The Icelandic Coast Guard is currently searching for a polar bear that has been reported to be roaming just north of Vatnsnes, in north Iceland.
Polar bears are not native to Iceland, but have increasingly been arriving on ice floes from Greenland. RÚV reports that a polar bear has been spotted by Italian tourists just north of Vatnsnes, in north Iceland. The tourists apparently took photos and recorded a video of the bear, and showed it to some Icelanders living in Geitafell.
In the course of the search, conducted by both the Coast Guard and police from Blönduós, polar bear tracks were spotted in the area. Blönduós chief of police Kristján Þorbjörnsson has advised people living in the area to stay indoors until the animal has been found.
Despite their endangered species status, polar bears who arrive in Iceland are shot and killed. Icelandic law allows local authorities to do so, if they deem the bear a threat to persons or livestock. Zoologist Ævar Petersen told Vísir that while the animals are dangerous, he believes this does not justify killing every polar who arrives in Iceland by default. Killing them is a violation of the law, he said, and he would rather the polar bears be tranquilised.
Minister for the Environment Svandís Svavarsdóttir addressed these concerns in a previous Grapevine article. She said that the number of polar bears Iceland kills does not endanger their stock. She added that the idea of tranquilising them and shipping them back to Greenland is unrealistic, explaining, “Greenlandic authorities allow the hunting of about 50 polar bears in East Greenland each year, which they deem to be a safe limit for the stock. They have told us that they fail to see the rationale behind shipping stray polar bears alive from Iceland to Greenland, given that this is a rare occurrence and has no effect on the species and its survival. Less than 1% of the bears of the East Greenland stock that have been shot in the last decade have been killed in Iceland. If stray bears are shipped back alive, we would have to ensure that they would be transported away from a threat of being legally shot in Greenland.”