(UPDATED) The crew of a fishing boat have reported seeing a polar bear at Haeluvik on the Hornstrandir peninsula in Iceland’s Westfjords region this morning. The Icelandic Coastguard is preparing to send a helicopter to search for the bear.
Kristjan Mar Arsaelsson, Environment Agency spokesman, told mbl.is that communication has been made with everybody known to be in the area at the moment. Hornstrandir is a national nature reserve and nobody lives there permanently. Arsaelsson requested that anybody who knows of anyone else currently travelling on Hornstrandir should inform the police in Isafjordur without delay.
The police and the Environment Agency are jointly in charge of the operation to locate and deal with the polar bear. It has not yet been decided what will happen if it is found.
There is currently fog in the area and polar bears can travel around 50 kilometres per day. It is therefore not known where the bear actually is right now, or if it will ever be found. There are examples of bears swimming back out to sea and never being seen again.
Polar bears are not native to Iceland and could not live in the country due to the total lack of sea ice. Stowaway bears which occasionally wash up in the country have traditionally been killed for the safety of people and farm animals. In recent years, unsuccessful attempts have been made to capture bears and return them to East Greenland. However, the East Greenland polar bear population is in good health and is actively hunted by Greenlandic people. This means that Icelandic authorities have been inclined to shoot stray bears when the dangerous and expensive rescue missions do not go according to plan.
UPDATE 1 (02 May, 12.35): The Coastguard helicopter is landing at Isafjordur airport. It is thought it will take on fuel before proceeding over Isafjardardjup to Hornstrandir.
UPDATE 2 (02 May, 12.57): The weather is expected to clear this afternoon and this evening. At the present time it is thought unlikely that the helicopter would be able to land at Hornstrandir, or that its crew would be able to see the bear. There are no tourists located at Haeluvik. The crew of the fishing boat report that they were no more than 30 metres from the bear, which seemed relaxed and unafraid, before eventually running away, directly up a mountain.