However, as they say in the burbs (suburbs for the non-natives out there), shit just got real. Today we have a safety course. What does this mean?
We had an hour or so lecture on the various ways you can die on the island (did I hear someone say Academia is an ivory tower..?). These ways include: avalanches, rock falls, falling into a crevasse (60% of Svalbard is Glaciers, that’s a lot of crevasses), getting a virus from mice (though that won’t kill you for 15 years), being bitten by a rabid fox or, as is traditional, mauled by polar bear. Then there’s the usual exposure issues, falling off boats etc.
The good news? No spiders, no snakes, no polar bears in town.
The “adventurous” news? Now we’re off to the range to learn how to shoot a high powered rifle at a bear.
I’d never seen a real gun before, never heard a gun shot let alone fired one of the bloody things. In that way I’m a fairly typical white bread aussie. I have, what I believe to be, a perfectly reasonable fear of guns. They are an astonishing way of extinguishing life with minimal human effort. That said, my natural pacifist tendencies when competing with the thought of a massively pissed polar bear.. well, survival wins out there. The day the bears learn how to load a gun we’re all 100% buggered.
However, in the name of science I, along with my colleagues, learnt from a wonderfully thorough Finnish fellow. We were taught gun basics, this is a trigger, this is a barrel etc. We learnt how to load and half load the guns. We were taught never to walk through town with a loaded gun. We were reminded that there’d be kick back and how to stand to maintain balance. Etc. etc. As introductions to a killing machine go, it was pretty friendly. I was also impressed with all the PI books I’ve read over the years. They were actually pretty helpful, particularly those written about people who were freaked out about shooting stuff.
Polar bears are deadly. They hunt and eat people. This is just how it is, Svalbard is their home and we barge in looking for coal, fish etc. So, in the first instance all effort is made to avoid bears entirely. This is done through knowledge of the bears, where they like to be at certain times of year etc. However, sometimes the bears surprise us. They’re curious creatures and like to have a wander too. For the most part the bears won’t be hunting people and if they are considered too close a flare gun is shot which scares off the bear. In most instances that works. It’s only in instances where the bear is actively hunting the people involved that there are issues. In this case, if the bear isn’t scared off by flares and loud noises and continues to approach, well then you might have to shoot. Believe you me, the description of an instance where a bear might have to be shot sent shivers down my spine. Let alone the thought of having to try and shoot a moving, rather angry/hungry creature who you know is endangered. That takes some guts.
For all people say Australia is a dangerous country, at least nothing is ever going to come barrelling into your tent to eat you. The worst that’s likely is a rather enthusiastic wombat, and even then.. unlikely.
This part of the day was pretty silly, nothing like climbing into a onsie to feel like a dag, and we got to float in the sea whilst gazing up at glaciers. It was awesome.
Tomorrow the real work starts. But let it never be said that I didn’t sing for my supper!