Update 12 p.m. Sunday: “The governor still does not have a full overview of where the polar bear is now,” Gov. Kjerstin Askholt said in a prepared statement. “We therefore ask people to be very careful.”
Original story: A polar bear that visited Longyearbyen twice since Thursday before being chased away returned Sunday morning to a cabin area in Bjørndalen, about eight kilometers southwest of Longyearbyen, where The Governor of Svalbard has again deployed a helicopter with the intent of chasing it far from settled areas.
“It has both been in the sea and on land,” a statement issued by the governor’s office at about 9:30 a.m. notes. “The Governor has sent out the helicopter and Polarsyssel (service vessel) to locate the bear, and is also in the area with police on land. The governor urges people to be very careful.”
There are numerous cabins in the valley along the road beyond Svalbard Airport where residents live year-round.
The bear visited the center of town Thursday morning and the recreation area of Longyearbyen School on Saturday morning, with the governor chasing it into the mountains south of town both times using a helicopter and other vehicles. Plans to chase the bear by helicopter to Van Mijenfjorden, an inlet about 20 to 25 kilometers south of Longyearbyen, on Saturday were aborted due to bad weather, leaving the bear at the innermost section of Bjørndalen.
“This means that we cannot fully predict which way the bears will move,” Gov. Kjerstin Askholt said in a prepared statement.
An official watch was set up and residents are being urged to call the governor’s emergency 112 number if they see the bear or fresh tracks.
“We still have high readiness to try to observe the bear if it approaches Longyearbyen again,” Askholt said. “However, it is difficult to predict which way it will choose; it can be the same way as before or via Bjørndalen and Vestpynten – or a completely different way.”
The governor is considering flying the bear far from settled areas, but doesn’t have the personnel necessary until after the Christmas holidays.
The bear’s visits are proving both thrilling and worrisome, with locals and visitors flocking to the riverbed and other areas in search of bear tracks (and people complaining about some folks “spoiling” them with their own prints), and various warnings issued for those venturing outdoors for other reasons.
“Because of the situation with the polar bear visiting Longyearbyen we ask our guests for the nightclub to be extra careful,” a notice posted by Huset on local social media Saturday stated. “We recommend everyone get to and from here by taxi or private vehicle.”