Map - Bear Island (Norway) (Bjørnøya)

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Bear Island (Bjørnøya)

Bear Island (Bjørnøya, ) is the southernmost island of the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago. The island is located in the western part of the Barents Sea, approximately halfway between Spitsbergen and the North Cape.

Bear Island was discovered by the Dutch explorers Willem Barents and Jacob van Heemskerck on 10 June 1596. It was named after a polar bear that was seen swimming nearby. The island was considered terra nullius until the Spitsbergen Treaty of 1920 placed it under Norwegian sovereignty.

Despite its remote location and barren nature, the island has seen commercial activities in past centuries, such as coal mining, fishing and whaling. However, no settlements have lasted more than a few years, and Bear Island is now uninhabited except for personnel working at the island's meteorological station Herwighamna. Along with the adjacent waters, it was declared a nature reserve in 2002.

Seafarers of the Viking era may have known Bear Island, but the documented history begins in 1596, when Willem Barents sighted the island on his third expedition. He named this island "Vogel Eylandt", "Bird Island" in English. Steven Bennet conducted further exploration in 1603 and 1604 and noted the then rich population of walrus. Starting in the early 17th century, the island was used mainly as a base for the hunting of walrus and other species of seals. Also, the eggs of seabirds were harvested from the large bird colonies through 1971.

The Muscovy Company claimed Bear Island for the English Crown in 1609, but it abandoned the site when walrus-hunting declined. A Russian settlement existed in the 18th century and its remains were later used as a basis for territorial claims by Imperial Russia in 1899 and again by the Soviet Union in 1947.

Bear Island has never been extensively settled. The remnants of a whaling station from the early 20th century can be seen at Kvalrossbukta ("walrus bay") in the southeast. From 1916 through 1925, coal was mined at a small settlement named Tunheim on the northeastern coast, but then the mining was given up as unprofitable. Due to the cold climate, the remains of the settlement, including a half-destroyed jetty and a steam locomotive, are relatively well-preserved.

The strategic value of Bear Island was recognised in the late 19th century, when Imperial Russia and Imperial Germany demonstrated their interests in the Barents Sea. The German journalist and adventurer Theodor Lerner visited the island in 1898 and 1899 and claimed rights of ownership. In 1899, the German fishery association Deutscher Seefischerei-Verein (DSV) started investigations of whaling and fishery in the Barents Sea. The DSV was secretly in contact with the German naval command and considered the possibility of an occupation of Bear Island. In reaction to these advances, the Russian Navy sent out the protected cruiser to investigate, and the Russians hoisted their flag over Bear Island on July 21, 1899. Although Lerner protested the action, no violence occurred and the matter was settled diplomatically with no definitive claims of sovereignty over Bear Island by any nation.

The whole island was privately owned by the coal mining company of Bjørnøen AS from 1918 to 1932, when the Norwegian state took over the shares. Bjørnøen AS now exists as a state-owned company, and it is jointly managed with Kings Bay AS, the company that runs the operations of Ny-Ålesund on Spitsbergen. A Norwegian radio station (Bjørnøya Radio, callsign: LJB ) was established in Herwighamna on the northern coast in 1919. It was later extended to include a meteorological station.

Since the shipping routes from the Atlantic Ocean to and the ports of the arctic White Sea pass through the Barents Sea, the waters near Bear Island were of some strategic importance during World War II as well during as the Cold War. Although Svalbard was not occupied by Germany, the Kriegsmarine built several weather stations there. An automated radio station was deployed on Bjørnøya in 1941. German forces attacked several arctic convoys with military supplies bound for the Soviet Union in the waters surrounding Bear Island. They inflicted heavy losses upon the Convoy PQ 17 of June/July 1942, but they were ineffective in the Battle of the Barents Sea on New Year's Eve 1942. The waters southeast of Bear Island were the scene of more naval battles in 1943. In November 1944, the Soviet Union proposed to annul the Svalbard Treaty with the intention of gaining sovereignty over Bear Island. Negotiations with Trygve Lie of the Norwegian government-in-exile did not lead to an agreement by the end of World War II, and the Soviet proposals were never carried out. The Soviet Union (and later, Russia) maintained some presence on Spitsbergen, however.

In 2002 a nature reserve was established that covers all of the island, except 1.2 km2 around the meteorological station. The reserve also includes the adjacent waters of a four nautical mile radius (7.4 km) from the coast. In 2008, the decision was made to extend the reserve to a radius of 12 nmi from the coast covering 177 km2 on land and 2805 km2 of sea area. Today, the island's only inhabitants are the nine or so members of the staff of the Norwegian meteorological station and radio station at Herwighamna. This station carries out meteorological observations and provides logistic and telecommunication services, including a radio watch on the HF channels 2182/2168 and the VHF channels 16/12. Weather forecasts are transmitted from the station twice daily, announced on HF 2182/VHF 16. The station also has landing platforms for use by helicopters of the Norwegian Coast Guard, the Norwegian 330 Squadron, and the Governor of Svalbard. The Norwegian Polar Institute conducts annual expeditions to Bear Island, mostly concerned with ornithological research. Several other research projects, mostly pertaining to geography and climatology, are carried out less regularly. There are very few opportunities for individual travel to Bjørnøya. 

Map - Bear Island (Bjørnøya)

Latitude / Longitude : 74° 26' 36" N / 19° 0' 23" E | Time zone : UTC+1:0 / UTC+2 | Currency : NOK | Telephone : 47  

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Country - Svalbard and Jan Mayen

Svalbard and Jan Mayen (Svalbard og Jan Mayen, ISO 3166-1 alpha-2: SJ, ISO 3166-1 alpha-3: SJM, ISO 3166-1 numeric: 744) is a statistical designation defined by ISO 3166-1 for a collective grouping of two remote jurisdictions of Norway—Svalbard and Jan Mayen. While the two are combined for the purposes of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) category, they are not administratively related. This has further resulted in the country code top-level domain .sj being issued for Svalbard and Jan Mayen, and ISO 3166-2:SJ. The United Nations Statistics Division also uses this code, but has named it Svalbard and Jan Mayen Islands.

Svalbard is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean under the full sovereignty of Norway, but is subject to the special status granted by the Svalbard Treaty. Jan Mayen is a remote island in the Arctic Ocean; it has no permanent population and is administrated by the County Governor of Nordland. Svalbard and Jan Mayen have in common that they are the only integrated parts of Norway not allocated to counties. While a separate ISO code for Svalbard was proposed by the United Nations, it was the Norwegian authorities who took initiative to include Jan Mayen in the code. Its official language is Norwegian.
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