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.