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‘My job is to deter first’: Conservation officer opts not to shoot bear

More bears in Kivalliq this summer due to pack ice distribution
Joan Tugak came within mere metres of this polar bear Wednesday morning in Rankin Inlet. She was rescued by Wayne Quliit Kusugak, who happened to be getting off his night shift and heard her scream. Photo courtesy of Joan Tugak

Conservation officer Daniel Kaludjak was called to the scene of a polar bear roaming Rankin Inlet near Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik just after 7 a.m. Wednesday, July 20.

The bear had just come close to a resident in town – Joan Tugak – but was being chased away by the honking of Wayne Quliit Kusugak, who picked up Tugak.

Kaludjak followed the bear around Williamson Lake and toward Home Hardware. It was headed toward Arctic Heating’s garage, said Kaludjak, who continued chasing it out toward the airstrip with his vehicle, twelve gauge and a couple of bear bangers.

When it passed the airstrip and went down the hill, he left off a few bear bangers and watched the bear swim to a point, where it laid down on the shore. Wesley Innukshuk swung by on an ATV, so Kaludjak jumped on and the two made their way to the point to deter it further.

“The bear went back in the water and we just watched it swim away until we couldn’t see it in the fog. We waited at that point for about 15-20 minutes and never seen it again,” said Kaludjak.

But later that night, Kaludjak got another message that the bear was trying to come back in town, and photos of the bear on the outskirts of Rankin Inlet hit social media again around midnight.

However, Kaludjak said the person who reported it later said it was headed toward Diane River area, and as of Thursday, July 21, it hadn’t been seen or reported in town.

Some on social media wondered why the bear hadn’t been shot.

“My job is to deter first,” said Kaludjak. “If it’s a dangerous bear, I would have put it down.”

But when he encountered it, he didn’t think it seemed aggressive or wanted interaction with humans.

“My decision was just to get it out of Rankin and deter it,” said Kaludjak, noting that could change if it returned to town.

More bears because of pack ice distribution

Kaludjak said seeing bears in Rankin Inlet is very rare, and there have been more reports of sightings this year than other years.

He attributes that to the pack ice distribution, caused by extended easterly winds in the Hudson Bay.

“That’s where the polar bears do their hunting,” he said about the pack ice that floats in the ocean. “This year, we had easterly winds and all the pack ice was on our side for so many weeks. We couldn’t even go walrus hunting. So all the bears that were on the pack ice probably headed toward shore once the ice left.”

And now, there are more bears than usual being reported around all communities in the Kivalliq, he said.

Because of that, Kaludjak advises people to be cautious when out on the land this summer.