A polar bear was killed on Saturday after it attacked a bear guard leading tourists off a German cruise ship near the North Pole in Norway, officials said.
The unidentified man suffered unspecified injuries to his head, but they were not life-threatening and he was in stable condition shortly after the attack. He was airlifted for treatment to a nearby hospital, according to a statement by the Northern Norwegian Rescue Coordination Center.
Bear watchers, as they’re called on the cruise line’s website, are armed and accompany nature guides when they take passengers on tours off the ship. All ships in the area are required to have the guards to protect passengers from polar bears as they sightsee.
“There are very strict rules here as the islands are visited by many polar bears in the summer, so we all need to be vigilant when we are ashore,” wrote a guide about one of the ship expeditions that was posted to the company website.
The attack occurred on the northernmost island of the Svalbard archipelago, which is between mainland Norway and the North Pole. The area is known for its polar bears, sea lions and stark landscapes.
The cruise line pitches its Arctic trips as an “expedition” to a “wide, white realm.” A promotional film (see above) highlights wildlife, including polar bears.
Critics said in the wake of the attack that such animal-human confrontations are bound to increase as Arctic tourist traffic skyrockets. According to the schedule at Longyearbyen port near the scene, 18 cruise ships will be docking there this week, the AP reported.
The polar bear population is being hit hard by the effects of global warming. In 2008 polar bears were listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act because of forecasted impacts of climate change. They rely on sea ice for hunting, resting between long swims and raising their young.