A cruise line is facing public fury after one of its guards shot and killed a polar bear

  • A polar bear was shot and killed on Saturday by guards from the German cruise ship MS Bremen. 
  • According to the ship's owner, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, the bear was shot after it attacked a "polar bear guard" who was looking to see if the area was safe for tourists to explore. 
  • Many on social media were not pleased that an endangered animal was killed in its natural habitat. 

German cruise operator Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is facing some heavy backlash from the public after a guard employed by the company shot and killed a polar bear on an island in the Arctic Ocean.

The incident occurred on Saturday after the MS Bremen stopped off the island of Spitsbergen, in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. A group of "polar bear guards" from the ship went on land ahead of the tourists to make sure none of the animals were in the area. One of the guards was "unexpectedly attacked" by a polar bear, which was shot dead by another guard in an act of self-defense, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises said in a statement on Monday.

The company claims that the animal was only shot once it became apparent the attacked guard's life was in danger and that the animal would not leave the scene.

11 PHOTOS
Cruise line slammed on Twitter after guard kills polar bear
See Gallery
Cruise line slammed on Twitter after guard kills polar bear
Polar bear murdered by @HLCruisesInt in its own territory. Do the world a favour, people, and boycott this horrific… https://t.co/kPyYLEvHic
@HLCruisesInt Congratulations on the shooting of a Polar Bear in its natural surroundings to ensure the safety of y… https://t.co/JO6hFDqd6m
Why don’t you say you are very sad you killed a polar bear in its natural habitat and stop intruding in their home… https://t.co/LQnKzj3NPX
If the MS Bremen cruise ship HADN'T taken tourists onto the archipelago NO ONE would have been hurt especially now… https://t.co/wmkYPzyfo1
@HLCruisesInt Shame on you, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises Anything for a buck, right? https://t.co/ECKHXwq7sX via @nbcwashington
@itvnews # German Hapag Lloyd Cruises company. Should be banned, why where they so close to the polar bear Prosecut… https://t.co/4nuPPhYzEw
World, boycott the German Hapag Lloyd Cruises for *killing polar bears for profit.* That's what it was. They thin… https://t.co/AYErCbacMt
Disgusted with -> @HLCruisesInt perhaps you don't invade the habitat of endangered animals and your crew won't be p… https://t.co/QQgQQciPmb
MS Bremen, a cruise ship operated by Hapag Lloyd. @HLCruises is Disgraceful! They killed a polar on a remote island near the North Pole.💔💔💔
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises should be BOYCOTTED at all costs for this atrocity. 😠😠😠😠 https://t.co/xr7C434GPe
Boycott that stupid, polar bear murderer Hapag-Lloyd Cruises! Revoke its license & never allow it on the Arctic again!
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The Joint Rescue Coordination for northern Norway confirmed in a tweet on Saturday that the animal had been shot and killed. 

"We very much regret this incident," the cruise line said. "Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is very aware of its responsibility when traveling in environmentally-sensitive areas and respects all nature and wildlife." 

According to the Hamburg-based firm, its guard suffered head injuries from his encounter with the animal and was airlifted out to receive medical attention. His condition is stable and he "remains responsive." 

In a phone call with the New York Times, Moritz Krause, spokesman for Hapag-Llyod Cruises, said that usually, if a wild bear is seen, guards “shoot into the air” to scare the animal away. But he said the injured guard did not see the polar bear before it attacked. 

There are apparently 3,500 polar bears found in the Svalbard area, which forms the Arctic Ocean cluster the Spitsbergen island resides in. With a worldwide population of no more than 31,000, polar bears are among the most endangered species in the world. Public attention has recently increased to the plight polar bears face as their living conditions have changed drastically due to climate change.

RELATED: Polar bears struggling due to melting ice

10 PHOTOS
Polar bears struggling due to melting ice
See Gallery
Polar bears struggling due to melting ice
Canada, Manitoba, Churchill, Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) standing on melting sea ice in Hudson Bay on summer evening. (Photo by Paul Souders via Getty Images)
Canada, Nunavut Territory, Repulse Bay,Underwater view of Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) swimming near Harbour Islands in Hudson Bay (Photo by Paul Souders via Getty Images)
Polar bear on a wide surface of ice in the russian arctic close to Franz Josef Land. (Photo by Sepp Friedhuber via Getty Images)
Canada, Manitoba, Churchill, Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) swimming in Hudson Bay on summer evening (Photo by Paul Souders via Getty Images)
A Polar Bear leaps between two ice floes on the Arctic Ocean, north of the Svalbard archipelago. Full body shot with reflection, sunny and fine weather. (Photo by Richard Sidey via Getty Images)
Polar bears on August 13, 2015 in Murmansk region, Russia. (Photo by Alexander Petrosyan/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images)
A polar bear (Ursus maritimus) on the pack ice north of Svalbard, Norway. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is walking over the pack ice north of Svalbard, Norway. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A polar bear enjoying a midnight swim in Smeerenburgfjorden, Svalbard. With ice in the polar regions disappearing at record speed this hunting polar bear is literally taking a leap of faith jumping between two ice caps. The amazing picture was taken by American wildlife photographer Rebcecca Jackrel during a 22-day sailing expedition to capture the bears in their natural environment. The photographer, from San Francisco, travelled to the islands of Spitsbergen and Nordaustlandet in the independent archipelago of Svalbard to stake out her subjects. There she spent three weeks in a tiny boat watching more than twenty different bears go about their daily routine of hunting from the ocean. (Photo by Rebecca Jackrel/Barcroft Media/Getty Images)
Norway, Svalbard islands, Woodfjord, Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) on iceberg (Photo by DEA / C. SAPPA/De Agostini/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Even so, the dangers of encountering polar bears are well known to those traveling in the area. 

According to the Governor of Svalbard's website, "Due to the polar bear danger in Svalbard, any person traveling outside the settlements shall be equipped with appropriate means of frightening and chasing off polar bears. We also recommend carrying firearms outside the settlements."

On the Norwegian Polar Institute website, the Cruise Handbook for Svalbard states, "Due to the risk of meeting polar bears visitors travelling in Svalbard must always have firearms and protection devices at hand, such as a big-game rifle and ammunition for self-defence, flare gun or an emergency signal flare pen for driving off polar bears and tripwire with flares for camping." 

Despite these warnings, some people expressed anger on social media that a cruise ship company leading tourists on an exploration of an animal's natural habitat led to the death of an animal that is among the world's most endangered species. 

If the face of withering criticism appearing on public forums, Hapag-Llyod Cruises closed its statement with an apology:  

"Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has been traveling to these destinations for many years with an experienced crew. The cruise operator is respected in the destinations as a responsible partner and the experts actively inform the guests about the appropriate behavior required in these areas. We are extremely sorry that this incident has happened."

The company was founded in 1891 and the MS Bremen cruise ship has been in operation since 1990. 

More from Business Insider:

Read Full Story