Polar bears return to an Arctic island

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A man from Stavanger who’s working at a remote meteorology station on an island east of Svalbard encountered no less than 14 polar bears in the course of just one day. Experts think the sightings may indicate better ice conditions in the area.

Polar bears like this one seem to have returned to the remote island of Hopen in the Arctic. PHOTO: Norsk Polarinstitutt

Bjørn Naustevik Myklebust, age 30, told local newspaper Svalbardposten that his overnight ski trek to a hytte (cabin) just seven kilometers from where he works turned into a pure polar bear safari. He and colleagues had noticed polar bear tracks around the station’s buildings on the small island of Hopen, which is located in the Barents Sea around 185 kilometers east of the southernmost tip of Svalbard’s largest island of Spitsbergen.

Myklebust said there were polar bear tracks all along the route he skied, along with two dogs, to the hytte. After arriving he also skied up to the top of a local peak, and there he saw four polar bears in the distance, two of which were wrestling with one another.

Unique Arctic experience
That was just the start of a unique Arctic outdoor experience. He told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that after eating “a good dinner” back at the hytte and having a good night’s sleep, he woke up around 6am to some noises outside the hytte.

“I looked out the window and saw a female bear that seemed quite sweet,” he told NRK. “Right behind, though, was a large male.” Both were curious, approached the hytte and looked in the window.

“It was fantastic, but at the same time I was shaking a bit, and realized I shouldn’t do anything stupid,” Myklebust said. He knew that polar bears have been known to break windows and tear down doors, but after a whle the two bears wandered off.

When he was about to leave the hytte, he saw four more bears, including a mother followed by two cubs, all three of which were followed by another large male around 10 minutes later. “It was quite a bit of traffic,” he laughed. On his ski trek back to his work station, he saw two more, one of which came close enough that he felt compelled to fire warnng shots from a rifle he was carrying.

Dogs reacted
“The dogs had begun to bark,” he said, adding that the overly curious bear fortunately turned around and wandered off. “I could see from its body language that it wasn’t aggressive. I didn’t think it was very dramatic, but again I was a bit shaken.”

Just before arriving back at the Hopen meteorology station he saw two more polar bears. “That made it 14 in the space of 24 hours,” he said.

Jon Aars, a polar bear researcher at the Norwegian Polar Institute, told NRK that the number of sightings was “special” but not exceptional on the small island of Hopen. “The numbers of bears you can see there varies a lot,” he said. “I’ve experienced not seeing any, while just 10 to 20 years ago, it wasn’t unusual to experience double-digit sightings.”

He said that seeing so many now can indicate “good ice conditions” in the area for polar bears that have become threatened in recent years by melting Arctic ice. That in turn can indicate some hope for the bears on Hopen.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund