On July 4, Svalbardposten reported about problems with coastal rubbish around Svalbard. There was also the problematic situation of animals getting caught in waste from fishing vessels and some of them dying.
During a two-week voyage aboard the Arctica II around Svalbard in late June, nature photographer Svein Wik saw this polar bear in Woodfjorden, north of Spitsbergen. He made sure to take pictures of the animal and said the bear appeared to be in good shape despite the nylon rope, which probably came from a trawling net.
"It was walking along the shore and when it got closer we saw that something was hanging from his neck," Wik said. "It seemed to fit and it did not seem like it was bothering him."
"The bear moved along Woodfjorden southeast of Mushavna. We actually saw the bear two days in a row. The other day it was relaxing on a mountainside on a small place without snow further into Woodfjorden."
The impression was the bear looked relaxed, but when Wik came back ashore he notified the governor about the observation. He also reacted when he saw the article about coastal trash.
Although the animal appeared to be in good shape, such situations can change quickly. Polar bears have the ability to add on a lot of weigh in a short time, which can be fatal.
"The question is what happens to the bear if it comes across a carcass and puts on a lot of weight over a short time," said aid Eigil Movik, the governor's senior advisor for nature management. "The thread can cut further into the neck."
Asking for help
Now the governor is trying to locate the animal, but Movik said it is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
"As soon as we got the report I spoke with, among others, polar bear researcher Jon Aars at the Norwegian Polar Institute to discuss how big the problem is and what we can do," Movik said. "We assumed that the bear in the worst case could have major problems."
The plan is to get help from polar bear scientists to drug and examine the bear, and cut it loose. Officials also sent out a message via the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators to cruise ships on expeditions in Svalbard to look for the animals, but the observations so far have been too old. The latest report is from July 10 and applies to observations made July 4. By this time, the bear has likely moved far away.
"We also have two police officers in the area who are looking out for the bear to take close-up photos of it so we can get more detailed information about how the yarn remains attached," said Movik, who is asking the public to contact the police immediately if they see the polar bear.
WANT TO READ MORE?: Fearing rubbish in the Barents Sea
Coastal rubbish has become a major problem in Svalbard, and it takes about six years from the time a mudflat is cleared until it is again filled with yarn and other debris, according to Guri Tveito, head of the governor's Department for Environment Protection. Every year the governor conducts trash-removal cruise expeditions. So do some cruise vessels. More animals are suffocating and many are killed annually as a result of the injuries they incur by getting caught in beach rubbish.
Svein Wik has been to Svalbard many times and said he has noticed a large amount of garbage each year. During voyages he had found trawler debris in the propeller, but it was the wildlife around the garbage that made the strongest impression.
"It was in a way a confirmation about the polar bear. We saw a lot of garbage in the ocean. This is the tenth trip in Svalbard and I was shocked," said Wik, who said he feels responsibility for the cleaning up of Svalbard should go far beyond the governor and citizen volunteers.
"I hope that the rope decays slightly and slips off afterwards," he said. "But it clearly can be worse. He has been involved in something that has made him get the rope around himself."