A horrific bear attack in a Suncor oil sands site in Alberta ended with one employee dead on Wednesday, much to the shock of the company. Spokespeople from the Alberta-based Suncor said that the incident was the first in the company’s history, and was especially surprising because it occurred in a company base camp.
“It’s a big operation, a big facility, so I wouldn’t categorize it as a remote facility,” spokeswoman Sneh Seetal told the CBC.
The attack occurred about 15 miles from Fort McMurray. CTV Calgary reported that a group of seven employees were on site doing electrical work when a large black bear approached the crew and began mauling one of the technicians. The victim, 36-year-old Lorna Weafer, was dragged away from her co-workers and killed.
“People tried to stop it and do everything they could. Obviously they are fairly horrified at what they saw and witnessed,” said Scott Doherty, a spokesman for the union that represented the workers.
Seetal says that Suncor employees are trained to handle wildlife encounters but was unable to confirm if the facility had fences. None of the employees present at Wednesday’s attack were reported to be carrying bear spray. Instead, they attempted to distract the bear with air horns, fire extinguishers, and at one point a water cannon. After the attack, Royal Canadian Mounted Police responded to the scene and found one large black bear still in the area. The animal was killed and was turned over to wildlife officials to confirm whether it was the bear involved in Weafer’s death.
Although Alberta has an estimated black bear population of over 40,000, there has not been a fatal attack since 1991. Suncor is expected to launch an investigation into incident, as well as Alberta Fish and Wildlife. Occupational Health and Safety also stated that it will be conducting its own investigation of the matter.
“We don’t know why this happened. We are reminding people to be especially vigilant in dealing with wildlife. That’s why it’s so important we conduct a full investigation and work with the regulatory bodies to determine what happened in this tragic situation,” Seetal said.
Wildlife officials do not believe the attack was provoked and are currently calling it a predatory act. Although bear attacks are rare, encounters seem to be growing increasingly common in Alberta. In 2011, 145 black bears were shot in an attempt to keep the population from venturing into urban areas.