A polar bear being “tagged” for observation by researchers in north Svalbard died on Wednesday, according to The Governor of Svalbard. The cause is under investigation.
The researchers tranquilized and were fitting the bear with an observation marker in Wijdefjord, part of a routine effort to track the population of the species in Svalbard, a statement issued by the governor Thursday states. An autopsy Thursday afternoon revealed the bear was a two-and-a-half-year-old male that weighed 144 kilograms.
“We have routinely opened a case on the incident,” Lt. Gov. Sølvi Elvedahl said.
The male bear that died was within the normal weight for its age, Morten Wedege, the governor’s environmental advisor, told Svalbardposten. Cubs typically follow their mother until they are are about two-and-a-half years old, so it likely died during its first months alone.
Polar bears are routinely sedated for research purposes and to remove them when they pose a danger to settlements. But, while less controversial than shooting bears that pose a threat, such actions have also proved fatal such as when a bear lurking near Longyearbyen in January tranquilized for removal died during the helicopter flight.
Jon Aars, a polar bear expert at the polar institute who did not participate in the operation, said at the time such deaths are always an unlikely possibility due to a number of factors involving the individual animal and circumstances.
“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.”