A criminal mistake? Prosecutors to weigh charges in shooting of bear at Austfjordnes that also resulted in death of cub


The case of fatal shooting of a female polar bear at the Austfjordnes trapping station last month, which resulted in the subsequent killing of her cub, is being sent to prosecutors in Tromsø to determine if criminal charges should be filed, according to The Governor of Svalbard.

“The background is there is great public interest in the case,” a statement released this week by the governor’s office notes. “In addition, the governor leased Austfjordnes to the trappers. The governor therefore finds it appropriate the matter be placed before a prosecutor for review.”


The Austfjordnes trapping station continues to be used traditionally by caretakers selected by The Governor of Svalbard for one-year stints. Polar bears are often a significant threat due to the large number of eider ducks that nest at the station, with their eggs a popular food source for the predators when there is no sea ice to hunt on. Photo courtesy of The Governor of Svalbard.

The mother bear was shot by either Gard Christophersen or Bård Blæsterdalen, who began a one-year stint as caretakers at the station in late May. They told officials there was no time but to act in self-defense after encountering the mother and her cub at close range, but they they meant to fire a warning shot at the mother bear using a rubber bullet.

“It was, however, a shotgun shell that was fired, so mother bear died,” the statement notes. “The bear has a cub born this winter and it no possibility of fending for itself. The cub was therefore unfortunately euthanized following advice from the Norwegian Polar Institute.”

Regulations prohibiting disrupting polar bears or killing them except in self-defense were strengthened in 2012 with  an amendment to the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act stating “anyone who travels outside the settlements, except for visitors and residents who are involved in an organized tour arrangement, are obliged to have knowledge of protection against polar bear attacks and take appropriate measures to avoid the risk of attack by polar bears, and to be able to avert such an attack without injuring or killing the animal.”

The leader of a Czech tour group became the first person charged  under the new requirement when he was fine 10,000 kroner last year for negligence in the shooting of a bear at Tempelfjorden. The group failed to properly set up a tripwire alarm system and had nobody standing guard when the bear attacked their campsite. One person shot the bear, which escaped badly wounded, forcing official to track it down and kill it.

A group of four Finnish men who shot a bear this April at the north tip of Spitsbergen, which also escaped wounded until officials killed it, were not charged when the governor determined it was legitimate case of self-defense because the men were trapped in an area they couldn’t escape from when the bear attacked.