BEAR NEAR LONGYEARBYEN CHASED OFF BY GOVERNOR: Predator visits Hiorthhamn without incident Saturday, but helicopter deployed to keep it away from people


A polar bear visiting Hiorthhamn on Saturday morning gave people across the bay in Longyearbyen an interesting diversion without causing any damage or other incidents, but The Governor of Svalbard deployed a helicopter to chase it away to prevent it from getting closer to town and thwart folks tempted to approach the animal for a closer look.


A polar bear visiting Hiorthhamn on Saturday morning is little more than a moving white dot to those looking at it through binoculars and telephoto lenses from across the channel in Longyearbyen. Photo by Sophie Cordon.

The governor’s office announced the sighting of the polar bear at about 11 a.m., warning people to stay away from the area where numerous cabins and cultural heritage structures are located.

“The governor will initially try to use a helicopter to push the bear toward Revneset and Diabas,” the statement notes.  “The governor is asking people to keep distance and not to search the area.”

The bear immediately retreated toward Revneset when the helicopter approached shortly after 11:30 a.m.

Several locals posted social media photos of their sightings of the animal, although it appears much as it did to those watching it through binoculars from town – a small white moving dot in the distance.

“A bit far, but can’t complain,” wrote Sophie Cordon, a local photographer, in a Facebook post showing a photo she took from her living room in an apartment near the shore.


A mother polar bear and her cubs feast on a whale carcass in a cabin area near Svalbard Airport in September of 2018 until the governor uses a helicopter to scare the predators off and then tows the carcass out to sea. Photo by The Governor of Svalbard.

Polar bear sightings at Hiorthhamn are common during late summer and early fall, with one female polar bear in particular who seems to visit as part of her annual migration around Svalbard – sometimes with new cubs, sometimes not – drawing interest.

Last September a mother and two cubs (although not necessarily the same bear) swam across the channel to a cabin area near Svalbard Airport where a whale carcass washed ashore, with the governor provoking outrage among many locals by chasing the animals off and towing the carcass to sea to prevent the predators from returning to the settled area. In September of 2017 visits by a mother and two cubs (again, no confirmation on if it was the same trio during each individual incident) visited the cabin area and other areas near town. In August of 2016 a mother and her cub trapped a couple in their cabin and disrupted an archaeological site for several hours Tuesday before being chased away.