Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Bear Facts

I've been sorting through 7000 photographs. That's a lot of visual information. I keep wanting to find the few very best pictures of each of the locations we visited in Spitsbergen. Part of the trouble is identifying what very best itself means, let alone finding those qualities in a single, or small set of photos.

Waiting for the perfect edit has meant blog silence (The perfect is the enemy of the good  my mind whispers to itself). So, while that task progresses I thought I'd post something fun.
   - Oona

•   The Polar Bear   ursus Maritimus
•   maximum size 1000kg
•   sprint speed 60 km/h
•   distance swimmers - 400km recorded
•   principal prey - seal

The presence of polar bears is part of Svalbard's identity. Humans have settled in their territory, and for safety and environmental reasons the residents of Spitsbergen have developed a lifestyle which recognizes this fact. Thanks to the bear's protected status, and a ban on hunting in 1973, there are now estimated to be 3000 polar bears in Spitsbergen. Sign of bear is everywhere.

At the airport you are asked to be considerate of the environment.

The first bear sighting - at the luggage carousel.

An invitation to the northernmost supermarket.
On the stamp, of course.

Everyone who visits Svalbard is given strict warnings that rifles must be carried anytime you are outside the main settlement of Longyearbyen. The only way to protect yourself against an attacking bear is to shoot it. The killing of each bear is subsequently treated like a murder investigation. As a result, every bear shot develops a provenance. Preserved and stuffed bears appear everywhere, provenance often on display.

At the Svalbard Museum.

At the entrance to the post office.

At the entrance to the (northernmost) supermarket

In the (multidenominational) Chruch

At our lodge

When you leave town...

...you are reminded to be aware of bear.

One of our early landings was at the famous Magdalene Fjord, which has been on the Spitsbergen tour itinerary since the late 1800's. It is a very intimate bay with a small promontory which is home to some whale furnace remains, and an old whaler's graveyard. When we arrived, we were not the only visitors...

Each print is over 12"

The bear follows a trail worn down by a century-and-a-half of tourists

Our group of more than a dozen clustered around our rifle-toting guide under orders not to stray, while she investigated the prints for freshness. The other guide hiked up to the top of the moraine to scout the landscape. Eventually the area was declared bear-free and we were set loose to pursue our various projects.

On our journey we did manage to see one live bear, at the Magdalene Fjord in fact.
Blending into the rocky landscape, at a very safe distance.