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Iceland Mag

Animals

Search for polar bear in North Iceland called off: could have been "the scariest sheep ever"

By Staff

  • A polar bear or a scary sheep? The French anglers were startled by a very large, and scary looking sheep. Photo/Craig Trotto

Police in North East Iceland and the Icelandic Coast Guard have called off the search for a polar bear on Melrakkaslétta peninsula in N.E. Iceland after an extensive search from land and air. The search was launched after foreign travelers who were trout finishing reported they had spotted a polar bear. The men were unable to photograph the animal, as they were too startled and scared to pause and search for a camera. Nobody else has seen the animal.

Read more: Polar bear sighted on Melrakkaslétta peninsula: Police and Coast Guard on alert

The search for the suspected polar bear was called off at 16:30 after an extensive search from land and air. Police in NE Iceland stress that they do take the report seriously and urge people in the area to be on their toes and to report any polar bear sightings immediately.

Spotted something "very big" 
The three men, French travelers who were angling for trout in Hraunhafnará river on the northern tip of Melrakkaslétta, had parked their car by the farm Skinnalón and walked some four kilometers (2.5 mi) to the river. David Zehla, the men's guide told the National Broadcasting Service RÚV one of the men suddenly shouts "There is a polar bear in front of us!" Zehla told RÚV that he didn't see the animal clearly himself, as he normally wears glasses but had taken them off. However, he did see something "very big". The other man had panicked and ran off.

Rather than stay and investigate Zehla and the third man run after the man who had initially seen the polar bear. After running a few minutes the men stopped to catch their breath, and Zehla tried to get a grip on the situation.

"Our buddy was 100% sure he had seen a bear and that it was a polar bear. Of course we decided to err on the side of caution, so we hurried back to the car and returned to safety."

When safe the men talked to locals who told them that polar bears have been spotted in the region in the past. Zehla told RÚV that they then decided to contact police and report the sighting. "I gave them all the information we had and they set off to search for the bear.

A very big and super scary sheep
Zehla also posted a statement on his Facebook page to clarify the news of the bear sighting . He admits that he can't be sure if he actually saw a bear, saying it could also have been a very larg and terrifyingly scary sheep:

"When we go fishing in Melrakkaslétta, south of Hraunhafnará, and one of us shouts there is a polar bear, 60 - 70 meters from us, no time to double check if it was a sheep or a bear but I saw something pretty big and unusually white...my fishing budy was 100 % sure it was a bear. Panic, we ran for our lives.

4 km from the jeep, in a ruff terrain, moors, high grass, streams. We dropped the trouts we fished on the way . Luckily the wind was coming from the south and we were heading north so no smell of our fear for the bear. We are still not sure if there is a bear or not in the area. If not, we might have encountered the scariest sheep ever and all the fishermen will make fun of us. We'll see."

Halla Bergþóra Björnsdóttir, the chief of police in North East Iceland told the local news site Vísir that the search had not turned up anything to suggest a polar bear, but did not rule out the possibility that the bear had swum back out to sea. "They were very sure they saw a polar bear," she told Vísir, "They didn't see any other sheep in the area. Usually sheep travel in small groups of several animals, which led the men to assume they hadn't seen a sheep. But the animal was at some distance, making it difficult for them to say with certainty what they actually saw."

Polar bears are not native to Iceland, but have on rare occasions come ashore after traveling across the ocean on ice floats. Sheep, however, are very common anywhere outside urban areas, as Iceland is one of very few countries in the world with more sheep than people. Unlike polar bears, who are carnivorous, sheep live on a plant-based diet. Another important difference between polar bears and sheep is that while polar bears are extremely dangerous sheep are totally harmless to humans. At least under all normal circumstances: Wandering sheep can pose a serious hazard to drivers.

Read more: A German faced with a 2,000 EUR bill after a collision with a sheep

Read more: No hit and run: Drivers urged to report stricken lambs on the road

Snap decisions can be extremely costly
We at Iceland Magazine hope David's friends and colleagues don't give him and his fishing buddies too much of a hard time: Polar bears are terrifying animals, and they can come ashore in North Iceland when drift ice comes close to shore - which is usually in late June, early July. Usually it is better to err on the side of caution. But we would also like to urge people to stay calm when confronted with danger or a problem while traveling in Iceland:

You are more likely to make sound decisions if you take a moment to evaluate the situation and your options. This applies to polar bear sightings as well as river crossing. Excessive haste and snap decisions can end up being extremely costly, and even dangerous both to you personally, but also to others.

Read more: Slideshow of the day: Travelers escape, camper van destroyed while crossing unbridged river

Read more: Ask the expert: How to cross those unbridged rivers in the Central Highlands?

Always exercise caution and calm in difficult, challenging or scary circumstances.

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