The premise of the Discovery series "Predators Up Close" with former Navy Seal soldier Joel Lambert as the main presenter is to "come face to face with the planet's largest predators" in a specially designed cage.
In last week's episode, Lambert was in Svalbard with celebrity veterinarian Trude Mostue as the local expert.
The duo went by boat to an unspecified location along the sea ice to the north in search of polar bears. When the bear was located the cage was assembled on the ice, and they went inside it and waited for the animal to approach.
"Ultimately, this was attempted as an odor experiment," the program concludes. "If the polar bear finds us it's probably because of our smell."
The curious adult male bear approached the construction of aluminum and plastic, but turned and left the place before reaching it.
Here the duo sits and waits for the bear inside the cage. A similar case in 2013 started a huge controversy that ended with a hefty fine. Its illegal to lure or pursue polar bears on Svalbard. FOTO: Discovery Channel
Investigation by governor
Now The Governor of Svalbard plans to investigate the incident to determine if it was a violation of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act which, among other things, states "it is prohibited to lure, pursue or otherwise seek out polar bears so as to disturb or cause danger to people or the polar bears."
"We're going to look into this," said Knut Fossum, the governor's chief environmental advisor, in an interview with Svalbardposten. "That's all I can say now. We have registered the case."
A similar television production resulted in a fine in 2013. In connection with the recording of the BBC series "The Polar Bear Family and Me," presenter Gordon Buchanan was put in a Plexiglas box to come in close contact with the animal.
The bear attacked the box, resulting in sensational footage that captured global attention. Jason Roberts Productions, the logistics manager for the show, was fined 50,000 kroner.
Protected by a cage, the duo sits and waits for this polar bear to come over. FOTO: Discovery Channel
Former polar bear researcher Thor S. Larsen criticized Mostue's scene in strong terms and said there are clear similarities between the two recordings in the cages on the ice.
"In light of the reaction to the BBC program, I think that this could be worth pursuing by the governor," said Larsen, adding he believes that the use of such cages cannot be justified by a desire to study bears.
"The bears' behavior becomes abnormal and is provoked by the cage standing on ice," Larsen said. "And to argue that the cage is 'protection' is irrelevant. It's a situation the two have themselves created in an attempt to lure the bear and create drama for viewers."
If anyone was in danger, it was the bear, according to Larsen, a polar bear veteran with countless seasons around Svalbard.
"If the bear had fought its way into the cage it would have undoubtedly lead to consequences for it. Probably it would have been shot by the camerapeople or others nearby, says Larsen, who also was critical of a scene where Mostue and the broadcaster are seen driving a snowmobile very close to a bear.
Rejecting the criticism
Mostue rejects the criticism, saying they were very careful and attentive during filming.
"We had many discussions about the ethics, including the BBC episode that led to the traffic fines," she said. "Our experts had full control; if anything had been on the edge, it would have been stopped. And as a veterinarian I have high moral principles."
She adds the recordings took place "outside Norwegian waters" and therefore are not affected by the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act.
"Legally and jurisdictionally it was within bounds," she said.
The Discovery Channel and Jason Roberts are making the same claim.
"During production we were fully aware of, and took into consideration, the legal and ethical guidelines that must be followed during filming in Svalbard," Guro Krossen, the Discovery Channel's communications chief, wrote in an e-mail to Svalbardposten. "The cage they were to sit in was therefore never put up in Svalbard or in Norwegian waters."
"The scene was not filmed within the territorial waters of Svalbard and therefore has nothing to do with the governor," Roberts wrote in an e-mail.
He declined to comment on Larsen's criticisms.
"That is his personal comments as a 'film critic,' which is irrelevant," Roberts wrote.
Svalbardposten has been unable to confirm where the recording took place.
Mostue said she believes the scenes appear more dramatic than they actually were, and that neither the bear nor the people were in danger.
"These series are cut very dramatically and in a way that Americans like," she said. "But what's actually going on out on the ice is calm and controlled."
"What we did was not more disturbing than the tourist ships do. I would argue that they are more assertive. To observe the bear from a cage is no worse than from a boat. They smell as well. JRP deserves praise. They safeguard the interest of Svalbard and polar bears at a high level."
As for the scene where they are apparently driving snowmobiles close to a bear, she said that was an optical illusion.
"I was also surprised how close it looks, but it is the result of that being filmed from afar with a telephoto lens," Mostue said. "We were not so close."