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German man attacked by polar bear

July 28, 2018

The man was leading a group of tourists on a remote Arctic archipelago when the attack occurred. The man is in stable condition, but the bear was shot dead and local police have launched an investigation.

Polar bear
Image: CC BY-SA 3.0/Alan Wilson

A Polar bear attacked a German man Saturday while he was leading a group of tourists on an Arctic island between Norway and the North Pole.

The Joint Rescue Coordination for Northern Norway said the attack occurred when tourists from the German-flagged MS Bremen landed on the northernmost island of the Svalbard archipelago.

The remote region is known for its rough terrain, glaciers, reindeer and polar bears.

"The man was attacked by a polar bear and injured on his head," according to a statement by German Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, which operates the cruise ship with a Bahamas flag.

Polar bears on thin ice

The polar bear was shot dead "in an act of self-defense," according to the cruise operator. It was not immediately clear who shot the bear.

Svalbard police superintendent Ole Jakob Malmo said police have launched an investigation into the attack. The probe will include an examination of the polar bear.

The injured man was flown by helicopter to the town of Longyearbyen — the main settlement on the Arctic archipelago — on the island of Spitsbergen.

"He was flown out, was responsive, and is currently undergoing medical treatment," said Negar Etminan, a spokeswoman for Hapag-Lloyd. She added that the victim's condition was not life-threatening.

Read more: Odd things about polar bears

Polar bear guards

He was treated for moderate injuries and is in stable condition, according to Jorn Resvoll, a spokesman for the University Hospital of Northern Norway. He will likely be flown to a hospital in Tromso, which is on the Norwegian mainland, for further evaluation, according to Resvoll.

Cool art: The polar bear photographer

Etminan did not identify the victim but said he was a "polar bear guard" traveling aboard the MS Bremen because all cruise ships traveling in that region are required to have polar bear guards on board.

Global warming is having a negative impact on polar bears. Tourism to the northern region has spiked in recent years, and summer is the high season. Hapag-Lloyd is among those organizing Arctic expeditions.

A port schedule at Longyearbyen shows that 18 more cruise ships are expected to dock there over the next week.

Officials in Svalbard frequently issue warnings about the dangers posed by polar bears.

Three years ago a Czech man who visited the archipelago to watch a solar eclipse was attacked in his tent by a polar bear. The man suffered injuries to his face and arm.

The last fatal attack by a polar bear in Svalbard occurred in August 2011, when a British student was killed during a field trip.

Read more: A polar bear photographer

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bik/aw (AP, dpa)