Update! One person killed, four people injured in polar bear attack on Spitsbergen, NRK and VG reports

One person is reported dead, according to this VG article. The party of 13 that were attacked in their tent camp near the Von Post Glacier early this morning was british, and consisted of youths from British Schools Exploring Society.

Several persons were injured when a polar bear attacked people near the Von Post Glacier approximately 40 kilometers from Longyearbyen.

It has been a busy situation for ambulance personell at Longyearbyen, and assistance from the mainland was immediately sent northwards.

This article on nrk.no first broke the news of  the incident which was reported to the Sysselmann at Spitsbergen around 07:30 AM today, August 5th. The polar bear is now dead and health personell have arrived on site, the Sysselmann reports.

“We have received four patients. All of them have moderate to serious injuries, mainly head injuries”, says Jon Mathisen, director of the department for acute medicine at the University Hospital in Tromsø to VG Nett.

Liv Ødegaard, information consultant with the Sysselmann office, tells NRK that they don’t have a complete overview of the situation so far, including how seriously hurt the persons involved are.

“We can now confirm that they were camping there, but if they were tourists or scientists is too early to say. At this stage we have made a priority of getting the injured persons medical help”, Ødegaard said earlier this morning.

None of the involved people are identified so far, and the British department of foreign affairs does not have an overview of the situation yet.

Starvation and lack of food is the most common motivation for a polar bear to attack people say Jon Aas, scientist at the Norwegian Polar Institute.

“All polar bears are potentially dangerous, but there are higher numbers of young and starving bears involved in attacks”, Aas says.

Kjersti Norås, tourism coordinator on Spitsbergen says that the Von Post Glacier is a common site for tourists to visit. “You can go there on snowmobiles in the winter to get to Pyramiden”, she informs VG Nett.

It is recommended to carry guns when out in the field on Spitsbergen, and the company who met the bear have killed the animal themselves.

Since 1971, four people have been hurt and four people killed by polar bears on Spitsbergen, Margrete Nilsdatter Skaktavl Keyser states in her master thesis on the subject.

Polnytt comments:

When situations with polar bears arise, the only solution is to kill the animal if possible, or else get killed.

We should now ask ourselves: Is tourism on Spitsbergen OK? Perhaps travelling in these areas should be restricted to personell with real business in the area? Useful activities like science, hunting and industry? Perhaps we should keep tourists and adventurers off these pristine nature reserves?

Jonas Qvale

Demand for polar bear hides soars: auction house

CBC News Posted: Apr 11, 2011 10:58 AM CT – Original article here

One of Canada’s largest fur auction houses says it cannot meet the soaring demand for polar bear hides, provoking concerns about overhunting in southern Hudson Bay and other areas..

Demand and prices for polar bear hides have been escalating over the past five seasons, says an official with Fur Harvesters Auction Inc. in North Bay, Ont. Russians are particularly interested in the hides, he said.

A polar bear and her cubs walk along the shore of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Man., in 2007. An estimated 900 to 1,000 polar bears live in the southern Hudson Bay region.
A polar bear and her cubs walk along the shore of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Man., in 2007. An estimated 900 to 1,000 polar bears live in the southern Hudson Bay region. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

“The supply does not even come close to meeting the demand,” Mark Downey, the auction house’s chief executive officer, told CBC News.

At the company’s most recent sale in January, polar bear hides sold for an average of $5,000, Downey said. One sold for a record high of $11,000.

Each buyer at the sale wanted all 80 of the polar bear hides on offer but had to settle for two or three hides each, he said.

“There’s a lot of interest for really top-quality specimens, 10-footers-plus, well-handled bears for the Russian market,” he said. “There’s a lot of Russian businessmen or what have you that would like to have a polar bear rug.”

Demand in Russia, Asia, Canada

Downey added that polar bear hides are also wanted for life-size mounts or displays for museums and airports.

“The top goods are ending up going to Russia, whereas the other ones are going basically all over,” he said. “They’re going to China, they’re going into Canada … could be into Japan.”

Hunters in Nunavik, a predominantly Inuit region in northern Quebec, have killed an unusually high number of polar bears this year, and demand has been cited as a reason.

Hunters in Inukjuak, Que., have told CBC News they have killed at least 60 polar bears since January in southern Hudson Bay. On average over the last five years, fewer than four polar bears a year were killed.

Quebec government officials have said the demand for polar bear hides is so high that buyers are purchasing hides with the fat still on them.

Wildlife group calls for management system

The demand for polar bear hides can result in overhunting, said Pete Ewins, a senior officer in charge of species for World Wildlife Fund Canada.

