Rare attack in Alaska renews interest in polar bear patrols

by | Jan 20, 2023 | Science

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — For isolated communities at the top of the world, keeping the planet’s largest land predators — polar bears — out of town is key to coexistence.That can mean patrolling for the animals by snowmobile or four-wheeler, shooing them away with spotlights or a revved engine, or hazing them with beanbag shotguns. In one Canadian town, polar bears that can’t be scared off are kept in an air-conditioned “bear jail” until they can be flown out onto the sea ice. Such bear patrols have long succeeded in reducing conflict.But this week, a polar bear attack killed a mother and her 1-year-old son in Wales, a tiny, remote Alaska whaling village whose bear patrol had lapsed. The incident — the first fatal polar bear attack in Alaska in 30 years — underscored the risks of living alongside the creatures, which can weigh more than 1,700 pounds (771 kg).While it’s not clear why the bear attacked, and while no patrol can prevent all troublesome encounters between bears and people, the mauling has renewed interest in such programs.“There’s absolutely discussion now in Wales, saying, ‘Hey, maybe things have changed to the point that we need this, and how do we do that?’” said Susan Nedza, the chief administrator for the Bering Strait School District.Polar bear attacks are extremely rare. But as climate change reduces the amount of Arctic ice, forcin …

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