POLAR BEAR DRUGGED, BUT DIES ON FLIGHT NORTH: Officials stun bear near Longyearbyen, investigating why it died on helicopter to northeast Svalbard


A polar bear spotted near Longyearbyen on Thursday evening was tranquillized after being chased away from town with the intent of flying it by helicopter to northeast Svalbard, but the animal died during the trip for reasons now under investigation, according to The Governor of Svalbard.

“We don’t know why it died,” said Morten Wedege, the governor’s chief environmental advisor, in a prepared statement. “The bear will now be autopsied to find the cause.”

“Of course it is very regrettable that this happened,” he added.

It is the second death of a bear seen in/near Longyearbyen after intervention by the governor during the past month. The first was the highly controversial shooting of a polar bear in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day after the animal made repeated visits into town, with the governor stating there was no practical alternative since the personnel qualified to tranquillize the bear were unavailable due to the holidays.

This time expert help was available from the Norwegian Polar Institute, but the outcome was still fatal. Jon Aars, a polar bear expert at the institute who did not participate in the operation, told Svalbardposten the bear was not fitted with a research tag and a thorough examination of the animal is needed to determined what went wrong.

“It will always be a risk to be immobilized, but it usually works out well,” he said. “Stunning and moving polar bears is a risk in itself, and then unforeseen things can happen.”

The bear death on Thursday night came after it was spotted near the horse farm at Hotellnesset at about 5:45 p.m. Within an hour it had been chased away to the opposite side of the channel from Longyearbyen with the intent to keep pushing it north and west away from settled areas, but ultimately after consulting with institute experts decided to stun and fly the bear north.

While many comments on news and social media sites, as well as from some experts outside Svalbard, were highly critical after the New Year’s Day shooting, the immediate reaction following Thursday’s death was generally sadness rather than anger. Reports the bear had been stunned and was being flown north were met with approval, but most commenters seemed to acknowledge removal isn’t a simple or guaranteed solution.

“That proves that it is not so simple, when we see all the messages of the type ‘they should have done this or that’ after they killed the other bear,” wrote Sophie Cordon, a local photographer who posted photos of both bears being confronted by officials trying to chase them away. “Moving a bear is not an easy task.”