CLOUDY COMPLICATIONS: Several days of fog in Longyearbyen results in multitude of cancelled flights, heightened problems with polar bears making repeat visits near town


Dense fog in Longyearbyen the past several days has resulted in several cancelled flights during a crippled tourism season (now including the loss of cruises due to COVID-19 outbreak on one), plus an inability to detect and monitor polars visiting populated areas near Longyearbyen, according to officials and media reports.

Two visits by two polar bears (it cannot be stated with 100 percent certainty it was the same bears during each visit) have been seen in the cabin area of Hiorthhamn since Saturday, according to The Governor of Svalbard. But the clouds kept a helicopter from being able to do more than a spot check during the first visit and was unable to respond during the second visit at about 3 a.m. Tuesday when one of the bears peered in a cabin window briefly.

“Due to dense fog, we no longer have control over where the two polar bears are,” the governor announced in a statement early Tuesday morning. “The governor urges people to be very careful and take their precautions.”

Because of the fog, the governor also announced Monday it is removing animal parts and carcasses hanging at local locations and urging people to be aware about not storing items outside that may attract the animals.

“The governor will be removing seal fat and parts of seal carcasses hanging around in and on the outskirts of Longyearbyen,” a press release stated. “The reason is the danger that the fat will attract polar bears. Fog is making the situation extra demanding…The governor is encouraging people not to store food and food waste outdoors.”

Svalbardposten reported Tuesday a total of five flights have been cancelled so far due to the fog, including three regularly scheduled flights and two “replacement” ones meant to make up for those cancelled. Among other things, it means a visit to Svalbard by Mister of Trade and Industry Iselin Nybø starting Tuesday has been delayed until later this week with some changes in itinerary.