Fatal polar bear attack in Svalbard unfairly blamed on lack of sea ice

Reposted from Dr. Susan Crockford’s Polar Bear Science

Posted on August 28, 2020 | Comments Offon Fatal polar bear attack in Svalbard unfairly blamed on lack of sea ice

A fatal polar bear attack in Svalbard, in the early hours of 28 August 2020 just outside the main town of Longyearbyen, is being unreasonably blamed on lack of sea ice. Details of the attack show it was made by a three year old male: such subadult bears are historically responsible for most attacks on people and they are known to be especially dangerous. It looks to me like someone should have seen this tragedy coming and stepped in to prevent it.

Svalbard_PB_Fareskilt_38

I will update this story as more information comes in but see below for the details known so far.

Longyearbyen_another format_Wikipedia

THE ATTACK

Longyearbyen camping site_IcePeople_28 Aug 2020

Camping site across from the airport in Longyearbyen. IcePeople

Details of the attack, from the CBC (28 August 2020), my bold:

A polar bear attacked a camping site Friday in Norway’s remote Svalbard Islands, killing a 38-year-old Dutch man before being shot and killed by onlookers, authorities on the Arctic island said.

Johan Jacobus Kootte was in his tent when it was attacked by the bear that killed him, deputy governor Soelvi Elvedah said. He was an employee of the Longyearbyen Camping site, where the attack occurred, the newspaper Svalbardposten said.

Kootte was rushed to the hospital in Longyearbyen where he was declared dead, Elvedah said.

The attack occurred just before 4 a.m. local time and was being investigated. No one else was injured, but six people — three Germans, one Italian, one Norwegian and one Finn — were hospitalized for shock, authorities said.

The polar bear was found dead in a parking lot by the nearby airport after being shot by onlookers, the governor’s office said in a statement posted on its website.

And from Icepeople (28 August 2020):

There have been at least four polar bears seen near Longyearbyen during the past week.

The bear that killed Kootte is a three-year-old male that was chased away from Hiorthhamn, a cabin across the bay from Longyearbyen, earlier this week, the governor announced Friday evening.

It is also the son of a female bear that was tranquilize [sic], along with her newest cub, and flown by helicopter to the northern part of Isfjorden after also making multiple visits the same location. The mother bear may be the same one that has made annual visits to the area in late summer and early fall, often with cubs, as part of her annual migration.

No other people at the campsite, who were all staying in tents, were physically injured by the polar bear, according to the governor. But six people were taken to the hospital in Longyearbyen and are being cared for by health personnel and city crisis managers.

An autopsy of the bear at a facility used by the governor is scheduled today. Because the fatality of a person was involved, the governor is requesting no photos of the bear be published by the media at this time.

The people at the campsite will be interviewed throughout the day as part of the investigation. The governor is asking people to avoid the area.

The campsite, typically open through early- to mid-September, was closed during the first half of the summer due to the COVID-19 crisis. While it is staffed during that period, and a building with kitchen and other facilities available, the campsite’s policy states guests are responsible for their own safety.

Although the campsite’s website states no bears have been at the site since the service building opened in 1985, a bear visited the designated bird sanctuary on the opposite side of the entrance road literally meters away (see YouTube video of visit at right) on July 29, 2011, only days after a fatal bear attack at a camp site about 40 kilometers away that was the most recent involving a person’s death in Svalbard.

Campsite policy states guests are not allowed to have loaded firearms there.

Nearly 40 comments were posted on the governor’s Facebook page during the hours following the attack, many of them expressing sympathy for the bear as well as the victim and other people there. At the top of those considered “most relevant,” Arek Stryjski, an experienced marine expeditioner in Svalbard, responded to someone upset about the lack of flare-alarm system by noting the risks it might pose in an area where large numbers of people might be present nearby.

“The camping in Longyearbyen is 500 meters from the airport terminal, (and) 100 meters from the parking and bus station,” he wrote. “Putting any flare alarms there will be dangerous for humans. It is miracle someone had loaded gun and more people where not hurt. What if it had attacked people who were leaving airport building?”

