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Yearly Archives: 2022 − News & Stories


Bird flu detec­ted in Spits­ber­gen

Bird flu, also known as avi­an flu or avi­an influ­en­za, has been detec­ted in Spits­ber­gen in June for the first time. It is the first evi­dence for this virus in the Arc­tic.

Sci­en­tists expec­ted the arri­val of the bird flu virus in Sval­bard now becau­se of a major recent out­break of the dise­a­se amonst Bar­na­cle geese in Eng­land and Scot­land. Birds from this popu­la­ti­on migra­te up to Sval­bard to breed the­re during the sum­mer. You can see Bar­na­cle geese and others, main­ly pink-foo­ted geese, in and near Lon­gye­ar­by­en in lar­ge num­bers in the ear­ly sum­mer befo­re they spread to the brea­ding are­as.

Barnacle geese, Ny-Ålesund

Bar­na­cle geese are poten­ti­al car­ri­ers of the bird flu virus (here in Ny-Åle­sund).

The bird flu virus was now found in a dead glau­cous gull that was found near the har­bour in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, as NRK reports.

Bird flu is high­ly infec­tious and very dan­ge­rous for birds, both wild and domestic ones. Experts fear poten­ti­al­ly dis­astrous con­se­quen­ces for domestic bird stocks in main­land Nor­way and wild bird popu­la­ti­ons both the­re and in Sval­bard.

Report to the Sys­sel­mes­ter if you find a dead bird or an ali­ve one that shows stran­ge beha­viour, but do not touch or hand­le dead birds or bird drop­pings. The risk of an infec­tion for humans, howe­ver, is descri­bed as low.

Nor­we­gi­an government dis­pos­ses­ses for­eig­ners of local voting rights

After a long and con­tro­ver­si­al poli­ti­cal pro­cess, the Nor­we­gi­an government in Oslo has now made the decisi­on that non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants of Lon­gye­ar­by­en will lose the voting right (acti­ve and pas­si­ve) on a com­mu­ni­ty level. Only tho­se “for­eig­ners” (peop­le without Nor­we­gi­an pass­ports) who have lived at least 3 years in a main­land com­mu­ni­ty will be able to vote or to be elec­ted into the com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil (Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re).

This app­lies to appro­xi­mate­ly 700 inha­bi­tants of Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The­re is cur­r­ent­ly one mem­ber of Lokals­ty­re who has a pass­port other than Nor­we­gi­an (Oli­via Eric­son from Swe­den), accord­ing to NRK.

This had been a very con­tro­ver­si­al and, for some, emo­tio­nal deba­te which was alrea­dy sub­ject of several ear­lier con­tri­bu­ti­ons on this page; read the pre­vious arti­cle (click here) for more back­ground, e.g. on the histo­ry of local demo­cra­cy in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

It is safe to assu­me that most non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens have not spent 3 years as a regis­tered inha­bi­tant of a Nor­we­gi­an main­land com­mu­ni­ty. Many locals who have spent a major part of their lives in Lon­gye­ar­by­en will not be allo­wed to vote during the next local elec­tions (in 2023) and they may not be elec­ted into Lokals­ty­re.

The recent govern­men­tal decisi­on frus­tra­tes many who are con­cer­ned; many feel like second-class citi­zens now, as Sval­bard­pos­ten reports.

Minis­ter of jus­ti­ce Emi­lie Enger Mehl gives the fol­lowing explana­to­ry state­ment (quo­ted from the press release of the Nor­we­gi­an government, link abo­ve, my own trans­la­ti­on): “The con­nec­tion to the main­land makes sure that tho­se who mana­ge the com­mu­ni­ty at any time have good know­ledge and a good under­stan­ding of Sval­bard poli­tics and the (poli­ti­cal) frame­work that is app­lied to Sval­bard … con­si­derable resour­ces are trans­fer­red every year from the main­land to sup­port public ser­vices and infra­st­ruc­tu­re. Inha­bi­tants with main­land con­nec­tion will often have con­tri­bu­t­ed to the­se finan­ces. The requi­re­ment for a main­land con­nec­tion is also to be seen in this light.”

