Playing safe in Spitsbergen

Today I was picked up first thing to take a hike and fossil hunt close to Lonyearbyen near one of the glaciers. The area we walked to was just outside the settlement but Polar Bear had been sighted up there in the past so there’s a minor risk. Maria our guide for the morning, as well as being fully trained and licensed to carry a rifle also brought along one of the dogs, a three year old half Greenlander and half something else from theses parts called Ram. You can imagine with a dogs sensitive smell and hearing they can raise the alarm for Polar Bear way before a human. Whilst we looked for fossils, and we were not disappointed, Ram obediently guarded us and did a fine job of too. No bears today but some wonderful views back down the Bally towards Longyearbyen and beyond. If you have 3 to 4 hours even if you are picking up an expedition that day it’s an excellent idea to take a hike and get out of the village even if you are not too much in to fossil hunting. Fully recommended and interesting not to mention dead safe.

Strangely on the walk down we passed a group of 8 adventurers going up the track away from the settlement lead by a chap from Chc. Republic and obviously staying out overnight with full pack of tents and sleeping bags etc. Our guide shared her extreme concern with us that the guide carried not gun at all. Seems crazy to even take minor risks in this region especially when you are responsible for other lives, not just your own. Ok it’s rare to see bears around hear as there’s not obvious food source but why would you take this risk and disregard what locals always agree on.

There are various choices of lodging in Longyearbyen from Hostel type accommodation similar to Spitsbergen Guest House and 102 to The Spitsbergen Hotel and Radisson Blu which are probably the highest grade in Spitsbergen. If you are looking for clean but basic digs the guest House and 102 will suit you fine but if you seek high end The Radisson and Spitsbergen Hotel are the best choice. However if you have stayed in other Radisson Hotels worldwide don’t expect the same of Radisson Blu Spitsbergen as it falls a lot short when compared so bring your expectations down a few notches. Even the superior rooms are a little basic of what you may expect from Radisson but it’s very central and short walking to the museum, restaurants and bars in the village plus the staff are helpful and friendly. The Spitsbergen Hotel by comparison is a 15 minute walk with slight incline at the end but better quality in a more classic in style with excellent fine dining restaurant called Funken Restaurant. I,d recommend this hotel over the Radisson to discerning travelers even though The Radisson is more expensive. An alternative is The Trappers Hotel is an interesting themed hotel with only 16 bedrooms and well located in the middle of town. It’s not for every one especially those who don’t like the thought of sitting on animal skins and seeing paintings of trapping scenes plastered around. But I loved the cosy ambiance theme of a trappers log cabin inside the hotel the fact they have cleverly used local washed up beach wood to build the inside of the rooms and hotel common areas.

Embarked MS Expedition at 4pm and set sail at 5pm. We have just seen Beluga from a distance of the starboard side and apparently there were 10’s of them when the vessel came in to dock the early hours and they are still there. Hope this is just the start of a wildlife feast for the next 8 days.

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Arctic Moose

The Arctic moose is hard to miss, particularly in Canadian, Alaskan, Scandinavian and Russian territories. Check out these fun facts about Rudolph’s cousins:

Polar Bear Photo taken by Brian Clasper Welcome to Spitsbergen Svalbard

Just arrived in Longyearbyen, capital of Spitsbergen, Norway deep in the Arctic and land of the Polar Bear. I’m here to join a Polar Bear expedition for 8 days aboard MS Expedition which embarks 30 July. It’s around midnight and it feels so strange to be experiencing the warmth of the sunshine! We’ve been traveling all day and I should feel exhorted but incredibly quite energized

Spitsbergen is easy to reach and this is usually on a flight via Tromso or Oslo. In 1925 Norway was granted sovereignty over Spitsbergen and with it the opportunity of calling the whole archipelago Svalbard which derives from a Viking name meaning cold edge. Spitsbergen is today’s name for the biggest island in the achipelago. Svalbard has a land surface of 61,022 sq km and is roughly the same size as Scotland.

As I’m here to enjoy seeing Polar Bear in its natural habitat here’s a few facts about the worlds biggest carnivore;

Svalbard is considered the best places in The Arctic to view Polar Bear

On Svalbard there are more Polar Bears than there are humans apparently

The best opportunities of viewing Polar Bears is on a vessel based small ship expedition around Svalbard

Polar Bears along with other Polar Animals are protected in Svalbard

Outside the inhabited settlements you have to expect a Polar Bear anywhere and at any time and they wonder freely.

If a bear comes in to a settlement or close by they are usually spotted and scared away but now and then they do stroll in and even in 2007 one was spotted near the road in the harbour. Last unfortunate human fatality was in 2011 and before that 15 years previously.

On and expedition or land based tour it’s recommended to take a guide who carries a gun at all times when outside the settlements. This is strictly precautionary and in most cases if a flare or gun goes off the bear will not be seen for dust but there are unfortunate occasions every year when for safety reasons bears have to be shot and killed.

If you are camping (Land based)on Svalbard you are advised to take every precaution possible; use trip wires around the camp, take sledge dogs the best form of alarm, do not camp close to the coast as bears like to walk along shorelines. Most of all a watch should be in place at all times.

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