A polar bear has been shot dead after it attacked a cruise ship guard on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, within the Arctic Circle.
The guard suffered non-life-threatening head injuries and is said to be in a stable condition.
He was assigned to protect tourists who had landed on Svalbard’s northernmost island from the MS Bremen, which is operated by Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.
The German cruise company said the guard shot the bear “in self-defence”.
The injured man was airlifted to hospital in the town of Longyearbyen, on Spitsbergen island.
Svalbard is a wilderness of glaciers and ice caps in the Arctic Circle, between Norway and the North Pole.
An estimated 60% of it is covered with ice, and the 3,000-strong polar bear population are said to outnumber humans.
All ships in the area are obliged to employ bear guards to protect passengers on sightseeing tours.
“There are very strict rules here as the islands are visited by many polar bears in the summer, so we all need to be vigilant when we are ashore,” one guide wrote in a post on Hapag-Lloyd’s website.
Critics online, including British comedian Ricky Gervais, blamed the attack on human intrusion into polar bear territories.
“This story is abhorrent,” wrote tweeter @nicell70.
“Slaying an endangered wild animal in its natural environment which was being invaded by gluttonous exploitative humans.”
The bears’ behaviour has been changed by the warming Arctic, where shrinking sea ice means they spend more time on land and are forced to hunt over greater distances.
The Associated Press reports that 18 cruise ships are set to dock this week in Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s largest settlement.