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The bear shortly before it was shot in self defence. FOTO: Kari Kossila

"We waved our arms and shouted, but it just made the bear more curious"

Four Finnish skiers shot a polar bear.



Four Finnish skiers discovered a polar bear at the northern tip of Verlegenhuken. It turns out everyone was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Kari Kossila, leader of the expedition, set a camera on self-shoot and the group got ready for a "hurrah" photo. Kossila, Mikko Uimonen, Eero Oura and Joonas Hiltunen has reached their target: Verlegenhuken, at the northern tip of Spitsbergen. But before they could take the group photo they shot a polar bear.

First bear

It happened April 16. The four Finns departed their camp and turned southward. They set down their packs and skis at the beacon at the far tip of Verlegenhuken and, with all of Spitsbergen in front of them and the open sea behind them, prepared to celebrate. Then they saw a polar bear 150 meters away.

"I said, 'there is one,'" said Oura, the expedition's doctor, recounting the experience two later with the rest in the living room at Mary Anns Polarrigg. "It was the first bear we saw. It came quickly towards us."

Ate salami

They said the polar bear's attention was attracted by the packs they set down at the beacon, causing it to venture toward them.

"We waved our arms and shouted, but it just made the bear more curious," Hiltunen said. "It wasn't shy, but determined."

They fired several warning shots with a signal pistol and a rifle. The bear hesitated briefly, but then decided to venture toward the beacon. It then carried Oura's pack – which was filled with peanuts, chocolate, salami and Finnish cheese – and went some distance away from the expedition members.

"When we didn't see the the bear any more we thought that we could go back to the beacon and reclaim what we had there," Hiltunen said. "When we arrived there we saw that the bear was eating from the pack some distance away."

Came back

They headed back toward camp, the course they considered to be the safest possible.

"As we went the bear started to be interested in us again," Hiltunen said. "We lost sight of it for a while because of a hill. When we saw it again it was about 70 meters from us. This time very determined. It came low and determinedly towards us."

The four grouped together and started making noises.

"It didn't help," Hiltunen said. "It had its mind made up."

That's when the expedition leader told him to shoot the bear. Hiltunen fired two shots from 35 meters away. The bear then turned and went behind a hill.

"It happened fast," Oura said. "There was no time for intimidation or to film it."

The four walked up to the weather station at Verlegenhuken so they could observe the injured bear. They then called The Governor of Svalbard. The expedition members said they tried to approach the bear to kill it, but it went farther from them and closer to the water. They were afraid the bear was going to jump into the water and abandoned their efforts.

'Were rational'

After two-and-a-half hours the governor's helicopter arrived. Officials aboard the helicopter killed the bear as it was lying in a cave in an ice formation a few meters above the water. The tour group was subsequently flown back to its camp by helicopter.

From there they returned to Brucebyen as planned. Happy to be alive, but also sad because they had shot a bear.

The four sitting around the table at Mary-Anns Polarrigg spoke quietly and showed the pictures they took with a camera, along with a video clip of their initial encounter with the bear.

"We were rational and made the appropriate decisions," Oura said. "There was no panic and almost no fear."

Kossila said they had a predetermined plan for what to do if faced with a bear. Before the trip they practiced target shooting and familiarized themselves with the behavior of polar bears.

"We were all in the wrong place at the wrong time," a member of the group said.

While waiting for officials from the governor's office to arrive, kill the bear and investigate the shooting, the group got out their camera and took the planned photo of themselves at the point.

Translated by Mark Sabbatini


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