Van Dijk told Svalbardposten an electric fence was scheduled to be built around the campsite this year, and supplies arrived in March, but it was delayed when the COVID-19 crisis resulted in the shutdown of all visitors to Svalbard that same month.

“I was going to set up a three-wire electric fence with 200 poles around the entire campsite,” she told the newspaper.

So, there was no protection at the camp site from polar bears. And not only was the bear who perpetrated the attack a young bear who had never been on his own before but authorities knew he was out there, having been abruptly separated from his mother just two days before. Who could possibly not have seen a disaster coming? Sadly, the victim of the attack was sleeping in a tent on an exposed shoreline without an electric fence or a gun: he didn’t have a chance.

The Guardian (28 August 2020) offered this bit of additional insight (my bold):

“According to the local paper Svalbardposten, researchers at the local university field centre, Unis, avoid spending the night in tents near the shoreline – where the campsite is located – because of a recent increase in the presence of polar bears. “

Yet the BBC made this claim in their story on the incident (28 August 2020) about what unidentified ‘experts’ say about polar bears in Svalbard (my bold):

Experts say polar bears’ hunting grounds have diminished as the Arctic ice sheet melts because of climate change, forcing them into populated areas as they try to find food.

At least the writers at IcePeople talked to an actual polar bear specialist and included this quote from Norwegian researcher Jon Aars (my bold), who seems to be commenting on the fact that there were bears around in the first place:

Jon Aars, a polar bear expert with the Norwegian Polar Institute who frequently conducts research and advises the governor on polar bear incidents near settlements, told NRK the most recent incident most likely is part of a long-term trend of increasing bear activity near settlements due to vanishing sea ice elsewhere keeping them from tradition hunting sources.

“At this time of year, polar bears have extra challenges in obtaining food,” he said. “It has been a long time since there has been ice in the main hunting area, so there is less access to seals. So, the polar bear spends more time on land to find alternative food.”

I challenge this statement, given the details of this attack: “It has been a long time since there has been ice in the main hunting area.” As I show below, there was ice in the area only a few weeks ago and most bears should have been in excellent condition (bears easily traverse the short overland distance from the east coast of Spitzbergen to the area around Longyearbyen on the west coast).

No mention from Aars about the inherent danger from young bears, the separation of this particular young bear from his mother, or about the higher than average ice levels around Svalbard this year in particular – see my comments below.

SEA ICE SVALBARD THIS YEAR

Far from having ‘low’ sea ice, Svalbard ice conditions have been heavier since last fall than they have been in decades. In March this year, Svalbard had more polar bear habitat than it did two decades ago at the same date. By early April, the ice was the highest it had been since 1988 and by the end of April, Svalbard still had the 6th-7th highest ice extent since record began in the late 1960s. There was also exceptionally thick first year ice to the north.

Svalbard ice extent 2020 April 28 graph_NIS

In other words, Svalbard polar bears have had better sea ice conditions leading into the summer season than they have had in decades. And by early July (see below), there was still ice off the east coast of Spitzbergen:Svalbard ice extent 2020 July 8_NIS

It is certainly true that Svalbard in late August this year is lacking sea ice, even well north of the archipelago: Svalbard ice extent 2020 August 28_NIS

However, polar bears should have been well prepared for this event by virtue of the excellent ice conditions for feeding earlier in the year. Most bears onshore at the end of August should still be in excellent condition – except for young bears, as I explain below.

SVALBARD AREA BEARS ARE THRIVING

Even without the ‘resurgence’ of sea ice this year, polar bears have been doing extremely well despite the highest loss of summer sea ice of any other subpopulation. A recent study showed adult female bears in better condition in recent years than they were in 2004 (Lippold et al. 2020). Adult male bears are doing well also, with no real change over time (Aars 2018; Aars and Andersen, data posted online 2019). In short, bears chosing to spend the summer ashore on Svalbard should not be suffering any more than bears in Canada that find themselves spending their summers on shore, like Western Hudson Bay polar bears. Any well fed bear should be capable of spending 4-5 months on land over the summer. Except, of course, for young bears.