Norwegian Longyearbyen and voting rights

Lon­gye­ar­by­en is beco­m­ing more Nor­we­gi­an. Exclu­si­on of non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants from local demo­cra­cy is a pri­ce that the Nor­we­gi­an government is appear­ent­ly wil­ling to pay.

Com­ment

So far so clear: tho­se who (poten­ti­al­ly) have paid are to deci­de; tho­se who have paid poten­ti­al­ly less (local taxes are low) and to not have the right pass­port are exclu­ded from poli­ti­cal par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on whe­re it real­ly mat­ters.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re is a com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil and no more than that. Lokalstyre’s decisi­ons con­cern local traf­fic, kin­der­gar­ten, school, other local infra­st­ruc­tu­re – just what a com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil gene­ral­ly does, and no more than that. Lokals­ty­re does not have any influ­ence in natio­nal legis­la­ti­on – bey­ond try­ing to be heard, which too often does not hap­pen, other­wi­se the decisi­on in ques­ti­on would not have hap­pen­ed as it did. Lokals­ty­re does not make decisi­ons con­cer­ning Sval­bard out­side the com­mu­ni­ty of Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

So one may ask what kind of pro­blem the Nor­we­gi­an government assu­mes to sol­ve. Or, same ques­ti­on in other words: what are they afraid of? So far, Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re is firm­ly in Nor­we­gi­an hands. The­re is cur­r­ent­ly exact­ly one local coun­cil mem­ber who is not Nor­we­gi­an, and that is Oli­via Eric­son from Swe­den. Who is afraid of Oli­via? And even if, one future day, Danes and Swe­des, Ger­mans and Thai would make up a visi­ble pro­por­ti­on of Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re and thus have a say in mat­ters con­cer­ning local road buil­ding of kin­der­gar­ten – so what?

Last year, a local coun­cil mem­ber of Høy­re (“Right”) said some­thing like “This is about secu­ri­ty. Thus, we can not make any com­pro­mi­se.”

It would be inte­res­ting to know more about whe­re poli­ti­ci­ans from the quo­ted local coun­cil mem­ber up to Minis­ter of jus­ti­ce Emi­lie Enger Mehl see Nor­we­gi­an secu­ri­ty threa­tened.

Let’s just assu­me they would be able to give a con­vin­cing ans­wert to this ques­ti­on (noting that not­hing points to this actual­ly being the case): the cur­rent decisi­on is, at best, pre­ven­ti­ve. As men­tio­ned, the­re is cur­r­ent­ly exact­ly one local coun­cil mem­ber who is not Nor­we­gi­an, and not­hing points towards an incre­a­sing trend of inter­na­tio­nal diver­si­ty in Lokals­ty­re.

For this pre­ven­ti­ve mea­su­re, the Nor­we­gi­an government is wil­ling to pay a high pri­ce – or rather, to let others pay the pri­ce: the exclu­si­on of a lar­ge group from local demo­cra­cy. Many of tho­se feel like second class citi­zens now.

Nor­we­gi­an poli­ti­ci­ans usual­ly not let an oppor­tu­ni­ty pass unused to point out that Sval­bard and Lon­gye­ar­by­en are Nor­we­gi­an (and I haven’t heard anyo­ne ques­tio­ning this, with some excep­ti­ons of bizar­re claims made by Sovjet/Russian poli­ti­ci­ans, but that’s a total­ly dif­fe­rent issue and by no means rele­vent in a local demo­cra­cy con­text). But sud­den­ly, Lon­gye­ar­by­en is not Nor­we­gi­an enough to give tho­se who have been living the­re for years good know­ledge of the Nor­we­gi­an poli­ti­cal frame­work for Sval­bard poli­cy? That is, in my opi­ni­on, bizar­re.

Jus­tiz­mi­nis­te­rin Mehl said (author’s trans­la­ti­on): “Nobo­dy is exclu­ded from the demo­cra­tic pro­cess, but you must have lived on the main­land for 3 years to be elec­ted into Lokals­ty­re.” (Sval­bard­pos­ten).

