The western settlement of Longyearbyen, with a population of roughly 2,000, is the area’s main tourism hub. Currently it’s high-season, which means thousands of international tourists hungering for a glimpse of the Arctic’s natural splendor cruise on both small and large ships, occasionally disembarking for land excursions on remote islands.
On Sunday, 12 crew members from the German ship MS Bremen landed on the northern-most island of the archipelago to prepare for an on-shore excursion with passengers, according to a statement by the Svalbard governor’s office. A 42-year-old crew member was attacked by a polar bear, which was then shot and killed in what the crew member said was an act of self-defense.
The incident is being investigated by authorities, although it is possible that the crew had happened upon a starving bear.
“When you have more people coming to the same area in which the polar bears and other arctic animals live, the risk of conflict and disturbance increases — it’s more of a mathematical law,” said Morten Wedege, head of environmental protection for the governor of Svalbard. “Our challenge is to inform and educate and guide people to know how to behave in the high arctic.”
The incident sheds light on the challenges of tourism growth in the area.
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