Svalbard polar bear_Aars August 2015-NP058930_press release

Young bears, such as the perpetrator of this attack (a 3 year old male), are the age/sex class most likely to attack humans. Subadults are the most disadvantaged group within the hierarchy of polar bears. They are likely to be food-stressed even when other bears are doing fine. Three year old bears are not fully grown, they lack hunting experience, and they are not strong enough to keep older, bigger males from stealing their kills during the spring feeding season (Amstrup 2003; Stirling 1974).

This age group are the most prone to attack people and are therefore almost always dangerous (Wilder et al. 2017). The danger presented by young bears is also part of what I have called ‘the problem no one will talk about’ – what happens when there is a large, healthy population of polar bears with lots of mature adult males and no hunting allowed (Crockford 2019). Lots of adult males means young bears are stressed and extremely dangerous to people.

In this case, in my opinion officials should not have left this young bear to wander around a populated area after they had separated him from his mother. They had three options: kill him right away, capture him and relocated him as they did his mother, or keep a very close watch on his movements. They did none of those things. They could at least have warned the campers but it appears that did not happen either.

Not a single mention, in any of the media reports on this fatal attack, of how very dangerous young polar bears can be. Just false blame on sea ice. It’s like no one even bothers to look at the details of any individual polar bear attack: they just fall back on ‘climate change’ as the villain every single time, which is not only uninteresting but misrepresents the facts.

REFERENCES

Aars, J. 2018. Population changes in polar bears: protected, but quickly losing habitat. Fram Forum Newsletter 2018. Fram Centre, Tromso. Download pdf here (32 mb).

Amstrup, S.C. 2003. Polar bear (Ursus maritimus). In Wild Mammals of North America, G.A. Feldhamer, B.C. Thompson and J.A. Chapman (eds), pg. 587-610. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Crockford, S.J. 2019The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Lippold, A., Bourgeon, S., Aars, J., Andersen, M., Polder, A., Lyche, J.L., Bytingsvik, J., Jenssen, B.M., Derocher, A.E., Welker, J.M. and Routti, H. 2019. Temporal trends of persistent organic pollutants in Barents Sea polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to changes in feeding habits and body condition. Environmental Science and Technology 53(2):984-995.

Stirling, I. 1974. Midsummer observations on the behavior of wild polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Canadian Journal of Zoology 52: 1191-1198. http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/z74-157#.VR2zaOFmwS4

Wilder, J.M., Vongraven, D., Atwood, T., Hansen, B., Jessen, A., Kochnev, A., York, G., Vallender, R., Hedman, D. and Gibbons, M. 2017. Polar bear attacks on humans: implications of a changing climate. Wildlife Society Bulletin, in press. DOI: 10.1002/wsb.783 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wsb.783/full

80 thoughts on “Fatal polar bear attack in Svalbard unfairly blamed on lack of sea ice

    • So campers were protected from Covid-19, a relatively mild flu, but not against polar bears. Figures.
      Was the camper wearing his mask? Was the bear wearing his? To some, these are important questions.
      __________________

      “The campsite, typically open through early- to mid-September, was closed during the first half of the summer due to the COVID-19 crisis.”
      Van Dijk told Svalbardposten an electric fence was scheduled to be built around the campsite this year, and supplies arrived in March, but it was delayed when the COVID-19 crisis resulted in the shutdown of all visitors to Svalbard that same month. “I was going to set up a three-wire electric fence with 200 poles around the entire campsite,” she told the newspaper.

      • CNN has already reported Johan’s COD as ” due to COVID19″ When they got to their science report at the bottom of the hour they once again counted his death as “due to Global Warming. it is fully expected that Johan Jacobus Kootte will be voting in this years election as a registered Democrat from the embattled state of Minnesota. He is also expected to vote in Chicago multiple times.

      • Apart from having missed the point about “trespassing” , you failed your reading comprehension test:

        He was an employee of the Longyearbyen Camping site

        Employee , not manager.

        Ironically, trespass in French means to pass on. Sadly fitting in this case.

        • Managers cannot be employees?

          Not completely convinced by that argument. I mean I have known multiple ‘managers’ who are clearly not workers, but reasonably sure they are still employees.

          I think a better answer is probably that the victim worked in a role not immediately apparent from reading of the news reports.

