Gard Christophersen and Bård Blæsterdalen arrived at the Austfjordneset trappers' station on May 28. They were at the station Monday when a female polar bear with young cub approached.
"There was a situation that the trappers considered an emergency and the female bear was shot," said Gov. Kjerstin Askholt.
She said she cannot provide details of the incident, including whether efforts were made to scare the mother bear away before it was shot.
"We do not have a complete overview of what happened and believe it is necessary to do further questioning before we speak about it," she said.
The governor said the trappers are strongly affected by what happened, but are continuing their stay at the station.
Only through the governor
Because U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting Svalbard on Thursday, the governor's office will not conduct its investigation until next week.
"That is regrettable," Askholt said. "We will keep in close contact with the men until we get conduct further discussions next week. We hope for a speedy resolution of the case, and it is important for us that there is a proper and thorough investigation."
Since officials typically provided details about similar incidents quickly, why is this case being treated differently?
"There is no intention of handling this differently," Askholt said. "What is different is that first a female bear was shot and then the cub had to be killed. That is an additional dimension to the case. Therefore, I chose to be the one who makes statements to the press. There is a need for further investigation to explain the matter sufficiently."
She said it will be a routine investigation.
"It happens in all cases where polar bears are shot," Askholt said. "Just to confirm if this was self-defense situation or whether anything could have been done differently."
Passing on experiences
The governors office selects caretakers for the station at Austfjordneset from people who want to try their hand at trapping. They received a total of eight applications from 13 people for the one-year stay beginning in May.
"Those who are selected are considered to have the experience and knowledge to be able to live for a year in Austfjordneset," Askholt said. "The governor lends out the station and is not responsible for the security or safety training for those who spend the winter there."
She said the change of shifts during a weekend at Austfjordneset is an important opportunity to exchange experiences.
"The outgoing and incoming trappers spend a lot of time on the subject of how to deal with polar bears, and polar bears visiting the station," Askholt said.
Svalbardposten has tried to contact the trappers, but they did not respond by the time the newspaper went to press Wednesday.
The governors office was informed about the shooting Monday morning. Police and environmental protection officials from the office arrived at the trapping station barely two hours later.
They consulted experts from the Norwegian Polar Institute by phone before euthanizing the cub.
"It was a very difficult and sad decision to make," Askholt said. "Our guiding principle in such matters is nature should take its course. When we decided that it we would not do that this time, it was because of reasons regarding the animal's welfare. We got a clear message from the Norwegian Polar Institute that the cub would not survive its own. While the situation was man-made in the first place, we believed this was the most gentle way of killing it."
Svalbardposten and others have previously been allowed into the governor's garage to take photos of polar bears that have been shot. Permission to so was denied this time.
"During the autopsy of the cub there were no pictures taken," Askholt said. "We thought it was ethically wrong."
Why were pictures of the mother bear not allowed or released?
"Photos were taken at the scene," Askholt said. "It was not necessary for the investigation to take pictures. This was not a pleasant matter and we do not want to present pictures of it."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini