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Polar bear comes close in Rankin Inlet

‘I was looking at it right in the eyes and screaming for my life’
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

Joan Tugak was on her way to get coffee at the old town Quickstop in Rankin Inlet like any other morning at 7 a.m., but on this Wednesday, July 20 – there was a terrifying surprise in the fog.

“This morning was unreal,” she said. “A polar bear right in front of me. It looked at me, coming towards me.”

Wayne Quliit Kusugak was just finishing off his night shift at that point, and he could see a weird shape in the fog, which he soon recognized to be the bear.

“I heard a scream,” he remembers. “As soon as I heard that, I gave it a little more gas and I looked to my left and there was a lady. She was walking to the Quickstop to get Tim Horton’s, so I quickly sped up right in front of her, in between the polar bear and her, but the polar bear was really close.”

He unlocked his vehicle and Tugak jumped in the back passenger side. Tugak said the bear was about 10-15 feet away.

“I was looking at it right in the eyes and screaming for my life,” said Tugak.

She thanked Kusugak profusely.

“We sat there for a couple minutes asking, ‘You okay?’” said Kusugak after picking up Tugak. “I said, we have to follow this, because I wanted to be able to honk if I saw someone. So when I would think I saw a person, I would start honking and the polar bear would just keep going.”

He chased the bear in the fog towards Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik and then to Williamson Lake before a wildlife officer took over.

“The first five, seven however minutes was probably the scariest for me, and the lady too,” said Kusugak.

“It’s very unheard of for a polar bear to come right into town like this, especially it being foggy too. I had just finished a 12-hour night shift. Heart rate went up pretty quick.”

He said he was still shook up over it at 9 a.m.

Kivalliq News confirmed with the wildlife office that the bear had been chased out of town and was swimming toward Whale Cove.