          • He was not trespassing, not matter how people are trying to bend the language, are we going to discuss what “is” is?

    • Then again, svalbard is under norwegian law. You are entitled to camp on any property according to “The freedom to roam” act.
      When I have visited svalbard it has been illegal to walk unarmed outside a small sqaure of about 100x300m in the center of the town of longyear. This campsite is well outside that square. By armed is meant handgun in .44mag or rifle in .3006 or larger. Overnight camping must follow strict rules like the use of trip wires and guard dogs. I suspect the camp management should have provided this protection. It’s probably a good reason for these precautions.

  1. Anyone who reads research on this subject quickly sees that polar bear attack have always happened on Svalbard – and most probably always will. Further, modern studies indicate that almost all cases involve sub-adult males.
    There are sad parallels in this case to the young Briton Horatio Chapple, who was dragged to his death on Svalbard in 2014. At the time – and there was big media coverage in the UK- many were quick to jump to the climate change link. Contemporaneously, however (with the programme being finished well before the Chapple incident), a documentary came out on the Discovery channels on the subject of Svalbard polar bear deaths. Apologies, I have no link. It was notable because the programme documented scientists’ attempts to establish why the attacks happened and seemed to be at historic highs. Inevitably, climate change and its supposed sea ice scenario was considered but it was dismissed as a reason because many of the documented attacks occurred in years of good regional sea ice.
    The overall conclusions – in the context that the research was ongoing – were that young males were involved due to the extra aggression associated with that age. In addition, the age and hormonal factors may have been exacerbated by polar bears being on top of the regional food chain. In this food chain, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – as taken in by plankton – had ultimately become concentrated in the blubber layers of the next level down in the chain below the bears i.e. seals. The concentrated PCBs found in seal blubber – it was postulated – disturbed the bears’ hormonal balances which became a particular issue for younger males.
    I always hoped for a follow-up to that programme, and indeed that research but I’ve never seen one. This seems to me yet another example of unsettled science where, if one is presented by an alarmist with a simple, climate change link to an occurrence in nature, you can only answer “it’s more complicated than that” and ask them to consider potential other factors . “Good luck with that!” I hear WUWT readers cry!

    • Apologies, the Chapple attack was in August 2011, so the polar bear research in the documentary would have pre-dated that.

    • Further, modern studies indicate that almost all cases involve sub-adult males.

      Back in the day, the received wisdom was that young bears, who had not yet had a confrontation with people, were the most dangerous. They have to be made to feel unwelcome once or twice.

  2. Polar Bears have ‘traditional hunting grounds’? I thought that was something of ‘native americans’. Next we will learn that the bears have totems too.

  3. “Not a single mention, in any of the media reports on this fatal attack, of how very dangerous young polar bears can be. Just false blame on sea ice. It’s like no one even bothers to look at the details of any individual polar bear attack: they just fall back on ‘climate change’ as the villain every single time, which is not only uninteresting but misrepresents the facts.”

    Par for the course. At this point, the only possible interpretation of the deliberate, willful misrepresentation (or falsehood) the media engages in is sheer, open malice. Hanlon’s Razor no longer applies.

  4. This is a story about a successful application (albeit unknowing) of bear bait. Young male macho adults are aggressive (includes bears also). When I worked and camped overnight in Alaska we cut down a variety of strong limbs and tied a protective cage over the tent. These aggressive bears have jumped on top of a tent with persons sleeping inside, pinned them down, and systematically consumed them. The limb cage would give you time to extract your Dirty Harry equipment and counter-attack. Camping? Clusters of tents on a mosquito-infested bog? Global Warming will kill you if you go to Miami Beach? Hello?

    • I think that young bears are taught by their mothers that humans are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

  5. The sign says:

    Applies to the whole of Svalbard.

    It is very sad what happened, but why would one dare to sleep in a tend among some of the world’s most dangerous animals, without armed guard on the watch.
    Just as the sign says, there are no exemptions or free zones on Svalbard.

    Many years ago Joanne Nova had an article about a woman in an Australian Zoo. The woman jumped a guard fence and was saying hello to a polar bear between the tall vertical iron bars. The bear responded by laying its arm around her waste, thus almost crushing her to death. – I don’t remember if she survived.

