­ly cove­r­ed in ice, glit­te­ring in the sun! Stun­ning!

Kapp Duner

Later we con­ti­nued towards Spits­ber­gen, but the drift ice is fur­ther west than expec­ted and it keeps for­cing extra miles on us.

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