PREY FOR HELP: Reindeer ‘defends’ group on beach approached by polar bear in north Svalbard


A group that had a close encounter with a polar bear in the northernmost part of Svalbard managed to make a hasty getaway in their boat without incident, giving credit to a reindeer in the midst of the encounter who “looked like it was teasing” the predator.


A cluster of reindeer distract a polar bear from a group of 12 people stopping for lunch on a beach in north Svalbard on July 28. The group escaped without harm to themselves or the bear. Photo by Christine Oiry.

The 12-person group was having a beach cookout at Florabukta on Nordaustlandet when the July 28 encounter occurred, said Audun Gjøstein, co-skipper of their voyage around Spitsbergen on the SailNorge boat Valiente. They  abandoned the beach by using their dingy to bring the group to the Valiente in two quick trips as the bear and four reindeer faced each other, with one in particular seemingly less than intimidated.

“The reindeer followed the polar bear, looked like it was teasing the polar bear,” Gjøstein stated in an interview via Facebook. All of the reindeer ended up being a distraction as “they followed the bear for a long period. The bear made a move, the reindeer ran away and came back again, over and over.”

There have been multiple encounters between polar bears and humans that ended peacefully during the past month, although most have been closer to Longyearbyen and some involved The Governor of Svalbard chasing the bears away to ensure people’s safety and allow them to retrieve belongings from campsites.