Very curious bear on Svalbard creates confusion | Polarjournal
At the trapper station Farmhamna on the west coast of Svalbard, the bear was chased off by the multiple use of flares. But the animal’s visits lasted several days and hardly let the inhabitants sleep. Photo: Farmhamna

Svalbard is polar bear land. Around the archipelago and the adjacent Franz Josef Land Archipelago, around 3,000 animals are said to be at home. In search of food, the powerful predators migrate all over the islands, which also brings them close to the settlements on the main island of Spitsbergen. But to protect the bears and the people there, the bears are chased off, which is usually not a big deal. But now two stations on the west coast have had a bear in their midst for several days, which could not be deterred despite intensive methods. This is not a very common situation.

Last week, stations along the west coast of Svalbard became the target of polar bear visits at several locations. On the one hand, the Dutch Arctic Station, which is located in Ny Ålesund, reported that a polar bear had examined the camp on Prinz Heinrichøya on 22 July, damaging one of the research cameras. At the same time, the Isfjord Radio station reported visits from a polar bear for several days. The station, which is located about 50 kilometres as the crow flies west of Longyearbyen at the entrance to isfjorden, was home to not only station staff at the time, but also to some tourists. After four days, the animal was last seen. But just two days later, the trapper station Farmhamna, about 35 kilometres north of Isfjord Radio, reported that a polar bear was sneaking around the station and was not impressed by the attempts to chase it off. Again and again the predator came back and examined the station in detail.

“We also believe that this is the same bear – the modus operandi speaks for it very much.”

Owners of Farmhamna
The polar bear near Farmhamna approached the dog boxes and the meat drying rack, which posed a danger to the dogs. The animal was briefly chased away with signal flares, but returned a few hours later. Photo: Farmhamna

Both stations asked the Sysselmannen in Longyearbyen for help to drive the bear away. In both cases, as usual, the administration sent the helicopter to drive the animal back into the wild. But even these measures remained without the desired success, the polar bear reappeared after a few hours. It can be assumed that the polar bear was a different animal at Prinz Heinrichøya than at Cape Linné, as the two places are more than 100 kilometers apart as the crow flies. But the way the animal at the entrance to the Isfjorden had behaved in both cases implies that it may have been the same polar bear. This is also the opinion of the owners of Farmhamna, who already live on Svalbard for many years. “We also believe that this is the same bear – the modus operandi speaks for it very much.”

Isfjord Radio (left) is the old radio station at the entrance to isfjorden. It used to be a place of contact with the outside world, but today it is also a tourist destination incl. Hotel. Farmhamna (right), on the other hand, is a trapper station that has been operated by a couple since 2017. Picture: Farmhamna / Mikeangelo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Visits by polar bears to human settlements on Svalbard are not uncommon. There usually is more coexistence between the two groups in most cases. Normally, the animals can be expelled from the settlements relatively quickly by flares and loud noises. Multiple visits on the same day are already rare, several times on several days in a row an exception. This year, Svalbard has seen several such cases of a polar bear repeatedly approaching the settlements. Several reports were reported around Longyearbyen: late last year, one animal was shot by the authorities in Longyearbyen, and another animal died a few months later after it had been captured and flown to the east. Both cases were further investigated by the authorities in retrospect, but also met with a great deal of external criticism.

The two places of visit Isfjord Radio and Farmhamna are only 35 kilometres as the crow flies. Barentsburg is also nearby, but Ny Ålesund is again more than 100 kilometers further north.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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