WARNING: Viewers may find the image below disturbing
A wild polar bear living on Spitsbergen — the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago, an Arctic area between Norway and the North Pole — did not survive its recent encounter with humans.
According to CBS News, the animal was shot by a polar bear guard for the MS Bremen cruise ship on Saturday after the bear attacked a different polar bear guard. Guards disembark Arctic cruises ahead of guests on stops known to be home to wild polar bears to make sure the animals stay a safe distance from travelers.
The MS Bremen is owned and operated by Germany’s Hapag Lloyd Cruises; in a statement on Facebook, the company called the incident an act of “self-defense.”
The guard who was attacked by the bear sustained injuries to his head and was airlifted out of nearby Longyearbyen. He is currently receiving treatment, reports TIME. His injuries are not life-threatening.
In a Facebook post regarding the incident, the cruise company called the situation an “accident.”
“Polar bears are only observed from aboard ships, from a safe distance. To prepare for a shore leave, the polar bear guards go ashore in advance after sighting the landing site as a group and without passengers. They then set up a land station and check the area again to make sure that there are no polar bears in sight. As soon as such an animal approaches, the shore leave would be stopped immediately,” reads the post.
WARNING: Viewers may find the following image disturbing
The post goes on to explain how protocol failed in this case.
“The incident occurred when the four-person polar bear guard team, who are always on board for these expedition cruises as required by law, prepared for a shore leave. One of the guards was unexpectedly attacked by a polar bear that had not been spotted and he was unable to react himself. As the attempts of the other guards to evict the animal, unfortunately, were not successful, there had to be intervention for reasons of self-defense and to protect the life of the attacked person.”
The cruise company also adds that staff “very much regrets” what happened and is “very aware of their responsibility when traveling in environmentally-sensitive areas.”
This statement has not quelled the outrage many have expressed in response to the polar bear’s death. According to CNN, celebrities like Ricky Gervais have tweeted their disappointment with the cruise line’s choice.
Other are worried about what encounters like this mean for the species, which is listed as vulnerable by The World Wildlife Fund.
“It’s incredibly tragic,” wildlife conservationist Jeff Corwin told CNN. “When there’s only 25,000 polar bears left on the planet, every one matters.”