Wildlife experts were calling the killing of a Suncor worker by a black bear in the Alberta oil sands rare on Thursday as authorities sought details in the fatal attack.
The woman, whose identity had not been released as of May 8, was mauled to death at about 2 p.m. Mountain Time at a Suncor Energy Inc. base camp about 15 miles north of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, according to CBC News. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were called immediately as other workers tried to intervene, according to news reports. Police shot and killed the bear, but the woman was declared dead at the scene.
Occupational Health and Safety Alberta is investigating, and Suncor released a statement, saying that victim identification would only be made with the consent of the family.
"We are shocked by this very unusual incident and there are no words to express the tragedy of this situation,” said Mark Little, Suncor executive vice president, Upstream. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to family, friends and co-workers. All of us need to focus on personal safety, and I would urge everyone to be extremely vigilant in dealing with wildlife."
Details were still limited as of Thursday afternoon, Suncor spokesperson Sneh Seetal told Reuters, adding that the matter is being thoroughly investigated.
"It's a major industrial site with lots of noise and activity. Other workers tried to intervene," she told Reuters.
Such attacks are “exceedingly rare,” University of Calgary bear-behavior expert Stephen Herrero told CBC News on May 8. The television network reported that two oil rig workers were killed by a black bear in 1980 near Zama Lake, also in northern Alberta, but that this was the first bear-related fatality since then.
"There hasn't been a fatal attack by a black bear in Alberta for about 13 years," Herrero told CBC News.
The late arrival of spring in northern Alberta could have had something to do with the bear’s aggressiveness, said Bill Abercrombie, a trapper and wildlife expert, to CBC News. Bears awakening from hibernation to cooler than usual temperatures could have trouble finding food, which could add an aggression factor, he said.
“This spring we’re running a little late in terms of the frost coming out of the ground and the forage for the bears being available in a timely manner for them when they’re out of their dens,” Abercrombie told CBC News. “I think the bears might be a little hungrier this spring.”