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July 31, 2018

Polar Bear Shot Dead by Cruise Ship Polar Bear Guard in Svalbard

Polar Bear Shot Dead by Cruise Ship Polar Bear Guard in Svalbard

A recent unfortunate and sad incident of a polar being shot dead by a cruise ship’s polar bear guard reminds us of the fine line between pursuing adventure travel to remote places and encroaching on the turf of wild animals.

We’d like to share a statement (edited for brevity) about the incident issued by the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO).

Polar Bear Shot Dead

Svalbard

On Saturday July 28, a polar bear was shot dead in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole, after attacking a cruise ship’s polar bear guard. The guard sustained moderate injuries.

Svalbard, and the high Arctic in general, is a region of the world where wildlife habitats and human settlements overlap. As a result, there are encounters between polar bears and humans. Thanks to strict safety protocols and regulations, polar bear attacks are extremely rare. However, such attacks sometimes occur and may have tragic outcomes.

Expedition cruising is part of the tourism in Svalbard. Most expedition cruise operators in Svalbard are members of the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO). The operator involved in the polar bear incident this weekend — Hapag-Lloyd Expedition Cruises and its vessel the MS Bremen — is one of the few expedition cruise operators in Svalbard that is not a member of AECO, but AECO would nevertheless take the opportunity to underline that the Arctic expedition cruise industry takes polar bear safety extremely seriously.

From AECO’s point of view, it is very sad when an incident leads to human injuries and the death of a polar bear. AECO’s objective is to ensure that expedition cruises and tourism in the Arctic are carried out with the utmost consideration for the vulnerable, natural environment, local cultures and cultural remains, as well as the challenging safety hazards at sea and on land. Keeping passengers safe and ensuring non-disturbance of Arctic wildlife is essential for AECO’s members.

AECO was founded in 2003 and has almost 70 members, 40 of which are cruise operators or vessels owners/management. They operate 40 cruise vessels and 10 commercial yachts in the Arctic. AECO has developed mandatory polar bear guidelines that provide detailed instructions on how to avoid encounters with and disturbance of bears. Learn more: www.aeco.no/guidelines.

Polar Bear Shot Dead

Polar Bear in Svalbard. * Photo: Ted Scull

As a footnote, here are the thoughts of QuirkyCruise co-founder Ted Scull who has taken several expeditions to the Arctic, including Svalbard.

From my experience, expedition cruising is the most responsible form of “animal safari-style” travel on land or sea or from the air, and the lines do their best to provide passengers with polar bear sightings, almost always from the vessel or in Zodiacs, and often close up enough to take photos without a telephoto lens. The curious bears may approach and sniff the new smell, then go about their business. The lines do not put passengers ashore where there are polar bears, and in the instance described, the advance party, but no passengers, came upon one. We do not yet know exactly what the advance party was doing ashore and what the landscape looked like. When our group went ashore for a hike over the terrain and photography lessons, the landscape was flat and open and did not provide any location where a bear might be nearby but out of view.

Humans in the millions go to national parks (animal habitats) and take safari-style trips in parks and reserves all over the world. Incidents occur often, sometimes because of careless and even outrageous human behavior. However, this polar bear incident is highly unusual, and lessons will be learned, but you can’t be 100% safe going anywhere where animals and humans interact. In Svalbard, polar bears are not confined to some tiny patch; it’s a huge place for them to freely roam. QuirkyCruise will share more if and when we know more.

➢ Here’s more coverage on the incident by the New York Times.

➢ And here’s an opinion piece by travel writer Brian Major of TravelPulse,  It’s Time to Re-think Dangerous Animal Encounters.

➢ QC Contributor Anne Kalosh wrote about the incident in Seatrade Cruise News.

 

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