    • “Binky”, The usual problem, people see these lovely, cuddly bears, probably “adopted” one after seeing an advert from the WWF & received their cuddly toy.
      Don’t realise that they are an apex predator.

      • Adam Gallon..
        “It is very sad what happened, but why would one dare to sleep in a tendt among some of the world’s most dangerous animals, without armed guard on the watch.”

        This is something I have wondered whenever I travel in British Columbia and consistently have seen people on long bike tours sleeping on the side of the road amidst the dandelions, apparently unable to continue pedaling to the nearest enclosed campsite.

        Bears both black and grizzly just LOVE dandelions.

    • Do you not pay attention to anything that is said in the article or the other comments? Do you understand that your argument implies that factors like higher population and feeding competition disfavoring young male bears are not relevant – which seems unlikely to say the least? Do you realize that you’re coming across as either a dedicated disinformer or a bit of a nutter?

    • 1922 , there wasn’t any sea ice on the northern shore of Svalbard even in WINTER.

      https://i.postimg.cc/XqgyxSh7/Arctic-1922.gif

      Stop DENYING that current levels of sea ice are FAR HIGHER now than they have been for most of the last 10,000 years

      Your period from the anomalous high extreme in the 1979 is a pitifully short and meaningless period..

      …. although more years than your apparent IQ

    • griff of the IGNORANT NON-information….. or is it deliberate LIES and MISINFORMATION.?

      According to Russian Charts, this year the last of the sea ice on Svalbard disappeared around 1st August

      There was also no sea ice on the shores of Svalbard on 1st August in the following years..

      1999, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2018..

      Again, griff shown to be pathetically UN-INFORMED !!

    • It’s your fault anyhow Griff you were supposed to be there saving the endangered bears. Most of us are ambivalent to their fate we can always photoshop a few nice images for the number of times we would ever see them in real life.

    • “Miles and miles and miles from it…”

      As is normal in late summer, and has been for centuries.

      If you ever visit Svalbard griff, be sure to visit Amsterdamöya and the remains of Smeerenburg, the seventeenth century Dutch whaling town, built at the height (bottom?) of the Little Ice Age. They were hunting Bowhead whales who spend the summer close to the ice-edge. Guess where Amstedamöya is? It is the northwesternmost point of Svalbard, 200 km northwest of Longyearbyen.

      In the milder eighteenth century the whales moved even further north, so Smeerenburg was abandoned as being too far away, and the whalers had to process the whales on board.

      Incidentally the Svalbard area has a fairly good record of ice conditions going back 400 years, take a look here:

      http://www.climate-cryosphere.org/resources/historical-ice-chart-archive/quicklooks

      Not that facts are likely to make any impression on you.

    • At this time of year, the ice is always miles from Svalbard.

      There is nothing unusual this year. Just as there is nothing unusual about griff totally ignoring the science in order to push what she’s paid to push.

  6. “Because the fatality of a person was involved, the governor is requesting no photos of the bear be published by the media at this time.”

    i just hate copycat killers.

    • I found the statement a little strange. I suppose they are also not going to release the name of the bear to avoid any notoriety and discourage any other bears from similar behavior.

      • Clyde,
        Do you know anyone who has connections with the governor? I promise to never reveal the bear’s name or reputation and I don’t mind a few bulletholes as long as I get a nice new bearskin rug! It’ll look great in front of the fireplace!

  7. Off subject- sorry- but y’all might like this. Moore’s getting to be a good news source- first it was his film on renewables- now he mentions this- the MSM wouldn’t suggest Trump winning.

    “Michael Moore warned that Trump’s support among his base is ‘off the charts’, and he is on course to win the presidential election”

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/michael-moore-warned-that-trump-s-support-among-his-base-is-off-the-charts-and-he-is-on-course-to-win-the-presidential-election/ar-BB18vZB6?ocid=Peregrine

  8. “Far from having ‘low’ sea ice, Svalbard ice conditions have been heavier since last fall than they have been in decades. In March this year, Svalbard had more polar bear habitat than it did two decades ago at the same date. By early April, the ice was the highest it had been since 1988 and by the end of April, Svalbard still had the 6th-7th highest ice extent since record began in the late 1960s. There was also exceptionally thick first year ice to the north.”

