“Polar bear guards” from a German cruise ship shot and killed a bear that “unexpectedly attacked” in a remote part of Norway where there are more polar bears than people.
The incident occurred after Hapag-Lloyd Cruises sent a team of trained personnel to a remote Norwegian island to check for polar bears, which the company says it does before bringing tourists ashore. They say a bear snuck up on the cruise crew members and attacked. They fired a warning shot, in an attempt to scare the bear away, but it didn’t work. At that point, the company says, the crew shot and killed the bear.
The injured crew member was transported off the island by helicopter to be treated for a head wound. He is in stable condition and recovering, according to the company. No tourists were injured.
“Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is very aware of its responsibility when travelling in environmentally-sensitive areas and respects all nature and wildlife,” the cruise company said in a statement. “We are extremely sorry that this incident has happened.”
Still, people are pissed.
Local police are investigating the incident, though they haven’t released much information. “We have ascertained some of the facts and are piecing together what happened,” says Ole Jakob Malmo, police superintendent at the Governor’s office in a statement.
The incident took place in Spitsbergen, an island in the Svalbard archipelago, between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Tourism has surged in the region, and arctic tourism is especially popular in the summer months. Eighteen cruise ships will be docking at an Arctic port in Longyearbyen in the next week, one of the remote towns in the Svalbard archipelago, according to the Associated Press.
The region the cruise was in is known for its polar bears. The local government estimates that there are currently about 3,000 polar bears living on the archipelago; the human population there is only about 2,200.
But the polar bear population is in decline as climate change takes its toll on their habitat, and the archipelago has served as a stark image of climate change’s effect. Svalbard is perhaps best known as the home to the Global Seed Vault, a heavily-insulated building, designed to withstand the elements, that holds seed samples from around the world. It’s a doomsday precaution of sorts, one that would allow humans to replant crops in short supply, or ones that go extinct.
In May, the vault flooded as the permafrost it sits on began to melt. No seeds were lost, but it shook faith in the vault’s ability to withstand the effects of climate change.
That melt is also dramatically affecting the ice that the bears rely on. Sea ice in the region was lower in June than the September averages, when ice is usually at its lowest point according to Earther.
Bears need the ice to hunt for the enormous amount of food they need to stay alive — some 12,000 calories a day. They typically sit by the seals’ breathing holes, waiting for them to surface for air, and when they do, clobber them on the head, drag them out of the water and feast. But without ice, they don’t have access to their food, and scientists think it’s possible that the bear who attacked the crew member was starved.
"This appears to be a case where a bear in very poor shape is desperately trying to find food," Andrew Derocher, a University of Alberta professor of biology who studies polar bears, told BuzzFeed News. "For the bear, it was a matter of life or death."
Cover image: A dead polar bear lays at the beach at Sjuøyane north of Spitzbergen, Norway, on July 28, 2018. Norwegian authorities said the polar bear attacked and injured a crew member of the 'MS Bremen' cruise ship who was leading tourists off the vessel on an Arctic archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole. The polar bear was shot dead by another employee, the cruise company said. Photo by Gustav Busch ARNTSEN/AFP/Getty Images.