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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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