It is hard to say what is more worry­ing. That the government plain­ly igno­res most of the opi­ni­ons being rai­sed during the public hea­ring – the voices from Lon­gye­ar­by­en whe­re by far sin­ging the same song of demo­cra­cy and poli­ti­cal par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on.

Or that Mehl pre­ten­ds that nobo­dy is exclu­ded from the demo­cra­tic pro­cess while this is exact­ly what hap­pens, which is eit­her a con­cer­ning lack of know­ledge or plain­ly fal­se. The­re are very few non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants of Lon­gye­ar­by­en who have spent at least 3 years as regis­tered inha­bi­tants of a main­land com­mu­ni­ty. And the desi­re to do this has pro­bab­ly not grown for many whom the Nor­we­gi­an government has now given the fin­ger. This may be per­cei­ved as a strong descrip­ti­on of the recent decisi­on, but this is exact­ly how tho­se who are direct­ly con­cer­ned may well feel about it (so does this aut­hor, in any case).

Which other modern, demo­cra­tic, Euro­pean coun­try has retrei­ved lco­al voting rights from for­eign inha­bi­tants who used to have the­se rights befo­re, some for many years? This decisi­on appe­ras poli­ti­cal­ly dis­gus­ting, right-wing natio­na­list and xeno­pho­bic. With this decisi­on, the Nor­we­gi­an government has joi­ned a cir­cle of Euro­pean gover­nemnts whe­re, I am sure, they do not wish to see them­sel­ves.

MS Vir­go back in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

MS Vir­go, which hit a rock in Fuglefjord, is back in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. She is said to have done the pas­sa­ge under her own power, but accom­pa­nied by the coast­guard to assist if nee­ded.

Coast­guard divers made an attempt to repair the hull dama­ge tem­pora­ri­ly, but it is said that this did not work. Polar­sys­sel, the governor’s ves­sel, pum­ped fuel from Vir­go‘s dama­ged tank.

MS Virgo, Longyearbyen

MS Vir­go in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, today (Thurs­day) morning.

The­re is no fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on avail­ab­le at the moment, not­hing about the extent of dama­ge, the volu­me of die­sel that may have been lost in Fuglefjord and escaped into the envi­ron­ment or why and how exact­ly the groun­ding hap­pen­ed.

MS Vir­go hit ground in Fuglefjord

it, in princip­le, is a night­ma­re sce­n­a­rio: a crui­se ship hits a rock and the hull and a fuel tank are dama­ged.

We don’t know yet what exact­ly hap­pen­ed yes­ter­day morning in Fuglefjord in nor­thwes­tern Spits­ber­gen and what the con­se­quen­ces will be. What we know is that the litt­le Swe­dish expe­di­ti­on crui­se ship MS Vir­go touched the bot­tom yes­ter­day (Tues­day, 14 June) near 10 a.m. The acci­dent hap­pen­ed pro­bab­ly on the pas­sa­ge into Fuglefjord from the north, bet­ween a group of small islets, sker­ries and rocks known as Fug­le­hol­ma­ne.

The pas­sa­ge is rou­ti­nely taken by small ships at least during clear con­di­ti­ons (wea­ther, ice) and the rou­te requi­res care­ful navi­ga­ti­on, but is usual­ly no pro­blem. The waters are well char­ted and the­re are several pos­si­ble rou­tes, depen­ding on ship size. Fuglefjord its­elf is lar­ge and deep (except a 7.5 meter shal­low in the ent­ran­ce, but even this is more than deep enough for a rela­tively small ves­sel shuch as the Vir­go). Only the inner­most part of the fjord, near the gla­cier, is unchar­ted.

Fugleholmane, Fuglefjord

Pas­sa­ge bet­ween the rocks and islets of Fug­le­hol­ma­ne while ent­e­ring Fuglefjord from the north.

No fur­ther details about yesterday’s acci­dent have been released by the Sys­sel­mes­ter at the time of wri­ting.

