Polar Bears shot

After the very sad incident on Phippsøya last week where a Polar Bear was shot after attacking a guide, there has been a lot of furious reactions, especially on social media. Even though many of these reactions came from people that hardly had any clue about what happened, it was good to see the emotion that arises when a Polar Bear is shot. Now if we could direct that emotion to all the other bears that are shot each year, we might be able to ban part of that.

IJsbeer; Polar Bear; Ursus maritimus
Polar Bear on the edge

Since 1973, only three Polar bears were shot in connection to ship-based tourism. Now, this is, of course, three too many and it is an excellent thing to see how these incidents can be avoided, let’s put this into a broader perspective.

In the same timespan, another 12 were shot in connection to other forms of tourism and 115 were shot by scientists, field parties or authorities. In Spitsbergen, hunting on Polar Bears is wholly banned since the early 1970’s, so all of these cases should be in self-defence (or possible to avoid confrontations close to settlements).

Polar Bear on the pack ice

If we look at an even broader picture, between 2007 and 2016, 515 bears were shot in self-defence in the Canadian Nunavut. But in total, worldwide, nearly 1000 bears are shot annually, most of them by legalised hunting. In several, mainly Canadian, bear populations, wealthy (mostly western) trophy hunters can buy a license to shoot a Polar Bear, which makes up for a large part of this legalised hunting. This type of hunting is, in my opinion, completely unnecessary and also not sustainable. In the past decades, the total number of Polar Bears shot was roughly the same as the annual reproduction rate. And that on a species that is already under pressure from other factors as pollution and climate change.

2013_07_24_packice_6816 (1).jpg
Polar Bear on top of the world

Like I said, any bear shot is one too many, and it is good to see what ship-based tourism can learn from this incident. But for the bears, it would be good if we can direct some of the attention they have now to the other kinds of hunting. Helping Polar Bears by slowing down climate change is not something we can do quickly, but banning hunting will be a lot easier and will give the Polar Bears more rest.

If you want to read more on this topic, I can highly recommend the book ‘Polar Bears on the Edge‘, written by my colleague Morten Jørgensen, which I have used to write this article.


Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.


  • Thanks for this perspective. I had no idea so many were shot ‘legally’ – this is appalling. I’ve just been on an Arctic wildlife tour around Svalbard and we were privileged to see a bear stalking a seal on the ice. We were safely in the ship, watching through binoculars. The bear missed the seal, but she was only a young one, about 3 or 4. I wish her well, but the future of Svalbard bears is not looking good, with the ice melting more year by year.


    • Thanks for your reply. Yes, seeing them from the ship (especially when they are in the ice) is one of the best ways of experiencing the High Arctic. Especially if you’re lucky enough to see them hunt!

      Cheers, Arjen


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