    Maybe the issue is the summer minimum sea ice extent that occurs in August and September and not the winter high in March and April when the extreme seasonal cycle ensures a plentiful supply of sea ice.

    The AGW scare story is that global warming is causing a critical decline in summer minimum sea ice extent with scary forecasts of an ice free Arctic in September. I have not seen an AGW alarm about a decline in winter sea ice extent.

    https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/07/21/climate-change-vs-polar-bears/

    • Chaamjamal,

      Trends are meaningless in explaining a particular event at one point in time.

      The point is that the ice did not leave especially early *this year*. There was ice for hunting as late as July, as I have shown. Most bears ashore on Spitzbergen in August should the fattest they will be all year, as are bears in Western Hudson Bay when they are just off the ice (not just this year, but virtually every year), if they have fed well over the spring. No one really knows what spring feeding conditions are like out on the ice (because there are no studies) so we can only go by the condition of the majority of bears when they come ashore in the summer.

      No bears, except young subadults or sick bears, would have been starving and needing to kill people to survive. However, polar bears are *always* looking for food. And young bears are particularly aggressive in this respect, which makes them a known danger.

  9. “And not only was the bear who perpetrated the attack a young bear who had never been on his own before but authorities knew he was out there, having been abruptly separated from his mother just two days before.”

    According to Google: Generally, a polar bear cub will stay with its mother for two to three years learning valuable survival skills. Though they’re not usually great hunters in their first year, these cubs will quickly learn and begin catching seals…….

    So he was 3 years old and his mother is gone.

    No protection at the campsite.

    Warnings in place although not good enough if they knew they had bears in the area.

    And a 38 year old man probably looking forward and excited by his camping trip in Norway is dead.

    This is a tragedy.

    I am sad the man is dead and I hope his family finds peace and closure and is not bombarded by activists looking for their next FB, Tweet or Snapchat post.

  10. If my last comment shows it is a plot of sea ice from here
    https://twitter.com/SigneAaboe/status/1296008801166991360?s=20
    “Record-low #seaice area in the #Svalbard region (72-85N,0-40E)! This occurs after a winter of larger-than-normal #icearea and after surprisingly “normal” ice conditions in 2019.”

    Why your plot only goes up to May seems a bit like cherry picking to me (I’m sure it cannot be incompetence?). Although the text reads “It is certainly true that Svalbard in late August this year is lacking sea ice, even well north of the archipelago:” why not show an up to date plot – it is easy to find! Perhaps it is just laziness – first plot you see you publish?

    • The LAZINESS is all your , g-half -runt

      You haven’t bothered learning anything about the history Arctic sea ice.

      You are as ignorant as griff, (how is that even possible)

      Current levels of Arctic sea ice are probably well within the top 10% of the Holocene

      The anomaly was the extreme sea ice levels in 1979, up there with the LIA.

      1922 didn’t even have any sea ice on Svalbard even in winter.

      This year the sea ice left the Svalbard about August 1..

      the following list of years in the VERY short record of actual measurement we have are the years when the Svalbard was also free of sea ice at August 1 or before…

      1999, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2018..

      There is absolutely NOTHING unusual about this year., except how far above the Holocene norm the extent still is.

      • fred250 August 30, 2020 at 6:04 am
        … There is absolutely NOTHING unusual about this year., except how far above the Holocene norm the extent still is.
        —————————-
        I would really appreciate a link to the Holocene sea ice extent record from a scientific source, thanks.

        I was simply trying to correct the graph in the posting which was from 4 months ago an was used to show how this text was wrong “In other words, Svalbard polar bears have had better sea ice conditions leading into the summer season than they have had in decades. ” with respect to the death in august

  11. Longyearbyen has several hotels.
    So, why do people insist on camping out there – when there is a well-known, well documented history of bear attacks?

  12. JCalvertN,
    Maybe they were told they would have a ringside seat for watching polar bears feed! Most of the campers probably thought PBs are soft and cuddly; not one of the largest land predators. Sounds like several of them are not likely to forget their teachable moment!

