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Cruise Operator Defends Polar Bear Shooting After Online Outrage

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A dead polar bear lays at the beach at Sjuøyane north of Spitsbergen, Norway, on July 28, 2018.Gustav Busch Arntsen—AFP/Getty Images

A German cruise line has defended the actions of an employee who shot dead a polar bear in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, after the animal attacked a guard.

The incident happened on Saturday, when the Hapag-Lloyd ship’s crew sent a four-person team ashore at the island of Spitsbergen, to check the area was clear of polar bears before passengers disembarked. The team missed one polar bear; when it attacked a guard, another employee killed it.

After the episode was publicized, many people attacked the cruise company for getting too close to the beast, or for conducting sightseeing cruises in the area at all.

In a Facebook post, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises explained that the ship’s crew wasn’t trying to land near polar bears at all, but rather trying to avoid them.

“Polar bears are only observed [from] on board ships, from a safe distance,” the Hamburg-based firm said. “Once such an animal approaches, the shore leave would be stopped immediately.”

The company said its employees had tried to get rid of the polar bear by other means before resorting to killing it, in self-defense and to save the attacked guard’s life. Hapag-Lloyd said the guard’s condition was stable and that he was “responsive and out of danger.”

Polar bears are a vulnerable species, with only 25,000 individuals left. The decline in their numbers is largely due to climate change, as their natural habitat is on Arctic sea ice, which is increasingly melting.

Although it is otherwise well-established, the link between polar bear starvation and climate change was particularly highlighted by a National Geographic video last year that showed a starving male bear, with the caption: “This is what climate change looks like.” However, the publication has since conceded that it had no evidence that particular bear was starving because of climate change, as opposed to other possible causes.