1:31pm UK, Wednesday August 11, 2010
An explorer has described the moment he was attacked by a polar bear – waking up to find the animal’s jaws around his head.
Sebastian Plur Nilssen was attacked last week as he slept in a tent on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.
Mr Nilssen was travelling with his expedition partner, Ludvig Fjeld, as they attempted to become the first ever team to paddle 1,250 miles around the island chain.
Despite protecting their tent with a trip-wire hooked to a early warning flare, Mr Nilssen woke face-to-face with the biggest land predator in the world.
The 23-year-old was dragged screaming from the tent, with his head clamped in the animal’s jaws.
The polar bear was shot dead after the attack
The adult male bear flung the young explorer’s body from side to side in an attempt to stun him, a technique typically used on its usual prey of seals.
The polar bear’s teeth pierced Mr Nilssen’s lung as it fought for a better grip and narrowly missed a main artery in his neck.
“It was so strong I could not fight, I grabbed for my shotgun and tried to shoot it but [the polar bear] had snapped [the gun] in half,” he said.
“It must have been only a minute I was in his jaws but it felt like forever.
“It was a big bear, at one point it stood up on its back legs with me in its mouth, I was 2.5 metres off the ground and it seemed very high.”
Mr Nilssen was sleeping in his tent when the polar bear attacked
As the bear made off with Mr Nilssen, his 22-year-old expedition partner scrambled to find their other rifle.
“I was about 20 or 25 metres from the bear and it had Sebastian in its mouth, I was very worried I did not want to hit Sebastian as well,” said Mr Fjeld.
“That would have been a really bad day for him.
“When I fired the first shot, the bear dropped him, but I had to fire four more to make sure it was dead.
The bear broke Mr Nilssen’s gun that he had hoped to defend himself with
Mr Nilssen was airlifted from the scene, bleeding heavily, and was rushed into an emergency three-hour operation.
But despite his brush with death, Mr Nilssen said he was not angry at the bear, speculating that it carried out its unusual attack on humans because it was hungry.
“I must be one of the only people in the world who can say when people ask me about my scars, ‘I got them in a fight with a polar bear’,” he said.
Polar bears are protected under strict conservation laws and can only be shot in self defence.