Author Archives: Mark Sabbatini

POLAR BEAR GOES SWIMMING NEAR LONGYEARBYEN: Bear goes ashore at Revneset on Saturday night, officials follow it by helicopter without taking action as it moves away from town

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A polar bear came near Longyearbyen on Saturday night, taking a swim before going ashore at the cape across the bay on the west side of town, but officials from the governor’s office who responded by helicopter followed the bear as it moved away from town without need to sedate or take other protective measures.

LOCAL POLAR BEARS MAY BE EXTINCT IN 50 YEARS – BUT ‘THRIVING’ NOW: Norwegian Polar Institute issues dire warning about future; ‘denialist’ blog uses NPI data to cast doubt

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Photo by Jon Aars / Norwegian Polar Institute

Fundamental rule of journalism: be wary of a scientific study headlined “may” – as in “Polar bears may be extinct on Svalbard in 50 years,” according to a Norwegian Polar Institute press release issued this week.

So besides looking for “yes, but” qualifiers in the study, scanning the internet for the usual naysayers seems in order. 

SVALBARD’S FIRST GENDER-NEUTRAL GOVERNOR: Lars Fause, former second-in-command, returns 10 years later to top spot with first-ever title of Sysselmester instead of Sysselmannen

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New Svalbard Gov. Lars Fause watches sign master André Jenssen replace the administration’s building sign Thursday. Photo courtesy of The Governor of Svalbard.

Since this is an English-language newspaper, here’s the official announcement in Norwegian filtered through Google Translate: “On 1 July 2021, The Governor of Svalbard changes his name to The Governor of Svalbard.”

Yikes – and the “new title is the old title” gibberish isn’t even the worst part…officially. The worst is the reference to “his,” which Norway’s government now considers taboo because…well, sex is bad.

The upshot is Svalbard has a new boss with a new title.

ANY VOTES IN FAVOR OF NOT VOTING? Everyone seems to hate a proposal preventing foreign residents from participating in Longyearbyen’s elections; here’s a few who support it

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You know those elections where the leader of Turkmenistan, North Korea, etc. wins with 99 percent of the vote – and ever wonder who the “one-percenters” are?

A similarly lopsided tally is surfacing on social media in response to a proposal to essentially ban foreigners from local elections in Longyearbyen – but a few souls are speaking out in favor of the surprising suggestion made by Norway’s government this week.

STRIPPING VOTING RIGHTS FROM FOREIGNERS? Longyearbyen residents must reside on mainland for at least three years to vote and run for local office under Justice Ministry proposal

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Foreign residents in Longyearbyen will lose their right to vote and run for office in local elections if a proposal by Norway’s Ministry of Justice and Emergency Preparedness published Wednesday is enacted.

Numerous residents and Longyearbyen’s mayor immediately expressed dismay at what the latter called an unexpected proposal released without notifying local officials in advance.

WOW…WALRUSES! BUT, PLEASE, BE WARY: Rare appearance by eight of the gregarious creatures at Hotelnesset draws crowd, but governor says some too close for comfort (and safety)

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Photo by Elizabeth Bourne

Visiting cruise ship passengers are still absent from the harbor area of Longyearbyen this summer, but a different group of visitors Tuesday evening got almost certainly a more cherished welcome from locals as eight walruses made a rare disembarkation onto the shore at the edge of town.

But, as happens with cruise ship passengers, it turns out officials needed to issue a warning about proper interaction between humans and the environment as some of the former got too close to the latter.

STREAMING SONGS FOR SOLSTICE: ‘Under The Midnight Sun’ concert by a dozen performers, many working as guides in Svalbard, makes summer debut Sunday live on Facebook

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Screenshot of Marty Garwood, a performer at the “Under The Midnight Sun” concert, from video by Antarctic Ambassadors

Unlike many recent past summers there’s no organized weekend beach party to celebrate the summer solstice, or the usual swarm of cruise ship passengers and crew wandering around town. But a celebration by a group of guides, photographers and others who often spend their summers working in Svalbard is scheduled in the form of an “Under The Midnight Sun” concert from 7-9 p.m. Sunday that will be streamed live on Facebook.

A BLESSED SUNDAY FOR TRAVELERS AS COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS EASED: No virus test for vaccinated people going to Svalbard; coastal cruises and charter flights allowed

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Sunday will be a blessed day for those traveling to Svalbard as several COVID-19 restrictions, including a mandatory negative test for the virus within 24 hours of departure, will be eased that day, Norway’s government announced Friday. People who can show proof they are fully vaccinated will be exempt from the test.

In addition, coastal cruises will be allowed “on certain conditions” – including up to 2,000 people on large ships if all are vaccinated – and charter flights from the mainland will be able to land in Svalbard.

40M KR. TO HELP 27 COMPANIES, 300 EMPLOYEES: Nearly all eligible applicants share newest round of emergency grants for local tourism businesses hurt by COVID-19 pandemic

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Photo by Visit Svalbard

A total of 27 companies are receiving a total of about 40 million kroner that will ensure employment of about 300 people from the most recent emergency aid package intended to help tourism companies in Svalbard affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Longyearbyen’s Community Council, which evaluated applications and approved the allocations.

LAST SNOWSTORM BEFORE SUMMER? Of course it might snow then as well (although it’s increasingly rare), but no more is forecast in Longyearbyen during the last week of spring

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Freakish early- and mid-June heat waves are being felt across the globe – including 50°C (122°F) in the Middle East and record temperatures near that the southwest United States – but locals in Longyearbyen found themselves brushing snow off their windshields Monday during what might be the last snowstorm before summer.