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Cruiseship tour guides fined for disturbing polar bears on Svalbard

Two guides from a French cruiseship have been hit with hefty fines, after they led a group of tourists towards land in the northern portion of Svalbard where a polar bear and her cub were feeding off a dead whale. That’s absolutely not allowed and local authorities cracked down.

Tourists often take pictures of what’s often called “the most photographed sign on Svalbard,” just outside Longyearbyen, which warns of polar bear danger all over the archipelago. They’re an endangered species and still dangerous, but it’s illegal to disturb or harm them in any way unless they’re on the attack. PHOTO: NewsinEnglish.no/Morten Møst

“Both of the polar bears were disturbed and withdrew from the area where they’d found food,” stated the equivalent of the local sheriff, Sysselmesteren, in the Arctic archipelago that’s under Norwegian jurisdiction.

Environmental and climate activists have long been worried about rising tourism and the increasing numbers of passenger vessels cruising around Svalbard. In this case, the tour guides were viewed as far too eager to give tourists a thrill at the expense of the endangered polar bears.

The mother bear and her cub were feeding off the cadaver of a dead whale at Mosselbukta iin northern Svalbard on June 23, when the guides steered motorized rafts with paying guests on board towards the bears. That disturbed the polar bears, who’ve long struggled to find enough food as a result of climate change and melting ice. They thus withdrew from their feeding session, which led to sharp punishment against the guides.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Monday that the local authority, Sysselmester Lars Fause, opted for fines of NOK 20,000 (around USD 2,000) for each guide. Fause said the fines were based “on earlier practice” and reflect the serious nature of violating Svalbard’s environmental law, paragraph 30, that forbids trying to attract, follow or otherwise bother the bears. That can also make them more aggressive and endanger both human life and their own.

“Given climate change, less sea ice and rising problems for species dependent on ice, the Sysselmester’s office will continue to react sharply against unnecessary disturbance, especially of polar bears,” Fause stated in his own written account after the incident.

If the fines are contested, the case will go to trial and both guides will be summoned to court in Nord-Troms for further legal action.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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