Polar bear shot after dragging off Svalbard paddler

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A polar bear launched an unusual attack on the tent of two paddlers on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, dragging one of the young men out of the tent and carrying him around 40 meters before the other man shot the bear to death.

This polar bear was shot after dragging a man out of his tent on Svalbard. PHOTO: Arild Lyssand/Sysselmannen

The dramatic incident took place on the northern coast of Nordaustlandet, one of several islands making up the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard that’s under Norwegian jurisdiction. The two men, both 22-year-old Norwegians, were in the midst of an expedition that they’d hoped would make them the first to paddle all 2,000 kilometers around the archipelago.

The expedition, called Svalbard 360, came to an abrupt end when the polar bear attacked while they were sleeping in their tent. Officials said Ludvig Fjeld, from Sarpsborg in southern Norway, more than likely saved the life of his expedition partner Sebastian Plur Nilssen of Fredrikstad, who suffered lacerations on his chest, head and neck.

Paddlers Sebastian Plur Nilssen and Ludvig Fjeld, shown here off Spitsbergen, had told their local newspaper that they hoped to avoid the need to scare off polar bears. PHOTO: Svalbard360.com

The two managed to call for help and a search and rescue helicopter arrived at the scene within two hours. Nilssen was conscious, received some treatment at the scene and was airlifted to the hospital at Longyearbyen, where he underwent surgery Thursday night.

A hospital spokeswoman described his injuries as “moderate to severe” but said they were not life-threatening. The two men had told newspaper Fredrikstad Blad in June that they were aware there could be “a whole lot” of polar bears on Nordaustland and had hoped to avoid using firearms to keep the bears away.

Police Chief Inspector Per Andreassen of the governor’s office on Svalbard (Sysselmannen på Svalvard) told Svalbardposten that Fjeld said the polar bear released Nilssen after his first shot, but he kept firing. Andreassen said the bear was hit by four shots.

It remains unclear why the polar bear went on the attack, with some experts speculating that either it was hungry or merely curious. Some Arctic researchers told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday that it’s getting harder for polar bears to find food around Svalbard.

Polar bears are protected under strict conservation laws and are only allowed to be shot in self-defense. Another recent shooting remains under evaluation, after a polar bear was found dead and determined to have been shot but only wounded on July 8. The bear is believed to have died several days later and was found on July 20.

An investigation revealed that four researchers on Svalbard had felt threatened by the bear at their workstation at Hyttevika all day on July 8. “They tried scare off the bear several times, without much luck,” reported the governor’s office this week. “The polar bear finally came right up to their cabin and after a while, one of the researchers opened the door and fired a shot with his rifle.”

It’s since been determined that shot later killed the bear. The researcher who fired the shot is being called into a formal hearing before the case will be sent to the prosecuting authorities (påtalemyndihetene).

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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