The territorial government is advising Nunavimmiut not to approach wildlife, as animals are getting too comfortable around humans.
“We’ve had a couple reports of polar bears within the area and just wanted to let (people) know to be aware and be safe,” warned Olaf Christensen, wildlife officer in Grise Fiord on Oct. 22.
In an interview, Christensen explained it is normal for the species to be more noticeable this time of year.
“Fall is here now so the polar bears are out and about looking for food and hunting for seals,” he said.
More bears were reported in the area on Oct. 23, when an animal was seen going through the dump.
“Many narwhal carcasses were disposed of at the dump which the bears can smell,” explained Christensen.
The last two deaths resulting from polar bear attacks in Nunavut took place in Arviat in 2018, and before that, in Rankin Inlet in 1999.
The two communities in the Kivalliq region are used to polar bears especially around this time of year. The animals often visit the dump, forcing the community to keep more than five bear monitors on duty at all time.
Most tourist operations that promote polar bear sightings are based in the Kivalliq area, which could explain why the animals seem comfortable with people.
“I haven’t heard of any reports of people feeding bears within my area,” said Christensen. “But polar bears are very unpredictable and you just never know what they can do. Most times when we get reports of bears close to town, they’re usually just curious or hungry and go through meat stashes intended for dogs, but eventually when they see people, they run away.”
Climate change in the Arctic is forcing wild animals to adapt from how they feed themselves to how they navigate the new conditions of the territory.
“If the sea ice is constantly moving, the bears will start to go into the communities and look for food,” said Christensen. “When they’re hungry, they don’t care who is in their way. My buddy harvested a seal in winter and was cutting it up during dark season, so the only light he had was his head lamp. When he was about finished, he said he had a gut feeling something was behind him.”
Good thing he did because when he looked back, there were two polar bears, a mother and her cub, sneaking up on him.
“When the bear realized he was spotted, the bear went to attack and tried to get my buddy,” said Christensen. “He wasn’t interested in the seal but the person instead. He tried throwing away the seal meat at them but the bear directly tried running towards him instead and my buddy took his rifle and shot the mother bear two ft. away from him, the barrel basically touching the bear. He eventually shot the cub as self-defence.”
One bear was harvested in Clyde River near the airport on Oct. 24. “The tag was given and the hunter had 24 hours to harvest the bear.
“There aren’t too many this fall, unlike other years,” says Marino Sanguya, community liaison officer for Clyde River.