Marcel Starinsky says the dogsled group he was guiding was only 200 meters from the kennels at the end of a six-hour trip when a sight that will be forever remember appeared.
“Out of the darkness, over a greenery in the terrain, came a polar bear,” he told Svalbardposten late Wednesday. “It came right at my sled and my dogs.”
Starinsky, a guide for Green Dog Svalbard, located about 10 kilometers east of Longyearbyen, told the newspaper there was no time to grab his rifle as they stopped the sleds within seconds, and the bear got within yards of a sled carrying a mother and her daughter. He grabbed “the first and best” thing he could think of – the noose-shaped brake rope hanging on the front of his sled.
“I hit him several times on the muzzle with the rope,” he told NRK. “Eventually it ran off and we continued on to the kennels. I was the aggressive one in the situation, not the bear.”
Tourists, Green Dog staff, and a barrage of commenters responding to news and social media posts about the encounter offered overwhelming praise to Starinsky for handling the situation in a way that resulted in no harm.
“Today was the first day in our company’s history, where we actually met a bear on a tour!” wrote Signe Krastiņa in a post on her Facebook page. “The boys are trained to handle a situation like this and they acted very professional and nobody was harmed.. apart maybe from the bear, who probably has a sore nose, after Marcel hit it with a braking rope.”
Also working as a guide on a sled at the rear of the group was Daniel Stilling Germer, who told Svalbardposten he thought the safest move after the bear retreated was to get moving again because “a sitting duck is a dead duck.”
“They showed the town how a polar bear encounter can happen without the need for killing,” wrote Bee Nord, a Longyearbyen resident who was harshly critical of a New Year’s Day decision by The Governor of Svalbard to shoot a bear that wandered into or near town several times in the days before.
The encounter Wednesday occurred as the governor of Svalbard issued a warning about a bear in Bolterdalen that a helicopter chased well away from town during the evening. That came after a report on Tuesday of bear tracks on Longyearbreen, just south of town, that appeared fresher than those left by the bear that was killed.