    • I once saw an idiot throw a bag of marshmallows into the polar bear enclosure at the zoo. The fight that ensued over those sweets was a teachable moment. Those big lumbering giants can move a fast as any cat. Very impressive. Better have a very big gun if you want to stop one!

      • JimG1,
        It always fills me with awe and wonder when when I think of Stone Age cultures facing down prey like polar bears or mammoths! The early Eskimos or Inuits may not have had much choice with the PBs since they often would have been seen as prey dressed in sealskins and smelling of blubber!

  13. Whenever I am looking at reports of these attacks I am reminded of the Timothy Treadwell “experience”. It is a manifestation of the growing numbers of nature oriented people who believe top predators are benign and of little concern to humans. Always some aspect of human behavior sets up the tragedy, which this certainly is. The 2011 incident involved the additional inexplicable failure of a Mauser rifle to function, but at least the danger was perceived. In this case it appears not. To blame this on global warming is unacceptable nonsense. In North America, and in the Svalbard preserve, as large predators are now coddled to the point that they regard humans with little concern and sometimes with predatory intent attacks are becoming more frequent. I am a firm believer that hunting makes for respectful top predators. Bold animals, or animals that disregard the presence of humans as inconsequential, get shot. The result is a wary predator population over time. There are plenty of anecdotal accounts of bears overtly avoiding people when subject to hunting pressure. The simple fact is that when a bear becomes curious about humans and hangs around to see what may be an offering, it will eventually be curious enough to try a bite.

    • Black bears here where I live prove your point. They get hunted regularly and when you see one it’s butthole and elbows. When in Alaska we saw black bears in a protected area (no hunting) and they had no fear and city folk visiting got way too close. Same is true in Yellowstone park.

    • Steven,
      Even the experts admit that black bears and grizzlies are generally shy but every so often a truly predatory one crops up as a sort of behavioural abberation. Black bears of this type give little warning of an impending attack and are well known to start consuming their victims before they are dead. These animals are often active during the day rather than at night (as is usual for terrestrial bears).

      So the argument goes that bears active during the day and causing any kind of trouble should be shot. Once these dangerous bears are removed, the others present very little risk to people. If you don’t shoot them, this predatory type over time makes up a larger percentage of the population (to some degree hereditary plus learned behaviour) and more people are at risk. But aside from the daylight activity ‘tell’, all of these bears look the same.

      The problem comes in conveying this information to the public. Experts don’t want to admit that a few bears can be very dangerous because then people would not be as tolerant of any bears at close quarters as conservationists would like. So they *insist* that all black bears and grizzlies are not dangerous and act surprised when a tragedy occurs. Every so often, a person dies but it seems that is an acceptable loss when balanced against the number of bears saved. The same has become true with polar bears.

      • Wasn’t a woman in Canada killed by a black bear last week while her back was turned as she was on the phone with her father.

      • Dr. Crockford,
        Thank you for all the sunlight you bring to the discussion and please forgive my feeble attempts at adding some humor. I recall an article I read stating that Yosemite National Park was instituting a program to discourage black bears from breaking into cars! They were responding to numerous incidents at the time; the high point was over 1,500 in the late 1990s! They were giving up on trying to train park visitors to not leave food in their cars or in the open around their campsites. Apparently the bears are easier to train and smarter than many of the public!

      • Thank you Dr. Crockford,
        I have a small campground in the middle of Alaska (Tok) and in 12 years we have only seen 1 bear around camp (and this is in town). BUT this year, a juvenile male ran for a toddler whose parents had just arrived! The mother thought it was a dog and scooped her daughter up just in time and the father shouted and the bear ran. It’s mother had been shot a few days earlier by the local restaurant (going through trash and threatening guests). No one realized she was just weaning a juvenile and so we were not forewarned.

        Bears that learn to come into town. are quickly disposed of–it’s sad but way too dangerous to let them scavenge around tourists and school children.

        I appreciate your knowledgeable contributions to this blog.

    • Polar Bears have never been afraid of humans. And since they are usually rather phlegmatic and non-aggressive their behavior is easily misinterpreted by naive humans.

