Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, a German cruise line, is making headlines recently for an unfortunate story. On the coast of Norway, the cruise line came in contact with a wild polar bear who attacked a guard from the ship. This guard was asked to arrive on the shore before any of the guests to ensure that polar bears were not on the land. These animals have a reputation of being vicious and dangerous; hence, the German law requires a “four-person polar bear guard team, who are always on board for these expedition cruises.” This one polar bear was missed in the original examination and attacked a guard, leaving him with non-threatening head injuries. The polar bear was shot and killed, resulting in controversy.
The number of polar bears on the Earth is dwindling, only around 25,000 exist now, states Jeff Corwin (a wildlife conservationist). In an interview with CNN, Corwin explains how this endangered species cannot bear to lose a single one. Corwin goes on to say, “When you are in this ecosystem as a tourist, as an explorer or as a scientist, you have the responsibility to follow the protocols to ensure that you stay safe and that you don’t interfere with the wild behavior of polar bears.” That is, it is the responsibility of each individual to allow the animals in a specific ecosystem to remain unaffected by humans.
Others are infuriated that “tourism” was the cause of death for this polar bear. The outrage was seen on Twitter by many. 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.” On a similar note, Jane Roberts, a genealogist, tweeted, “maybe cruise sightseeing tours shouldn’t take place then polar bear guards wouldn’t be needed to protect gawking tourists & polar bears would be left in peace & not shot dead merely to satisfy a photo op?” However, the Hapag-Lloyd Cruises company explained that their intention, as a cruise line, is not to interact with the wildlife; rather, “polar bears are only observed from aboard ships, from a safe distance.” The cruise line also apologized for the incident to the public.
The other side of this argument is in favor of the guard’s act to save himself and the other passengers on the cruise line. The Norwegian Polar Institute encourages visitors in the Svalbard area to “have firearms and protection devices at hand, such as a big-game rifle and ammunition for self-defense, a flare gun or an emergency signal flare pen for driving off polar bears and tripwire with flares for camping.” It goes on to say that humans should not intentionally interact with polar bears as they are a “great predator” with “little respect for humans.” Thus, the Norwegian Polar Institute has already predicted the potential, grave danger of these polar bear and human interactions, even to the point of encouraging visitors to bring firearms to defend themselves in case of attack.
Personally, this seems like an act of defense from the CNN account I read. The guard was in danger when he shot the polar bear and even still endured head injuries. Additionally, he was trying to safeguard the passengers on the ship from any harm. However, at the same time, it is always sad and unfortunate when animals are killed, even in self-defense. Especially as polar bears are endangered and diminishing, conservationists are calling for a greater sense of respect for these animals.
What do you think? Was this an act of unfortunate, but necessary, self-defense? Or were the guards/passengers from the cruise line “setting themselves up” for danger by interacting with the polar bears? Should cruise lines or tourism companies ever be able to interact with wildlife?
Link (for picture): http://www.cruisemapper.com/ships/Hanseatic-Inspiration-1735