Police Defend Fatal Shooting of Polar Bear That Attacked Tourist Cruise Ship Employee Despite Backlash

Authorities defend cruise line's decision to shoot polar bear
A dead polar bear lays at the beach at Sjuøyane north of Spitzbergen, Norway, on July 28. The cruise line faced backlash for shooting the polar bear that attacked an employee, but Norwegian authorities defended the company's decision. GUSTAV BUSCH ARNTSEN/AFP/Getty Images

The fatal shooting of a polar bear in its natural habitat that attacked a tourist cruise ship worker prompted backlash online, but Norwegian authorities are backing the company's decision. Police said the cruise line made nonlethal attempts to scare the bear away before shooting it.

On Saturday, tourists aboard the MS Bremen cruise ship landed at Sjuøyane, part of the Svalbard archipelago located north of Norway. As a polar bear guard, who has not been identified, was leading tourists off the ship, a polar bear attacked him and injured his head. Polar bear guards are required to be present for ships traveling in the northern region, and a second guard shot and killed the bear.

The man was flown by a rescue helicopter to the hospital and is reported to be in stable condition, responsive and receiving medical care. Negar Etminan, a spokeswoman for Hapag Lloyd Cruises, which operates the ship, defended the guard's action as an "act of self-defense."

Authorities defend shooting of polar bear that attacked cruise employee
A picture taken on July 23, 2015, shows a warning sign reading "stop, polar bear danger, do not walk beyond this sign without your firearm," at the entrance of the scientific base of Ny Alesund in the Svalbard archipelago. A cruise line faced backlash after it shot and killed a polar bear that attacked an employee while he was ensuring the area was safe for tourists to disembark from the ship. DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

However, not everyone accepted the company's reasoning, and many criticized the company for invading the animal's natural habitat and then taking its life for acting as wild animals do. Comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted: "'Let's get too close to a polar bear in its natural environment and then kill it if it gets too close.' Morons."

MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle shared a reminder on Twitter that the polar bear was in its natural habitat and not on the cruise ship, that tourists got "dangerously close" and that the bear lost its life. David Steen, a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist, called the killing of the polar bear the "dark side of eco-tourism."

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals encouraged everyone engaging in wildlife tourism to adhere to the codes of conduct so tourism doesn't negatively affect species.

Despite the backlash, Norwegian authorities defended the cruise employee's decision to shoot and kill the polar bear. Svalbard police spokesman Ole Jakob Malmo told the Associated Press that two members of the cruise's crew tried to scare the bear away "by shouting and making loud noises." Crew members also fired a signal pistol, but their efforts had no effect on the bear. Malmo did not release the victim's name but said that he's 42 years old and that the polar bear killed was transported to Longyearbyen to be examined.

In a statement on Facebook, Hapag Lloyd Cruises said that landings in the area aren't to serve as polar bear observation, and polar bears are only observed from aboard the ship. In preparation for passengers to disembark from the ship, polar bear guards go ashore first to "make sure that there are no polar bears in sight."

"As soon as such an animal approaches, the shore leave would be stopped immediately," the statement explained. Hapag Lloyd Cruises added that its "very much regret this incident," is aware of the responsibility it has and respects all nature and wildlife.