      The rule is, don’t ever let one get close to you, not even if you are well-armed.

  14. Don’t know hardly anything about polar bears, but taught ecology. There is an old theory about “extended foraging, ” when too hungry some animals (coyotes, hyaenas) will roam more and take on larger prey. Beckoff, M. and M. C. Wells. 1986. Social ecology and behavior of coyotes. Advances Studies Behavior. 16:251-338. Can’t find this online, but read the article once. Also, Davies, N. B. and A. I. Houston. 1984. Territory Economics pp. 14-169. In: Behavioural Ecology, An Evolutionary Approach. Sinauer and Associates, Sunderland, Mass.

    Probably not this simple, but one might suggest considering all hypotheses.

  15. Six people hospitalized due to “shock.” I wonder if their shock was the result of the human being killed or the bear being killed?

  16. I happen to know the area well, since the coastal lagoon you can see beyond the tents is perhaps the best bird-watching spot in the Longyearbyen area.

    As for sea-ice there is never any in Isfjorden this time of year, and very rarely anywhere on the west coast of Svalbard. There are also few Polar Bears around, most are on the northern and eastern coasts. However it is not far overland from the bottom of e. g. Wijdefjord to Isfjorden, so one must always be prepared to meet Polar Bears anywhere outside central Longyearbyen. In daytime it isn’t really dangerous if you avoid places where you might be ambushed, the landscape is wide open and you can literally spot a bear miles away.
    At night it is a different matter. Personally I wouldn’t care to camp on Svalbard without either an armed guard or dogs to raise a warning.

    By the way, I have camped a few hundred meters from a pride of lions. This isn’t dangerous since lions for some reason never go into tents. They make a lot of noise at night though.

    • tty,
      Fortunately you didn’t run into any lions like the pair in Tsavo! While the number of humans they killed and fed on is up for debate, there seems little doubt that they dragged men from their tents before eating them. While I haven’t yet read Col. Patterson’s book, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Ghost and the Darkness” with Val Kilmer starring back in his Doc Holliday glory days!

    • Very unlikely. For whatever reason those two lions were very abnormal, rather like the “maneater of Rudraprayag” which was a leopard, a species that very rarely attacks humans.

      Sleeping without a tent where there are lions is quite risky though. The first time I visited Okakuejo in Etosha they were very busy raising the fence around the campground. I asked why they were in such a hurry and were told that a few weeks earlier two german tourists had gone to sleep in the open, despite a strict prohibition against it. Two lions jumped the fence and killed one of them. By the way I can understand them (the tourists I mean), tents tend to be very hot and stuffy in the tropics.

      Also you should be careful when coming out of the tent in the morning. I remember once in Amboseli when I stuck my head out and found myself literally nose-to-nose with an inquisitive jackal. Of course he scooted off immediately.

  17. So what is the status of the polar bear population in this area? Is it overpopulated or are they hoping for more bears?
    If they need more bears somewhere, can’t they do a catch and release?

    • The Svalbard population is large and thriving. It is quite easy to find Polar Bears along the whole north and east coast. They are scarce on the west coast since there is usually no sea-ice there even in winter due to the northern branch of the Gulf Stream.

      Catching, transporting and releasing them would be quite expensive and challenging logistically. There are no roads on Svalbard except within a few miles of Longyearbyen and only one airport that can handle heavy freight, also at Longyearbyen. And there isn’t even a harbour or airstrip north/east of Nyålesund.

  18. Large, apex predators will behave according to their nature. Is it reasonable to punish a Polar Bear for behaving like a Polar Bear?

    • We are the large apex predator. We evolved to be able to kill all other predators. We don’t use our teeth, but we do have the best technique (using weapons). Therefore, it is natural for us to kill polar bears who threaten us. Is it reasonable to punish us any more than the polar bear or lion?

  19. arctic sea ice went below 4 million sq km today – didn’t someone offer me a bet it would stay over 4 million?

    If it stopped melting today it would be the third lowest minimum (but 1 to 2 weeks left and it is still lower than 2019)

    also open water reached 85 degrees north yesterday – which is AFAIK a new record.

    But hey – you keep telling me none of this affects the bears…

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