But it is known that the hull was dama­ged and the same goes for a fuel tank, invol­ving the risk of a fuel leaka­ge. MS Polar­sys­sel, the ser­vice ship of the Sys­sel­mes­ter (gover­nor), was on site wit­hin a few hours. Polar­sys­sel is equi­ped with fuel lea­king figh­t­ing equip­ment and works to pre­vent spills were star­ted up immedia­te­ly.

Nobo­dy was hurt. The­re were 13 pas­sen­gers and a crew of seven on board.

As all ships in most parts of Svalbard’s waters, MS Vir­go has mari­ne die­sel on board. Hea­vy and cru­de oil are not per­mit­ted on board any ship in the natio­nal parks and natu­re reser­ves, which altog­e­ther com­pri­se the lar­gest part of the archi­pe­la­go. Hea­vy, long-las­ting oil pol­lu­ti­on is gene­ral­ly cau­sed by cru­de or hea­vy oil, while mari­ne die­sel dis­sol­ves rela­tively quick­ly even in cold waters. The risk of a major, long-las­ting pol­lu­ti­on event is this low. A less hea­vy pol­lu­ti­on, las­ting for days or even weeks, can, howe­ver, not exclu­ded with the infor­ma­ti­on avail­ab­le and might be eco­lo­gi­cal­ly dis­astrous, con­si­de­ring the­re are several lar­ge bird colo­nies main­ly with litt­le auks on some of the neigh­bou­ring islands such as Fugle­son­gen and Ind­re and Ytre Nor­skøya.

Nofre­te­te and a cham­pa­gne glass. Lon­gye­ar­by­en snow­fiel­ds

A lot of the snow around Lon­gye­ar­by­en has alrea­dy disap­peared recent­ly. The warm days in late May, when the war­mest tem­pe­ra­tures of the mon­ths were mea­su­red that Lon­gye­ar­by­en had seen in 46 years with 12.9 degrees cen­tig­ra­de on 30 May, made the tur­no­ver from win­ter to sum­mer a very rapid affair this year, at least local­ly: it is actual­ly very nor­mal that the snow-melt in and near Lon­gye­ar­by­en starts ear­lier and hap­pens fas­ter than else­whe­re. You may get an impres­si­on of full ear­ly sum­mer in Lon­gye­ar­by­en while the­re is still full arc­tic win­ter some­thing like 50 kilo­me­tres away to the north, east and south (and may­be even to the west, alt­hough this is less reli­able). In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, it may be dif­fi­cult to access the fuel sta­ti­on by snow mobi­le while you can enjoy the win­ter sea­son at its best north of Isfjord or around upper Advent­da­len – if you can still get the­re, that is.

Tho­se who know Lon­gye­ar­by­en well also know the snow­fiel­ds “Nofre­te­te” and “Cham­pa­gne glass”. When the snow goes, some snow­fiel­ds stay behind for qui­te some times, and some of them have pro­mi­nent shapes in a very simi­lar way year after year. The fol­lowing two are the most famous ones. Let’s start with Nofre­te­te:

Snowfield Nofretete, Adventfjord

Snow­field “Nofre­te­te” on the north side of Advent­fjord. You can’t see it from cen­tral Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The simi­la­ri­ty to the famous bust of the old Egypt beau­ty is striking, even though she gives me the impres­si­on of being in a bad mood here. But who isn’t, every once in a while.

The “Cham­pa­gne glass” is even more famous than Nofre­te­te, pro­bab­ly also becau­se you can see it easi­ly direct­ly from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. It is a snow­field of the shape of – guess what! – yes, a cham­pa­gne glass on Ope­raf­jel­let, east of Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Snowfield Champagne glass, Adventfjord

The snow­field “Cham­pa­gne glass”, not yet ent­i­re­ly free from the sur­roun­ding snow,
on Ope­raf­jel­let east of Lon­gye­ar­by­en, late May 2022.

The “Cham­pa­gne glass” comes with a litt­le sto­ry that attracts public atten­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en year after year. The pro­ges­sing snow melt reli­ab­ly leads to the brea­king of the stem after the glass has got its per­fect shape – the cup its­elf being a bit less high and slim than with most real cham­pa­gne glas­ses. “Stet­ten går”, as the Nor­we­gi­an-spea­king locals say, “the stem goes”. The exact day then the stem “breaks” is the final one in a seri­es of events in natu­re that mark the annu­al tran­si­ti­on from win­ter to sum­mer (the first one being the arri­val of the snow bun­ting in April).

