Posted on March 2, 2021
A man was attacked from behind this morning by a small male polar bear on the east coast of Svalbard, Norway, where there is abundant sea ice. His companion shot the bear and the victim escaped with minor head injuries. Most bears are very hungry at this time of year because the seal pupping season has not yet begun.
Young bears are extremely dangerous and the most likely to attack people (Crockford 2019; Wilder et al. 2017): a three year old male fatally attacked a camper in August 2020 just outside Longyearbyen, Svalbard, an incident unfairly blamed on lack of sea ice (Crockford 2021).
UPDATE 3 March 2021: Results of an autopsy conducted on the polar bear killed yesterday revealed it was a 6 year old male that weighed only 231 kg, which is less than usual for an adult bear later in the season but likely typical for a relatively young bear at the end of winter before seal pups are born. See quote from a Norwegian polar bear specialist below [my bold]:
Jon Aars, an institute researcher who has spent many years studying bears in Svalbard, told Svalbardposten the vast majority of bears ages six to 15 will weigh between 350 and 450 kilograms in April, when the spring hunting season is typically at its peak.
“It may have been aggressive because it was thin,” he said. “It is likely. The thinner they are, the greater the chance that they are dangerous. He is at an age where he is not frequently considered as a problem bear – it is mostly among the younger or the very old who have problems.”
According to a story in IcePeople (2 March 2021), my bold:
A man working on a film project was injured by a polar bear Tuesday morning during a scouting excursion with a co-worker to Mohnbukta in east Spitsbergen, according to The Governor of Svalbard.
“The polar bear has been shot and killed,” an announcement at the governor’s website states. “The governor was notified of the incident at 9:25 a.m. today. The man who was attacked by the polar bear is slightly injured. He is now being treated at Longyearbyen Hospital.”
The man was one of two employees at Polar X, owned by local film producer Jason Roberts, and they were measuring the ice thickness in the area about 70 kilometers east of Longyearbyen when they were attacked from behind, Svalbardposten reported.
“He is doing well, he is not seriously injured,” Roberts told the newspaper, adding it is the first time in his 30 years here a polar bear has attacked an employee. He said both employees are experienced in the field, but their snowmobiles were running so they may not have heard the bear’s approach.
The man attacked suffered slight head injuries. His colleague fatally shot the bear.
The injured man was transported to Longyearbyen Hospital at about 11 a.m. Officials from the governor’s office returned to the attack site Tuesday afternoon as part of their routine investigation into a polar bear encounter resulting in injuries or fatalities to people or bears. The 250-kilogram [about 550 lbs] male bear is scheduled to be autopsied this evening.
The east coast of Spitsbergen is one of the most popular travel destinations during the winter/spring because there are typically numerous bears that can be observed on the sea ice in the area, in contrast to the west coast where ice has been scant in most recent years. Travellers in the area sharing their experiences on social media in recent weeks have reported seeing numerous tracks, if not always bears.
Read the whole story here.
Ice conditions around Svalbard on 2 March 2021:
Crockford, S.J. 2021. The State of the Polar Bear Report 2020. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 48, London. pdf here.
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