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Naujaat man mauled to death by polar bear

One man is dead following the second deadly polar bear attack in the Kivalliq during the past two months.

Darryl Kaunak, 33, of Naujaat lost his life when a female polar bear and her cub surprised he and his hunting companions, Leo Ijjangiaq and Laurent Jr. Uttak, while they were having tea on the morning of Aug. 23 at Lyon Inlet, about 70 km southeast of Naujaat.

Polar bears have claimed the lives of two men in the Kivalliq this summer with Darryl Kaunak, 33, of Naujaat being mauled to death on Aug. 23 and Aaron Gibbons of Arviat losing his life while trying to protect his family on July 4. NNSL file photo

Aaron Gibbons of Arviat lost his life on July 4 when he heroically protected his family from a polar bear's attack. He was unarmed at the time.

Uttak, Ijjangiaq and Kaunak had become stranded at Lyon Inlet when their boat experienced mechanical difficulties and ice blew in, preventing a return to open water.

After the bear had fatally mauled Kaunak it and its cub were taken down by Ijjangiaq, who then unsuccessfully tried to help Uttak administer first aid to their fallen comrade.

Ijjangiaq later took down two other bears who were circling he and Uttak, when the two refused to leave the body of their friend behind.

The two men were rescued during the early morning hours of Aug. 28 after being spotted by a search helicopter from the icebreaker CCGS Louis St-Laurent. They had originally left Naujaat to hunt tuktu and narwhal on Aug. 21.

Naujaat SAO Rob Hedley said the community was in shock and then in mourning over Kaunak's death.

"They left Naujaat to go caribou and narwhal hunting, but they had a problem with their boat and had to go into one of the little inlets to set-up camp and see if they could fix the problem.

"Then the ice blew in and they became kind of blocked off, so they couldn't get back to open water even if they wanted to.

"They only had a CB radio and they were trying to raise someone on that, but they couldn't get hold of anybody for whatever reason."

Hedley said most of the people on boats around Naujaat were close to town at the time because of the bowhead hunt.

He said it must have been horrible for Ijjangiaq and Uttak to see their friend die and then be stalked by more bears for the following three days, keeping them on edge and trying to stay alert without much sleep.

"They left on Tuesday (Aug. 21) and weren't expected back until that Thursday or Friday. The family notified the RCMP when they still hadn't returned by Saturday (Aug. 25) and a Hercules aircraft was sent out the following day but they couldn't be located.

"Ground searchers were also sent out by boat toward Lyon Inlet but they couldn't get in to where they thought the men were because of the ice conditions.

"Everyone, understandably, was very shocked and upset when this first happened, and it's been particularly tough on the family because they had just lost Darryl's father, Denis, this past March.

"His dad was my foreman at the hamlet, so I knew Darryl personally and I knew his dad very well."

Tensions have been especially high concerning polar bears across the Kivalliq recently with two deaths and another close call in Rankin Inlet.

Hedley said there's definitely an undercurrent of frustration right now in Naujaat.

"I can't say it's everybody, but there's a fair number of people now saying if they see a polar bear out there they're shooting it. End of story.

"Before, the community was more about the right to manage and trying to scare a bear away but it's more like an attitude of shoot first and ask questions later now.

"There's also concern over the quota when one community (Coral Harbour) has more than 40 tags and we have less than 10.

"We're getting more and more polar bear incursions here and I can't tell you why because I really don't know why, but when you look at things like tourism in Churchill and changing weather patterns – anytime you alter the behaviour of a wild animal it's going to be different."

Hedley said Naujaat does have a mental-health nurse and a social worker on staff, and he's already spoken to the Government of Nunavut (GN) about additional help if and when it's required.

He said it may be a while before certain emotions manifest themselves in the community.

"Right now we seem to be OK but sometimes, when something like this happens, there's shock and denial initially.

"There's a bit of a cathartic release following the funeral but sometimes really heavy emotions don't manifest themselves until weeks or even months later, with the realization is there that the person is truly gone.

"We may need some additional resources at that time and I've been assured by the GN if that proves to be the case, whatever resources are needed will be mobilized."