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My bear

5 August 2008 23:54

my first polar bear on Spitsbergen, enlarged Last night I saw my first polar bear on Spitsbergen! During a boat trip, together with Andrea Gröne, returning from a visit to the glacier front. It was a wonderful encounter.

In 1985 and 1986m I have met polar bears on a close distance in Churchill, Canada. The first time the bear was walking from under my observation tower, where I had been sleeping 3 meter above the bear. Rhe second time, the polar bear crossed my way and stopped at 20 meter when I fired a cracker shell.

From these encounters, I learned two things:
1. Always be aware of altrnative polar bear scaring techniques like flares, bangers, flashes and fire works. A weapon is your last option and should not be the first when encountering a polar bear.
2. In a threathening situation, you will face a strong paralyzing start of a panic. I remember my knees trembling and I was afraid to sinkt to the ground. You have to control this panic.

With these experiences I decided to never aim for an encounter. Staying inside is safer for yourself and for the polar bear. So I never went for a bear and did not seeone on Spitsbergen for 20 years. Polar bears are not seen every year in Kongsfjorden. Summer 2004, we had a polar bear staying in the fjord and this year seems similar.
This encounter was unplanned, The bear was at a fair distance (see bottom picture) and we did not make any move towards the bear. The polar bear was undisturbed. Beautiful.
the original picture, with use of three times zoom
At the Netherlands Arctic Station we have a few rules concerning polar bear safety:
1. Avoid any polar bear. Never go on polar bear sight seeing trips.
2. Always carry safety equipment. A gun is essential but should never be the only thing. Equally important are flares, fire works and a radio. And always make sound while moving without a clear view.
3. Use of a gun is very dangerous for you and other people around you. A bullet will fly for 7 kilometer and has still the ability to kill. If you aim, always check the background for 7 kilometers. Don't shoot if there are people in the background. More bullets are fired by accident than aimed at a polar bear. Training is also dangerous. Never practice without an instructor and only at a shooting range.
4. Practice in thoughts. How to act when ... Think of different scenario's and how you would react. When meeting a dangerous polar bear, there is not much time to think and usually wrong decisions are made.
5. Analyse yourself. Make sure you are equally afraid for your gun and for the polar bear. Any other feeling is not justified. However be prepared to shoot a polar bear when in danger. If you are the one carying the gun, you must make sure that you are the best choice for using the gun if necessary. Don't think that you are prepared for a meeting with a polar bear after a single safety course.
6. Never panic! Whatever happens, listen to advice and make a decision. If you carry the weapon, you have the responsibility to use it. Never interfere with someone who is carrying the weapon during an encounter.
7. Try to be passive and safe. Usually it is better not to take any action but waiting.
8. When you are back in safety after you have been in danger, make sure you unload the gun and take all neccessary safety precautions. Pass information to others and evaluate your decisions.
9. Avoid people who behave iresponsible. They will make any bear encounter more dangerous.



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