The shooting of a polar bear has sparked so much anger around the world that expedition cruise operators fear a backlash that could see them banned from the arctic.
A global petition has been circulated calling for a ban. And a Facebook poll of Cruise Passenger readers saw 88 per cent of the 520 votes support a ban on passengers going onto the ice when a polar bear might be present.
Guards from the MS Bremen, owned by the German line Hapag Lloyd, shot the wild polar bear in the Arctic two weeks ago between Norway and the North Pole.
The line maintains it attacked a guard, and colleagues tried to frighten it away, but were forced to shoot it to save the man’s life.
Many Cruise Passenger readers had strong views about ensuring the endangered bears were left in peace, and only viewed in their natural habitat from a ship.
“This is their domain and they were here first. We are visitors and should behave as such,” wrote reader Jenny Champness. “We are ever encroaching in their domain and they are running out of safe places to live, especially with the ice melting due to climate change caused by humans. We have a lot to answer and none of it good!”
Conrad Combrink, Silversea’s Senior Vice President of Strategic Development Expeditions and Experiences, said the shooting was only the second bear to die directly because in a tourism related incident in 45 years, and it was the first related to expedition cruising. But 8,000 lost their lives over the past decade because of other factors, including scientific research.
“As an industry we’re getting a lot of attention, and there is a petition to ban Arctic cruising.
“One polar bear lost his life – it should not have happened. But I know the company and I know the people involved. They are one of the most responsible companies operating in that environment.
“I’m afraid of a knee jerk reaction because this has happened. And I’m afraid that if this petition gains moment then there could be pressure for a ban.
“The reality is that we are creating awareness of these animals – create ambassadors for these areas. Without this industry the damage could be more.”
He also said that depicting expedition cruisers as just wealthy sightseers was unfair.
“Our guests go to enrich themselves and want to help preserve the environment. I truly don’t believe they deserve the bad reputation they get.”
Mr Combrink said one line had been reprimanded two years ago after allowing guests near swimming bears. Silversea had been instrumental in reporting the incident.
Swimming with the bears is not allowed, though a documentary my MacGillivray Freeman films for IMAX shows divers swimming with bears.