Breaking news: One hunter killed, two injured in polar bear attack in Foxe Basin

A man from Naujaat, Nunavut (formerly Repulse Bay) has been killed by a polar bear and her cub, and his two hunting companions injured. The party was found today by a search and rescue team on White Island, southeast of Naujaat after they were reported overdue home on Sunday. A total of five bears were destroyed at the scene: the female and her cub responsible for the attack, plus three other bears attracted to the site and still present when rescuers arrived. This is the second fatal polar bear attack in Nunavut this summer (see previous post here). A very sad day indeed.

Foxe Basin polar_bears_rowley_island_Stapleton 2012 press photo labeled sm

Excerpts from news reports below and more details to follow on this incident as they become available. Map below shows location of Naujaat, with White Island about 100 km southeast (off Southampton Island):

Naujaat location_Foxe Basin_Google maps

UPDATE 6 September 2018: According to examination of the bodies, all of the bears involved (apparently only 4, not 5) were in good condition. See post here and news announcement here.

According to the CBC (28 August 2018), five polar bears were destroyed following the attack [my bold]:

“A man from Nunavut has been killed in a polar bear attack, according to officials.

He was attacked by a mother polar bear and her cub, said Solomon Malliki, the mayor of Naujaat, the northern community from which the man and two other hunters set out last week.

The other hunters were injured in the attack.

The mother and cub were destroyed at the scene, Malliki said, as were three other bears who were attracted to the area in the following days.

It was not immediately clear when the attack happened.

The three hunters left Naujaat last week to go caribou and narwhal hunting, according the RCMP. They didn’t return on Thursday as planned and were reported overdue on Sunday.

Malliki said they’d been hampered by bad weather and mechanical problems.

On Monday, the Canadian Armed Forces Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Trenton, Ont., organized a search and rescue mission with Nunavut authorities and local community searchers.

A Hercules aircraft and multiple boats from Naujaat began searching, the statement said, but the team was not able to reach the location where they believed the hunters were, because ice was blocking their path.

Earlier Tuesday, a second Hercules aircraft and a coast guard icebreaker, CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, joined the search effort.

The men were located on White Island, some 100 kilometres southeast of Naujaat, by the icebreaker’s helicopter, according to a spokesperson for the coast guard and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“We are saddened by this incident and send our thoughts and condolences to the families involved,” said Lauren Solski in an email.

The name of the dead man has not been released.”

Read the whole story here.

Other versions: CTVNews (28 Aug 2018); Globe and Mail (28 Aug 2018).

UPDATE 29 August 2018: One of the survivors of the attack has described what they went through and predictably, Andrew Derocher blames lack of sea ice due to global warming for “bears spending more time ashore” even though sea ice has not been low in Foxe Basin this summer. See excerpt below.

From the CBC:

“Leo Ijjangiaq said the fatal polar bear attack that killed one of his friends started with a mother polar bear and her cub coming up to their tent last Thursday [July 23]. 

In an interview in Inuktitut with CBC News, the 38-year-old from Naujaat, Nunavut, said the men were having morning tea on Aug. 23 when they noticed the animals approaching their camp.

The three had left the community by boat on Aug. 21 to hunt caribou and narwhal.

“I ran out of the tent,” said Ijjangiaq. “I fired my rifle in the air to scare the bear away.”
Ijjangiaq said the mother bear bit into Laurent Junior Uttak’s head. It then chased down Darryl Kaunak, who was running away, and mauled him.

Ijjangiaq said he shot the bear with his rifle, but it jammed. He got another rifle and shot at it again and killed the animal. The cub was shot as well.

The two men attempted first aid on Kaunak, but he was lifeless. Ijjangiaq said they covered his remains in a tarp.

Ijjangiaq said that in the following days, as the hunters huddled with the body of their friend waiting to be rescued, several other bears circled their camp.

“More bears approached us,” said Ijjangiaq, who said he shot the bears. “I told my friend that I will take all criminal responsibility for every bear that we kill.”

The men sheltered in the cab of their boat until they were rescued Tuesday [Aug 28].

They were eventually spotted by a search helicopter from the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis St-Laurent in the early hours of Tuesday.

Ijjangiaq said he and Uttak heard the aircraft and ran out to signal with fire and smoke.

The survivors refused to leave Kaunak’s remains behind, and it took three men to carry the body into the helicopter, he said.”

And from the Toronto Star today [my bold]:

“Andrew Derocher, a polar bear biologist at the University of Alberta, pointed out that quotas are set in Nunavut after consultation with hunters.

He warned that without careful management of the animals, the international community would be likely to ban exports of polar bear products and trophies from Canada, wiping out important income for Inuit.

That could leave Inuit killing even fewer bears, much like when the European ban on seal fur destroyed that market.

“The seal harvest dropped dramatically,” Derocher said.

He argued quotas aren’t the problem. Local hunters didn’t even take their allotted 100 bears last year, he said.

The Foxe Basin bear population around Naujaat has lost about 30 days of sea ice cover over the last several decades in the area where it hunts.

“Bears start to move ashore,” Derocher said. “Once all those bears are on shore, the likelihood of them coming into conflict with people increases.

“The ecosystem is changing. People in polar bear habitat have to look at changing some of their behaviour.”

The Canadian Ice Service graph below shows that while sea ice was almost gone by 20 August in 2017 and 2016, there was still more than 30% ice cover this year at that time:

Foxe Basin sea ice same week with average at Aug 20 2018

In other words, polar bears were not forced ashore earlier than usual this year by lack of sea ice: it’s likely that most bears had only recent come ashore.

Below is the ice chart for the end of July 2018 (Foxe Basin is in the lower left quadrant):

Eastern Arctic weekly concentration 2018 July 30

As he has done before, Derocher is conflating a trend in sea ice with an observation in a particular year: ‘bears are coming ashore earlier than they used to and spending more time onshore’ is a description of the general trend, not a description of what has happened this year.

Pushing generalize climate change rhetoric does not help the situtation. We need specifics from authorities on the state of the sea ice at the time and the state of all of the bears involved in the attack.

So far, however, officials have been loath to release any information about the state of the bears involved in such attacks. We still do not have the results of the necropsy on the bear responsible for the Arviat in early July, for example.

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