Two people tragically died yesterday afternoon after an attack by a polar bear in the village of Wales on the Bering Strait. Few details are available and bad weather apparently hampered officials getting to the village immediately.
As expected, virtually all news reports are implying that a generic ‘lack of sea ice’ can be blamed for the incident. As usual, the specifics of this case show this claim is not only nonsense, but dangerous.
With the loss of sea ice and the ocean staying open later in the year, polar bears have been spending more time on land, which increases the chance of human encounters, said Joseph Jessup McDermott.
Polar bear attacks in winter are almost always associated with a bear that has not been able to resume feeding in the fall. More bears and restricted hunting means more young bears (as well as old bears or sick ones) become food stressed because they can’t compete with big mature males for food. Mature bears often steal any seals that young bears are able to kill, making the youngsters desperate for food.
The Chukchi Sea polar bears are currently thriving and numbers may still be increasing (AC SWG 2018; Conn et al. 2021; Regehr et al. 2018; Rode et al. 2014, 2015, 2018).
More details to follow on this horrific incident as they become available.
UPDATE 18 January 2023, 5:30PM PT: According to an Associated Press account, the victims were a 24 year old woman and her one-year old son: “Summer Myomick of Saint Michael and her son, Clyde Ongtowasruk, were killed in the attack, Alaska State Troopers said in a statement.”
No more details were provided on the state of the bear involved (sex, age, body condition). Regarding the blame-game, even though recent studies have shown that ringed and bearded seals in the Chukchi Sea are doing very well (Adam et al. 2019; Crawford and Quakenbush 2013; Crawford et al. 2015), Geoff York from Polar Bears International suggests there may not be enough seals for polar bears or the something may be wrong with the sea ice:
In this case, even though there is ice in the Chukchi and northern Bering seas, the quality of that ice is not known that well. More importantly, York said they don’t know what’s going on under the ice — or what the availability of seals and other prey is for polar bears.
The changes are also happening in winter, when people assume they are safe from polar bears being on shore.
“Communities may no longer be,” York said.Continue reading