Ewins said Quebec needs a good polar bear management system, similar to one in Nunavut.

Unlike Nunavut, where each community is allowed an annual hunting quota for polar bears, Quebec does not have a fixed quota system.

Inuit hunters in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, who also hunt from the southern Hudson Bay polar bear population, have said they are concerned the large hunt in Nunavik could result in fewer bears for them to harvest.

Ontario also has no fixed quota system for polar bears, but that province’s government has a management agreement with Cree people there.

Ewins applauded the Quebec government’s move to call a meeting of polar bear hunters and government officials from that province, Nunavut and Ontario in June.

“Although it’s driven, I think, by damage-control reasons, it probably will result in a shift in priorities and I think Quebec will catch up,” he said. “I’m an optimist.”

Polar bear experts have been calling for polar bear management agreements that are shared between jurisdictions.

Figures obtained from Environment Canada show the number of international export permits issued for polar bear hides has risen from 219 in 2005 to 320 in 2010.

Alaska Oil And Gas Association Sues Feds Claiming Polar Bear Protected Habitat Too Large

DAN JOLING  Huffington Post Original article here

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — An Alaska petroleum industry trade group has sued the federal government over its designation of 187,157 square miles as polar bear critical habitat, claiming it covers too much territory and could cost tens of millions or more in economic effects.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association sued Tuesday in Anchorage.

“This is an area larger that 48 of the 50 states, exceeding the size of the State of California by nearly 25,000 square miles,” association attorneys said in the lawsuit.

The designation is unprecedented – the largest area set aside in the history of the Endangered Species Act – and was done for an animal that is abundant, with 20,000 to 25,000 animals in 19 subpopulations, according to the group.

AOGA represents 15 companies that account for most oil and gas exploration, production, refining and marketing in Alaska. The group claims there is no evidence of an overall decline in the global polar bear population or its historical range.

That’s disputed by the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned to list bears.

“AOGA’s suit is premised on the fiction that polar bear populations are stable,” said attorney Brendan Cummings in an e-mail.

The two best-studied populations, western Hudson Bay and Southern Beaufort Sea, are known to be declining, he said. The polar bear specialist group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists eight of the world’s 19 subpopulations of polar bears as “declining,” including both of Alaska’s. Seven other subpopulations are listed as “data deficient” for making the call.

A U.S. Geological Survey model prepared before the listing suggested a better than 50 percent chance that polar bears will be extinct in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas under the minimum sea ice model run by 2030. The USGS later noted its projections of sea ice decline appeared to be underestimated.

Iqaluit polar bear hunting quota unclear

CBC NewsJanuary 5, 2011
Original article here

There are quotas on how many polar bears can be hunted annually in Nunavut. Hunters in Iqaluit are looking for an increase to their quota, which is usually set at 23. (CBC)

Hunters in Iqaluit may not get to hunt more polar bears this year after all, as the group representing them has to deal with several levels of bureaucracy over the 2011 hunting quota.

Last week, the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association in Iqaluit announced a big increase in the annual number of polar bears its members can hunt, from the usual quota of 23 bears to 41 in 2011.

The organization attributed the increase to “credits” it received from wildlife regulators for staying below the quota in past years.

But Amarok officials have since learned they do not yet have permission to use all those credits. Vice-chair David Alexander told CBC News he blames the confusion on miscommunication between many decision-making bodies.

The Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board has approved adding only 10 extra polar bears to Iqaluit’s annual hunt, bringing this year’s quota to 33.

Nunavut government officials said they support the Qikiqtaaluk board’s decision, but it’s now up to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board to give its final approval.

“We have to send out the letter to the right appropriate people, which is the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, as well as with the Nunavut government,” Alexander said Wednesday.

The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board said it has yet to receive an application from the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association.

Russian researchers tag three polar bears during Arctic expedition

RIA Novosti, original article here

Three female polar bears were tagged with satellite collars during a research expedition on the Franz Josef Land archipelago in Russia’s far north, the Russian environment watchdog said on Friday.

“The expedition found 40 polar bears,” the watchdog said, adding that the researchers had immobilized 12 bears, weighed them and taken blood and fur samples for genetic and biochemical tests.

A similar expedition was carried out in April 2010 involving Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. During the trip Putin put a satellite collar on a male polar bear, but the bear got rid of the tracking device six months later.

Satellite collars allow scientists to follow the migration of animals, observe their daily and seasonal movements and identify habitats.

According to environmentalists, the number of polar bears currently stands at 21,000 but in the next 50 years the population of the world’s largest predator may decline by 30-50%, especially in the Russian sector of the Arctic.

In July, the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology approved a strategy for polar bear preservation in Russia.

