A trio of polar bears found eating a whale carcass just outside Longyearbyen on Monday made a return visit the area for several hours Wednesday, according to The Governor of Svalbard.
A person in a cabin at Vestpynten notified the governor’s office at about 8 a.m. of the presence of a mother polar bear and her two cubs, Svalbardposten reported. Police were sent to the area to track the bears’ movements.
“People who leave Longyearbyen must be aware that there may be polar bears anywhere,” Police Chief Lt. Arve Johnsen told the newspaper.
The bears eventually swam away toward Isfjorden after noon.
The bears were originally spotted early Monday evening west of the campsite near Svalbard Airport where a road leads to numerous cabins, some of which are permanently occupied. The bears wandered away from town to Bjørndalen where it found the whale carcass about seven to eight kilometers from town.
Officials with the governor’s office decided to tow the whale out to sea using the Polarsyssel service vessel because the carcass could have kept the bears in the area for weeks and lure more bears. The decision was criticized by many who said it was wrong to deny the bears food when the species as a whole is having an increasingly difficult time hunting due to vanishing sea ice.
Bjørn Frantzen, a researcher and senior adviser for the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research, told The Independent Barents Observer officials should have towed the carcass to a safe place where it could have also been a tourist attraction.
“The authorities should together with the local population and tourist companies positively look for places that are suitable for stranding of dead whales,” he said. “Let the dead whale become a resource for local tourism.”
The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act prohibits actively seeking out wildlife in a way that disrupts behavior and the governor generally issues warnings for people to stay away from areas where polar bears have been spotted – at times going out in patrol boats to ensure people don’t approach the animals.
But sightings of bears eating naturally beached carcasses along popular cruise routes are somewhat common, including in early July when a carcass washed ashore at Deltaneset, just around the corner of the cape northwest of Longyearbyen