Polar bears rarely come ashore in January but one did on Tuesday

Polar Bear stock image gg66298544_sm

In a life-mimics-fiction moment, this report appeared Tuesday morning (26 January) in The Telegram newspaper in Newfoundland:

“The RCMP is warning the public after reports were received of a polar bear in Tilting. Fresh bear tracks were seen in the Fogo Island community Tuesday.”

Tilting is a small town on the eastern shore of Fogo Island (see map below): Fogo Island sits off the northeast shore of Newfoundland (and is featured prominently in my new polar bear attack novel). Fogo Island lays at about the same latitude as London, England. The CBC, Canada’s national news outlet, also ran the story.

Fogo_on Fogo Island Newfoundland details

A government public advisory issued yesterday stated:

“Residents are cautioned following reported sightings of polar bears tracks near the community of Titling, on the eastern end of Fogo Island. Conservation officers confirmed the tracks to be within one kilometre of the community and believe the polar bear has since returned to saltwater. [my bold]

Polar bears are not usually seen onshore in Newfoundland until late March or April (previous stories here and here), after the ice has been close to shore for week and bears have feed extensively on newborn harp and hooded seal pups. Bears that come ashore in January – well before seal pups are born in spring (late February/mid-March) – can potentially be very dangerous because they are likely very hungry. None of the reports of this sighting gave any indication of the probable age of this bear. However, it must be kept in mind that young bears (3-5 years old) are more apt to be in a desperate state at this time of year.

Or, perhaps the bear caught interesting smells coming from shore and decided to take a short swim to check it out. The sea ice was still offshore at the time (see maps in yesterday’s post) but clearly, not too far off for the bear to swim. There may have been icebergs frozen into the pack ice that broke away (too small to show up on ice maps), that brought the bear further south than it would have ventured on its own.

It is a rare event for a polar bear to come ashore at Newfoundland in January, but it has happened before. Apparently, another bear came ashore, also on Fogo Island – in 1935 – and attacked someone. See the story below.

While doing research for my novel, I came across a story from 1935 of a bear attack in January that supposedly took place in the Barr’d Islands area of Fogo Island (Coish 1999). Barr’d Island is a small community on the north shore of Fogo Island, just west of Joe Batt’s Arm on the north shore (see the map above).

Here’s the gist of it, in my words:

Late in the evening of Sunday 20 January 1935 Eli Combden was walking home from church by the light of the moon. As he crossed the ice over the harbour, a polar bear jumped on his back. When he couldn’t shake it off, he backed up against the side of a store and dislodged the bear. He was able to run to a nearby house for help.

Two other local men went looking for the bear with their muzzle loaders and found the bear sleeping in the snow near a wharf. The bear was not large (and perhaps young?) but they killed it and shared the meat with their neighbours in Barr’d Island. Later, tracks of a much larger bear were spotted nearby, which might have been the smaller bear’s mother.

[This story is mentioned in the first chapter of my novel, EATEN, which I’ve made available for preview – read it here]

Coish, D (ed.) 1999. The unexpected visitor, pg. 39 In: Tales of Fogo Island. Fogo Island Literacy Association, Newfoundland. [found online]

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