SEATTLE – A polar bear was inadvertently shot to death by a security guard at BP’s Endicott field on the North Slope of Alaska when it approached a compound where oil workers live.
The shooting earlier this month marked the first time one of the region’s iconic bears – listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act – has died during a hazing operation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Bruce Woods said in an interview. The guard tried to “haze,” or scare away the bear, but ended up shooting it.
There are about 3,500 polar bears along the Arctic coast of Alaska, but their survival is increasingly threatened by shrinking sea ice.
Federal wildlife officials have imposed stiff restrictions to prevent operations on the North Slope’s busy oil fields from harming the bears, who in recent years have been spotted more frequently on shore as their ice habitat diminishes.
Hazing of bears who approach oil operators is permitted, and that apparently is what the security guard, contracted to BP by Purcell Security, tried to do Aug. 3 when a female bear was found walking toward a housing area at Endicott.
The guard flashed the lights and sounded the horn and siren on his vehicle, but when the bear began acting aggressively instead of retreating, he fired what he thought was a beanbag round, intended to strike the bear’s hindquarters and scare it away.
Several days later, the bear swam to a nearby island and by Aug. 15 had stopped moving – dead, it turned out. It was then determined that the security guard had fired not a beanbag round but a “cracker shell,” a loud explosive intended to be fired near but not at the bear to scare it away.