Photo above and video below by Marie Lørup Stenshøj
A polar bear wandered through the central part of Longyearbyen on Thursday morning, leaving tracks along the main road and at popular locations such as Kroa, before The Governor of Svalbard deployed all of its resources to chase the animal south of town over Longyearbreen and out toward Colesdalen.
The bear was spotted shortly before 7 a.m. and as of 7:30 a.m. officials the bear “still was not fully under control.” It was chased away from settled areas using vehicles and a helicopter a short time after.
“We have no idea where it came from,” Police Chief Lt. Håkon Toresen told Svalbardposten. “It was a very calm polar bear.”
Because of the early hour and the Christmas holiday, the supermarket and virtually all other businesses were closed, and the streets and walkways largely empty – although the bear caused considerable anxiety among those who did need to go to work or otherwise venture out.
“We remind people of the importance of alerting the governor as soon as they observe polar bears in or near Longyearbyen,” Gov. Kjerstin Askholt said in a prepared statement. “It is very important that we be notified as soon as possible so that we can control the situation. The incident today is also a reminder that we live in polar bear country, and we encourage people to be careful and take precautions.”
Although polar bears have been spotted near and at the edge of town several times in recent years, it has been many years since a bear has visited the central part. The last visit by a bear to a heavily occupied neighborhood occurred in January of 2017 when it roamed along homes at Vei 238, The University Centre in Svalbard and other locations at the northeast edge of town.
Several photos and videos of the bear that visited Thursday and its tracks were posted by residents and others on local social media pages. Marie Lørup Stenshøj, a local restaurant manager, posted an 80-second video of the bear on Facebook plodding along the main pedestrian walkway near Svalbardbutikken. Val K-Trojanowski posted a video of the bear beginning its trek out of town via the Lia neighborhood between Vei 226 and the pedestrian bridge near the outdoor ice rink.
Social media was also used by those in town wondering if it was safe to venture out.
“I have to go out and walk with the dog and then go to work, anyone know where the bear is now?” Frida Øverland, a Basecamp Explorer and Kroa employee, inquired in a comment at Stenshøj’s post at about 7 a.m.
Stenshøj, noting she just asked a guest to return from Basecamp Explorer’s tour office to the guest’s hotel, and others affirmed officials were still active in the area. Øoverland, in a post on her page about an hour later, noted “a bear has been on a city walk this morning and I’ve never run so fast to work. Have a nice 2. St Christmas day.”