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Outraged about walrus disturbance

According to a tourist, two wildlife specialists jumped into the water and disturbed a walrus to create a good photographic situation. This picture is taken in another occasion. FOTO: Line Nagell Ylvisåker

Outraged about walrus disturbance

Kate Reschner was on a cruise with G Adventures aboard the MS Expedition when two wildlife specialists jumped into the water and disturbed a walrus to create a good photographic situation.



In an e-mail to G Adventures and The Governor of Svalbard, Rechner stated two of the company's wildlife specialists were barking and growling loudly toward the three walruses in the water.

At first, Reschner thought they were doing it for the safety of the passengers in order to prevent the walruses from coming out of the water until the tourists had moved away from the shore.

"I was wrong," she wrote. "The guides tried to create an exceptional photo-shooting situation. They were about five meters from the nearest walrus when one took care of most of the grunting, while the other raised a big zoom lens over his shoulder to try to get a picture of the walrus on the way up the beach."

The incident allegedly took place on July 16 when the passengers disembarked on the shore at Torellneset on Nordaustlandet.

'Like a circus'
Svalbardposten has seen an image that is part of a picture game passengers received after the trip. It shows two people standing well out in the water, barely two meters from two walruses. One is leaning forward toward the foremost walrus while the second person is shooting photos.

Svalbardposten has not been given permission to publish the photo.

Reschner explained that when she commented toward a fellow passenger that disturbing wildlife in Svalbard is not allowed the remark was overheard by a guide. He swore the wildlife specialists knew what they were doing.

"I replied that this was more like a circus performance; this was not a Sea World show and it does not matter if the specialist has worked with wildlife, his actions were wrong," Reschner wrote.

She is asking that G Adventures train the staff again. She is also requesting the company send letters to those who participated in the cruise. "Six children and many passengers now believe that grunting and disturbing wild animals is okay to take a good picture. In a similar expedition such behavior would get them expelled," she wrote.

Following up
G Adventures' director of marine operations, William Bennett, wrote in a letter to the governor the company is taking the incident seriously and they are not trying to circumvent AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) guidelines or local laws. They are now in contact with AECO and following the protocol for such situations.

In a statement to Svalbardposten, G Adventures wrote it takes all aspects of nature very seriously and they are investigating the incident.

"We are very concerned about the protection of nature and take pride in being a responsible and ethical tour operator," wrote Casey Mean, the company's communications manager. "We finance and operate several conservation projects, without making money on this ourselves."

Investigating the matter
Frigg Jørgensen at AECO said they have given G Adventures a deadline to provide feedback about the company's views on the matter.

"Then we have an internal process where we assess the severity of the case," she said. "If it is determined that it should be up to the annual meeting of AECO, the company must provide information about what happened, their views on the matter and what they will do to make sure it does not happen again."

Jørgensen emphasized they have not been involved in the case for long and therefore she did not wish to comment further. AECO has its annual meeting in week 42 and expects to have received a final report at that time.

In the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, Section 30 reads in part: "no person may hunt, capture, or kill fauna." The governor now awaiting a response from AECO before proceeding with the case.

"Then we will consider the matter from both parties' initiative," said Eigil Movik, the governor's senior advisor for nature management.

He said they will consider the matter in relation to the law and determine if there has been any illegal action or not.


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