Skiers shot polar bear on Svalbard

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Four tourists from Finland who were out skiing on Svalbard over the weekend felt forced to shoot one of the archipelago’s protected polar bears, when they feared it was about to attack. They only wounded the bear, though, and it later had to be put to death by local authorities.

The authorities on Svalbard had to kill a polar bear over the weekend that had been wounded by skiers after they feared it would attack. PHOTO: Sysselmannen på Svalbard/Irene Sætermoen

The authorities on Svalbard had to kill a polar bear over the weekend that had been wounded by skiers after they feared it would attack. PHOTO: Sysselmannen på Svalbard/Irene Sætermoen

Polar bears are an endangered species and under strict preservation orders, so the weekend shooting has set off a routine investigation.

“They (the skiers) have claimed that they first tried to shoot in the air to scare off the polar bear,” Irene Sætermoen, deputy sheriff on Svalbard, told Svalbardposten. “The bear then disappeared for a short while, but quickly returned, and then it came so close that they chose to shoot at the bear. They hit him, but the bear didn’t die.”

Everyone out trekking on Svalbard is required to be armed because of the possibility of polar bear attacks. The Finnish skiers, out on a three-week tour of Svalbard, called the authorities on a satellite phone that they had with them and reported they’d been attacked by the bear, and that it had run off after being shot. The group from Finland was out skiing in an area on the northernmost portion of the island of Spitsbergen, near Verlegenhuken.

None of the ski tourists was injured and the local top authority (called Sysselmannen on Svalbard) chose to send out a helicopter to retrieve the bear, which had crept into an ice formation that resembled a grotto.

This is the ice grotto where the polar sought refuge after being shot. The bear can be seen just inside the entrance before authorities managed to put it out of its misery. PHOTO: Sysselmannen på Svalbard/Irene Sætermoen

This is the ice grotto where the polar sought refuge after being shot. The wounded bear can be seen just inside the entrance before authorities managed to put it out of its misery. PHOTO: Sysselmannen på Svalbard/Irene Sætermoen

“It took us around an hour to get there with the helicopter from Longyearbyen,” Sætermoen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). By then, she said, the wounded bear had slid down towards the sea and sought safety under the ice. It took some time before the bear emerged in the opening of the ice grotto and authorities could put it out of its misery.

“It was clearly injured,” Sætermoen told NRK. “The evaluation made at the site was that it was only correct to kill it, otherwise it would have suffered even more.”

She said all three tourists were upset by the incident but chose to return to their camp around 10 kilometers away. A routine investigation into the chain of events was launched.

An autopsy showed the bear to be a male weighing 116 kilos. It was believed to be around three years old. “The bear had no markings, so it wasn’t part of any research project,” Sætermoen said. She said such incidents don’t occur often.

“We are really borrowing the nature up here where the polar bears live,” she told NRK. “It’s never nice when something like this happens, but it was wounded and it’s our job to end its life in the best possible way.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund