A polar bear killed near Longyearbyen early on New Year’s Day also approached town in April of 2016, with officials opting then to tranquillize and fly it by helicopter to the northeast corner of Svalbard, adding an extra element to the current debate about whether a similar approach should have occurred this time.
That visit three years ago by the seven-year-old male bear, in addition to drawing the usual spectators to the edge of town where they could observe the helicopter pursuit across the channel at a safe distance, was seen worldwide in the debut episode of a BBC reality TV series that aired several months later.
The bear was tagged by Norwegian Polar Institute experts at the time, but did not have a location transmitter when it was shot.
Gov. Kjerstin Askholt said in a statement after the shooting at 4 a.m. on New Year’s Day there were no qualified personnel to stun and remove the bear because of the Christmas holidays. Critics suggested such experts should always be available and questioned if waiting until their return was feasible.
Askholt said it wasn’t and, given other factors such as the polar night, there were no practical alternatives to killing the bear.
“The polar bear was killed, not because of an emergency situation, but in recent days this bear has shown repeated and very persistent approaches towards Longyearbyen settlement and therefore poses a danger to people in the city,” she said. “We have made many attempts to solve the situation in ways other than killing the bear, but without success…This is the time of year when it is completely dark all day and we have very poor overview. We do not have the manpower resources to look after the population 24 hours a day.”
The bear visited Longyearbyen, reaching locations including the town center and Longyearbyen School, four times between Thursday and its final visit to the east edge of town just after midnight Wednesday. Officials chased the bear several kilometers away before shooting it at Hanaskogdalen.