Nunavut survivor describes what a polar bear attack is like

From NunatsiaqOnline yesterday, a detailed description of a polar bear attack that took place along Hudson Strait, within the Davis Strait polar bear subpopulation.

Kimmirut Nunavut_Google maps

Kootoo Shaw was wearing nothing but long johns and a T-shirt when a 400-pound polar bear dragged him by his toes along the tundra towards the ocean outside Kimmirut in September 2003.

Shaw, 46, was working as a guide on a sport-hunting trip when the attack occurred in the early morning.

“My captain was running four steps ahead of me, I looked back and the polar bear was three steps behind me. And then I tripped on a rock, it was just a small rock, this big,” Shaw said Jan. 12 at the Unikkaarvik Visitors Centre in Iqaluit, showing with his hands a baseball-sized rock.

Shaw kicked off the centre’s 2016 guest speaker series Jan. 12 by regaling the audience of 50 with his story of narrowly escaping the jaws of a four- or five-year-old male polar bear.

“I thought I am going to leave my kids behind,” Shaw said of the attack, which left his scalp peeled back from the skull and his back riddled with scratches, gouges and a gaping two-inch hole.

Shaw, who looked to be about five feet four inches tall, said he was sleeping in a tent with his captain when the pair woke to find the bear inside their tent.

“That was the scariest thing. It looked like our tent was full of snow — so much white fur everywhere.”

Shaw scrambled for a knife to defend himself but couldn’t find one in the tent.

The captain was the first to flee the tent and Shaw said he was quick to follow.

If only he hadn’t tripped on that rock.

After dragging Shaw a few feet, the polar bear stopped, put his back paw on Shaw’s back, and then fit Shaw’s head between his fangs.

“And then he ripped [my scalp] like paper. It sounded like paper ripping,” Shaw remembers.

Read the rest here.

Young male polar bears often have a marginal existence; they are still relatively inexperienced at hunting and older, stronger bears often claim their kills before they can consume very much fat. These young bears that don’t get enough to eat in the spring can be desperate with hunger during the fasting times of summer or winter. If their luck turns, they can starve to death.

Moose Factory_polar-bear-in-dump_CBC Dec 22 2015

In the the chapter on polar bears in Wild Mammals of North America written by biologist Steven Amstrup (2003:602) there is this pertinent statement:

Starvation of independent young as well as very old animals must account for much of the natural mortality among polar bears… Also, age structure data show that subadults aged 2-5 years survive at lower rates than adults (Amstrup 1995), probably because they are still learning hunting and survival skills.

I once observed a 3-year-old subadult that weighed only 70 kg in November. This was near the end of the autumn period in which Beaufort Sea bears reach their peak weights (Durner and Amstrup 1996), and his cohorts at that time weighed in excess of 200 kg. This young animal apparently had not learned the skills needed to survive and was starving to death.”[my bold]

See my review of another Davis Strait polar bear attack story here.

Amstrup, S.C. 2003. Polar bear (Ursus maritimus). In Wild Mammals of North America, G.A. Feldhamer, B.C. Thompson and J.A. Chapman (eds), pg. 587-610. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

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