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Home* News and Stories → Pep­per spray for defence against polar bears?

Pep­per spray for defence against polar bears?

This is about an issue which is about life and limb poten­ti­al­ly of polar bears and humans, so let’s make a few things clear befo­re we get into it: pep­per­spray (or bear spray) is curr­ent­ly not recom­men­ded by Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties as a tool of deter­rence or defence against polar bears and it is curr­ent­ly not legal­ly available in Nor­way inclu­ding Sval­bard for pri­va­te per­sons.

And: this is not a dis­cus­sion about using pep­per­spray against aggres­si­ve polar bears in open ter­rain. Attemp­ting this would lite­ral­ly be sui­ci­dal.

Having said that: the­re is an ongo­ing dis­cus­sion about the use of pep­per­spray in Spits­ber­gen, even though it is, so far, an enti­re­ly theo­re­ti­cal one and aut­ho­ri­ties do not appear to be very enthu­si­a­stic about it. But cases like the one in August whe­re a polar bear was shot in Kross­fjord as he attempt­ed to break into a hut with peo­p­le insi­de cer­tain­ly con­tri­bu­te to the dis­cus­sion.

polar bear, hut

“Hel­lo, anyo­ne at home?” Pep­per­spray may well save the life of a polar bear in a situa­ti­on like this. Here, ever­y­thing went well in the end.

And it is actual­ly exclu­si­ve­ly about cases whe­re peo­p­le can act from the rela­ti­ve safe­ty of a hut (or a clo­sed vehic­le etc.). The polar bear in August was not the first one that was shot while brea­king into a hut by peo­p­le insi­de.

So what it is about now? Fred Skan­cke Han­sen is safe­ty offi­cer at UNIS and respon­si­ble for field safe­ty cour­ses and safe­ty during field work of stu­dents and sci­en­tists. As such, he has gathe­red rele­vant expe­ri­ence and know­ledge over years. Han­sen told Sval­bard­pos­ten that he is open for the dis­cus­sion about pep­per­spray and posi­ti­ve about its use in cer­tain situa­tions. It talks about an “addi­tio­nal tool” in the tool­box that may pre­vent lethal shoo­ting in situa­tions whe­re peo­p­le would have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to use pep­per­spray out of a situa­ti­on of rela­ti­ve safe­ty. Also Han­sen points out that the idea is not to be in the field with pep­per­spray as the only tool of self defence against polar bears.

The point of pep­per­spray is that it may safe a polar bear from being shot and at the same time the bear would most likely take with him that the vici­ni­ty of huts and peo­p­le is some­thing to avo­id in the future. And this would be the best pos­si­ble out­co­me of such a situa­ti­on.

The reason for Hansen’s recent state­ment is a paper published in Decem­ber 2022 in Wild­life Socie­ty Bul­le­tin, which adds fac­tu­al weight to the argu­men­ta­ti­on that pep­per spray is effec­ti­ve against polar bears.

A speaks­per­son of the Sys­sel­mes­ter said that pep­per­spray is not legal­ly available in Spits­ber­gen. It would requi­re a chan­ge on a legal (govern­ment & par­lia­ment) level to chan­ge this. Until this pos­si­bly hap­pens, the dis­cus­sion will remain a purely theo­re­ti­cal one, at least for Sval­bard.

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last modification: 2023-11-22 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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