MOSCOW, December 3 (RIA Novosti)

Manitoba polar bear wanders 400 km south

(CBC News, 30 August 2010) — A polar bear has created a buzz of excitement in the northern Manitoba community of Shamattawa. The bear was spotted Sunday swimming in the river, about 400 kilometres south of the Churchill tundra where the big white bears are typically found. Residents spotted the bear at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, according to RCMP. Officers launched the police boat and made a patrol, locating the lone bear swimming in the river and drinking at the shore. “The bear appeared to be young, but was quite a good size … [and] the people in the community were very excited to see it,” RCMP Sgt. Noel Allard said. “This is the first time anyone in the area remembers seeing a polar bear,” Allard said after speaking to several elders in the community. Manitoba Conservation wildlife manager Daryll Hedman called the sighting rare but not an unheard-of occurrence. He believes the last time they were called about a polar bear in that community was in the mid-1990s, although some polar bears have actually been seen even further south. It is probably a teenaged bear, Hedman said, noting those are the ones that tend to explore. “They wander. They are built for travel,” he said. RCMP members monitored the bear’s movements until darkness fell and it left the area.

Via Circumpolar Musings

Original article here

Bear shot in North West Territories was grizzly-polar hybrid

The bear that David Kuptana shot on April 8 had white fur like a polar bear, but brown paws like a grizzly. (Submitted by Joseph Perry)

Biologists in the Northwest Territories have confirmed that an unusual-looking bear shot earlier this month near Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., was a rare hybrid grizzly-polar bear.

The unusual-looking bear caught the attention of biologists after David Kuptana, an Inuvialuit hunter, shot and killed it on April 8 on the sea ice just west of the Arctic community, formerly known as Holman.

The bear had thick white fur like a polar bear, but it also had a wide head, brown legs and brown paws like a grizzly.

Kuptana said he shot the bear from a distance after it scavenged through five unoccupied cabins near Ulukhaktok, then tried running toward the community.

Wildlife DNA analysis shows the bear was a second-generation hybrid, officials with the N.W.T. Environment and Natural Resources Department said in a news release Friday.

The bear was the result of a female grizzly-polar hybrid mating with a male grizzly bear, according to the department.

“This confirms the existence of at least one female polar-grizzly hybrid near Banks Island,” the release said.

“This may be the first recorded second-generation polar-grizzly bear hybrid found in the wild.”

Kuptana told CBC News he is currently selling the bear pelt to the highest bidder and has received calls from across Canada for the unique pelt.

“Right now, we’re already at $15,000, and we’re going to see how far we can go,” Kuptana said Friday. “If we can do better, we’ll be happy.”

Species interbreeding due to climate change: U.S. scientist

The 'grolar bear' was killed on April 8 on the sea ice near the  N.W.T. hamlet of Ulukhaktok, which was known as Holman until 2006.
The 'grolar bear' was killed on April 8 on the sea ice near the N.W.T. hamlet of Ulukhaktok, which was known as Holman until 2006. (CBC)

The N.W.T.’s first confirmed “grolar bear” was shot by a U.S. hunter in Sachs Harbour, N.W.T., located on Banks Island, in April 2006. More DNA tests are planned to determine whether the bear shot this month was related to the one from 2006.

Hybrid bears will likely become more common in the North, as the direct consequence of climate change, predicts Brendan Kelly, a marine biologist with the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

In the absence of summer Arctic sea ice, polar bears are stranded on land and come into more contact with grizzly bears, he said.

“We’re taking this continent-sized barrier to animal movement, and in a few generations, it’s going to disappear, at least in summer months,” Kelly said.

“That’s going to give a lot of organisms — a lot of marine mammals in particular — who’ve been separated for at least 10,000 years the opportunity to interbreed again, and we’re predicting we’re going to see a lot more of that.”

Kelly said he has seen reports of harp seals and hooded seals interbreeding, as well as beluga whales and narwhal. Interbreeding helps species adapt to major shifts in their environments, he said.

