A polar bear attacked a tour group of six people early Thursday morning about 30 kilometers northeast of Longyearbyen, with one man rescued by helicopter after sustaining injuries to his face and arm not considered to be life threatening, according to The Governor of Svalbard.
The attack occurred at about 6:20 a.m. at Freidheim, according to a statement released by the governor. The group was on a combination snowmobile/skiing tour and sleeping in tents when the attack occurred.
“The other tour members shot the bear and alerted the governor,” the statement notes. “The bear was killed when governor’s officials arrived at the site and the injured man was taken to hospital.”
The man was flown to Longyearbyen Hospital for treatment.
In an unrelated incident, another person was rescued by helicopter after suffering frostbite, according to the governor’s office.
Polar bear encounters are common at this time of year, with residents at cabins and scientists at research bases reporting sightings and attempted break-ins in recent years. Bear are also growing increasing aggressive and less susceptible to intimidation as a lack of sea ice that servers as their tradition feeding grounds is forcing them into increasingly desperate measures to obtain food.
A record number of overnight tourists are in Svalbard this week to observe Friday’s total solar eclipse, and tours are taking place from the early morning hours until after midnight. While organized group tours are generally led by guides familiar with polar bear safeguards, independent travelers are likely to have little ability to meet the requirement of carrying polar bear protection when venturing beyond settled areas.
A firearm all but necessary since bear spray is illegal in Norway. Renting a firearm requires applying for a permit from the governor well in advance.