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Statement on the polar bear incident on 28 July

On 28 July, a polar bear was shot dead by a crew member on a German cruise ship at Sjuøyane (The Seven Islands), the northernmost part of the Svalbard archipelago. This has created enormous international interest and has been widely covered by both the Norwegian and international media. The incident is tragic, both for the polar bear that was killed and for the man who was injured. The incident is currently being investigated by the Governor of Svalbard.

Many of you have raised important questions and concerns with us after this incident. First and foremost, Visit Svalbard wishes to thank everyone for their interest and commitment. Furthermore, on behalf of the tourism industry in Longyearbyen, we would like to provide some key information as a supplement to the extremely important and relevant discussion. We believe the case deserves this.

We have chosen to refer to a news article published by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation NRK on 8 August in which the Director of Tourism, Ronny Brunvoll, and one of the world’s leading polar bear researchers, Jon Aars from the Norwegian Polar Institute, provide several important facts about tourism and polar bears in Svalbard.

  • The number of polar bears shot and killed in Svalbard is low compared to most other parts of the Arctic. In the last 45 years, just two polar bears have been shot here by sea-based tour operators. Just over 100,000 people visit Svalbard every year. The last time a bear was shot in connection with organised cruise tourism in Svalbard was in 2006.

  • All tourism in Svalbard is strictly regulated and there are clear rules stipulating that people cannot disturb polar bears. The Governor of Svalbard carefully monitors tourism and has field inspectors in several places throughout the archipelago. Nevertheless, unfortunate encounters between polar bears and humans can occur and, in very rare cases, can have tragic outcomes.

  • The Norwegian Polar Institute, which has engaged in research on polar bears since the 1960s, says there is no reason to believe that tourism in Svalbard today has a major impact on the polar bear population, which numbers around 3,000 in Svalbard and the Barents region.

Nature photographer and expedition leader Ole Jørgen Liodden has compiled data from relevant authorities in Arctic nations, including the Governor of Svalbard, that shows more than 8,350 polar bears were shot and killed in Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Russia and Norway during the period 2007-2016. Of this, only 16 were shot and killed in Svalbard. Since 1990, we only have one case where a Longyearbyen-based tour operator has been responsible for, or involved in, the killing of a polar bear.

Actors in the tourism industry have great respect for the polar bear. Since this region is a habitat for wild animals and a place where people live, the locals live close to polar bears all the time. You can encounter polar bears throughout the entire archipelago and it is not uncommon that polar bears are spotted close to the settlements.

Regardless of what happened, one shot polar bear is one too many, and it is natural that this creates interest and commitment. At the same time, it is important to have a balanced and fact-based discussion that provides the correct perspective.

We would also like to point out that the Governor of Svalbard is currently investigating the incident at Sjuøyane on 28 July and due to this Visit Svalbard is unable to comment on the case.

As always, we encourage visitors to go on organized tours with local guides who take care of safety.

For more information and media enquiries, please contact:

Director of Tourism Ronny Brunvoll, tel. +47 951 16 165

Click on this link to read NRK’s article: https://www.nrk.no/troms/over-8350-isbjorner-skutt-og-drept-pa-ti-ar-1.14154898 (in Norwegian)

Click on this link to read the AECO – Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators’ statement on the incident: https://www.aeco.no/2018/07/aeco-statement-on-polar-bear-incident-in-svalbard/

Click on this link to read more about polar bears: https://en.visitsvalbard.com/visitor-information/polar-bears

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