The stem usual­ly breaks in late July or ear­ly August. You can try your luck and place a bet with Sval­bard­pos­ten, the local news­pa­per, about your best gues­sing of the date. Honour and reco­gni­ti­on in case of suc­cess.

This year, it was Sarah Gerats who pro­ved her instincts and know­ledge about the local natu­re, deve­lo­ped through years of life in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and on boats in local waters. Sarah was not the only one who pre­dic­ted that the stem would go on 06th June, but she was the first one.

Snowfield Champagne glass, Adventfjord

The cham­pa­gne glass with bro­ken stem on 6th June, 2022.

Hence, this year’s day of the bro­ken stem is amongst the ear­liest of its kind in recor­ded histo­ry, due to the abo­ve-men­tio­ned unusual­ly warm days in late May.

Sarah Gerats

Sarah Gerats, win­ner of the 2022 cham­pa­gne glass con­test.
Here tog­e­ther with Mario Czok, then Cap­tain on Anti­gua, at Bear Island (2018).

Congra­tu­la­ti­ons, Sarah!

Kongsfjord & For­landsund – 04-05 June 2022

The attempt to sail down from the nor­thwest cor­ner to Kongsfjord was not exact­ly suc­cess­ful, due to a lack of wind. It wasn’t real­ly action sai­ling 🙂

But we still had some time to have a look on Blom­strand­hal­vøya inclu­ding two of the caves befo­re we went along­side in Ny-Åle­sund, whe­re we had a good look around the fol­lowing day.

In the after­noon, a desi­re to see wal­ru­ses came up, but we could cater for that in For­landsund.

Gal­le­ry – Kongsfjord & For­landsund – 04-05 June 2022

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

Nor­thwest Spits­ber­gen – 03rd June 2022

We are back to the nor­thwest cor­ner of Spits­ber­gen. And the wea­ther is inde­ed still on our side. It is most­ly calm and sun­ny, just occa­sio­nal­ly a very light bree­ze and some clouds, which is a good thing.

We visi­ted litt­le auks and the migh­ty gla­cier in Fuglefjord, a place of stun­ning beau­ty. The­re was so much ice drif­ting in the fjord that the­re was no chan­ce of get­ting near the gla­cier. The beau­ti­ful impres­si­ons keep com­ing with high fre­quen­cy. So it was a good thing just to anchor in the late after­noon, let things calm down, and mar­vel at the beau­ty of the land­s­cape sur­roun­ding us.

Gal­le­ry – Nor­thwest Spits­ber­gen – 03rd June 2022

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

Ice – Bis­ka­yar­hu­ken – 02nd June, 2022

The point of a trip so ear­ly in the arc­tic sum­mer – one of the points, at least – is of cour­se the idea that the sea ice is likely to be still some­whe­re near the coast. Of cour­se you need the wea­ther for it.

We had both. Ice and wea­ther. It could not have been more beau­ti­ful!

Gal­le­ry – Ice, Bis­ka­yar­hu­ken – 02nd June, 2022

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

And we even had time for a litt­le lan­ding at Bis­ka­yar­hu­ken later in the after­noon.

Nor­thwest-Spits­ber­gen – 01st June 2022

Time ist just fly­ing. The days are full of expe­ri­ence and beau­ty. The mon­th star­ted with no less than four polar bears in the bay whe­re we had inten­ded to go ashore. Well, chan­ge of plans! Ins­tead of our pro­jec­ted snow­shoe hike, we went crui­sing at the gla­cier Smee­ren­burg­breen.

Gal­le­ry – Nor­thwest-Spits­ber­gen – 01st June 2022

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

In Kob­befjord we had a look at the old arc­tic post­box. Someo­ne had appar­ent­ly emp­tied it sin­ce we had left post­cards the­re three years ago. I won­der if they have actual­ly arri­ved.

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.

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