Barneo Ice Camp, which is temporarily built on an ice floe in the arctic each year, shut down once again over this past weekend, with all staff, visitors, gear, and supplies now evacuated from the ice. By all accounts, it was another successful season, with a number of teams using the base as a gateway to and from the Arctic. And while there were no full-distance skiers to the North Pole this year, there were plenty of "last degree" expeditions that covered the final distance to the top of the world.
For the most part, the Arctic season came and went without too much to report. It was generally business as usual this season, with only groups of travelers and some researchers coming and going from Barneo. But, if you read this blog with regularity, you may recall that last week I wrote a story about an incident that left a polar bear wounded (and potentially dangerous) in the Arctic. That story had now blown up into a full-fledged controversy with clients accusing the guide of wrongdoing, contradictory statements from those involved, and a lot of questions as to what actually happened.
When I posted the article last week, the news was that a bear had wandered to close to a last degree ski team and that in an attempt to scare it away, they actually shot the animal, leaving it injured. A wounded bear can be extremely dangerous, and there were conflicting reports as to whether or not the guide for the expedition – polar vet Dixie Dansercoer – actually reported the incident to the team at Barneo, who could then relay that info on to other teams on the ice. At the time, the base manger Irina Orlova claimed that Dansercoer had failed to disclose the info fully, creating a bit of a stir as a result.
Now, the story has become a full-blown controversy. Dixie told his story to ExWeb, relaying the incident has he saw it. But one of his clients, a woman named Evelyn Binsack, shot a video of the entire incident, and it apparently contradicts much of what Dixie claimed. Binsack says that Dixie only fired a single warning shot at the animal and urged another member of the team to shoot the creature directly without giving it much of a chance to leave on its own. She also says at the time the bear was behind an ice block about 30 meters away and was not being aggressive at all.
According to reports the bear was shot in the shoulder, head, or possibly the jaw, and fled at a high rate. Dixie attempted to follow, but couldn't keep up and was unclear at the time whether or not the animal had been wounded. He claims that he reported the entire story to Barneo at his regularly scheduled sat phone call later that evening.
Apparently, Binsack has turned over the video to the police and an investigation into the matter is being conducted. Dansercoer has spoken with officials and has admitted that her video footage contradicts some of the statements he made early on. Where the story goes from here is anyone's guess, as there are no hard and fast rules with how to deal with a polar bear in the Arctic. Still, the situation is a precarious one, as the animal was clearly injured and could have been dangerous to others as well. The International Polar Guides Association is investigating the story and will likely try to suggest new rules and guidelines moving forward.