A mother bear and her cub who spent much of the past week living at Revneset kept Helene Hvedding trapped in her cabin. A nearby archaeological expedition had to pack up after the bears intruded and gnawed on bags containing artifacts.
"The bear with the yearling has been in Isfjorden often in recent years," said Jon Aars, a polar bear researcher with the Norwegian Polar Institute. "It's the same mother bear that had three cubs last year and was seen frequently in Isfjorden then. Then they have been on the pack ice a little north of Nordaustlandet and gone along Wijdefjorden before heading down again. We see that they often do the same thing year after year."
25 years old
The bear is named N226018 and is frequently in Tempelfjorden. She had three cub last year and a litter in 2011 as well. The bear was tagged by the polar institute in 2009, when it was believed to be 18 years old.
"She's probably an old lady, yes," Aars said. "She should be about 25 years old now. It's good that she has a youngster that is alive. We cannot expect her to have that many years left."
If the cub survives, there is a strong probability she will follow in her mother's footprints and become an Isfjorden bear, he added.
Born in Van Keulenfjorden
The bear shot on Forlandet was a very local bear.
"It was the daughter of a bear which in recent years has been transmitting," Aars said. "She mostly kept in Van Mijenfjorden and was born in Van Keulenfjorden. The mother hibernated there and had two cubs."
The mother bear followed the same pattern as in previous years by going to Forlandet, and is now returning to the area between Van Mijenfjorden and Van Keulenfjorden.
"The cubs did the same," Aars said. "These are local west Spitsbergen bears who have grown up there."
Local bears in west Spitsbergen often encounter people more than bears on the east coast.
"That increases the likelihood of conflict," Aars said.
What can be done to prevent confrontations?
"I've always said that I think there will be more confrontations," Aars said. "It is not our job to tell the governor what to do to best manage the polar bears."
In recent days, the institute has been in constant contact with the governor about the bears at Revneset.
"I feel they take it seriously and do what they can, and that they are interested in ensuring management of the situation is proper," Aars said. "That it might be a more challenging situation than it has been before I also believe, but I have confidence that the governor is doing the best they can."
Difficult to conclude
Aars said it's difficult to conclude an increase in the killing of bears is occuring.
"There are random variations," he said. "Some years three or four are shot, and then there is zero or one again. These are small numbers and will be subject to random fluctuations."
The researcher said he does believe there are more bears along the coast of west Spitsbergen than 20 to 30 years ago.
"It took some time before they settled in those areas again after they were protected," he said.