Protect us, not polar bears: Inuit officials

(CBC News, 15 April 2010) — Nunavut Inuit who do not want polar bears listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act say they should be the ones being protected from the Arctic bears. Speaking Wednesday before the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board (NWMB) in Iqaluit, Inuit elders and officials voiced their opposition to a proposal by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) to have the polar bear listed as a species of special concern in Canada. “We have to listen to our communities, we have to listen to Inuit, and we get our direction from Inuit and also from our executive,” said Paul Irngaut, a wildlife adviser with Inuit land-claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. “Our executive does not support the listing, and that’s what we relate to [the] NWMB.”The polar bear was last classified as a species of special concern — one step below threatened and two below endangered — in 2002. COSEWIC, an arm’s-length federal scientific advisory committee, recommended the same status for the species in 2008. The federal government has to give a final decision on whether to approve that status. Scientists on the committee argue that although Canada’s polar bear population has improved over the last 50 years, the species’ future could be threatened by climate change and receding sea ice. But one by one, Inuit representatives on Wednesday spoke of the threats polar bears pose to people in Nunavut communities — from bears breaking into cabins and destroying hunting equipment to bears mauling people to death. The polar bear hearings conclude on Thursday with final submissions. The wildlife board will then be expected to prepare its own position on the COSEWIC proposal by early July. The board will submit its recommendations to Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, who will have 60 days to respond. “We, too, are worried about polar bears in the future because climate change, it’s a huge thing. It’s not only going to affect the polar bears, it’s going to affect us, so we are concerned too,” said Irngaut. “But we feel that at this time, the polar bear is really being used to combat climate change, and we don’t agree with that.”

Original article here

Climate change may have shaped polar bear origins

Allison Cross, NunatsiaqOnline march 3. 2010
“The polar bear is an evolutionary young species that split off from brown bears”

DNA extracted from a polar bear fossil found in Norway is giving scientists rare insight into the origin of the species, suggesting that polar bears may have evolved from brown bears in response to climate change in the past.

“Our results confirm that the polar bear is an evolutionary young species that split off from brown bears some 150,000 years ago and evolved extremely rapidly,” said researcher Charlotte Lindqvist, from State University of New York at Buffalo.

“Perhaps adapting to the opening of new habits and food sources in response to climate changes,” Lindqvist said.

But the polar bears’ success in weathering temperature fluctuations over the past 150,000 years doesn’t necessarily mean the bears, like those living in Canada’s North, can make it through global warming today, the researchers said.

Lindqvist explores the evolutionary origins of polar bears in a paper she co-authored with researchers from Penn State University and the University of Oslo, and published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Polar bear fossils are rare, but in 2004, a geologist from Iceland found a fossil jawbone and canine tooth in the Svalbard archipelago of Norway, north of the mainland.

After the find, Lindqvist drilled into the bone and tooth to extract powder that could be analyzed. Scientists then sequenced the mitochondrial DNA, which tends to reveal the most useful characteristics when examining the evolution of a species.

Knowing the age of polar bears actually helps scientists better determine which major climate events they lived through, Schuster said.

But it would be wrong to assume that because polar bears were resilient in the past, they are just as resilient now, Schuster said.

“You have to be… careful because a polar bear from 50,000 years ago or 100,000 years ago might have been a different animal,” he said. “There is always a constant change.”

Polar bears live their lives on the ice, so when they die, their remains often sink to the bottom of the ocean or are picked apart by scavengers.

There are only two known polar bear fossils in the world, said Stephan Schuster, from Penn State’s Centre for Comparative Genomics and Bioinformatics, and only one contains any DNA.

Many scientists believe that polar bears in Canada, and elsewhere in the world, are threatened by a loss of their sea ice habitat as a result of warming temperatures.

“The polar bear may be more evolutionarily constrained because it is today very specialized,” Lindqvist said. “[It is] physically and behaviourally well-adapted to living on the edge of Arctic ice, subsisting on a few species of seals.”

There is significant concern that polar bears across the world will become “extirpated,” which means to disappear or retreat from a region, although continue to live in other areas.

Andrew Derocher, a polar bear biologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said some estimates peg the polar bear as being much older than 150,000 years.

Some research indicates they have been around 700,000 years, or for even as long as one million years, he said.

“I don’t think the research tells us very much [about the future] of polar bears,” he said. “But it helps to fill in some of the gaps about the past. That’s really where our understanding of the evolution of polar bears is really challenging us.”

Original article here

Nunatsiaq Online seem to be reporting on a story featured in the national broadcasting company of Norway, NRK.
NRK article here (norwegian only)

Polar bear shot in Iceland

A polar bear was spotted today in Thistilfjordur, northeast Iceland by a farm worker who was stood less than 100 metres from the bear when she noticed.
Police took the decision to shoot the bear, as conditions need to be right to affect a rescue – chief among them the stipulation that people not be endangered.

The bear’s arrival in Iceland is highly unusual. Two polar bears were shot and killed in Iceland in the summer of 2008 and no others had been spotted for around 20 years before.

The three reasons stated for the decision to shoot the bear were: human safety, the abundance of polar bears in eastern Greenland (where the bear was almost certainly from) and the huge costs involved in capturing it alive and returning it home.