Polar bear attack sparks anger over Nunavut’s wildlife management

“We need to address the quota system”

By SARAH ROGERS

A polar bear swims near White Island in Nunavut's Kivalliq region. Inuit are calling for the territory's quota system to be addressed following an attack that killed a Naujaat man last week. (PHOTO BY J. MILORTOK/ARCTIC CO-OPS)


A polar bear swims near White Island in Nunavut’s Kivalliq region. Inuit are calling for the territory’s quota system to be addressed following an attack that killed a Naujaat man last week. (PHOTO BY J. MILORTOK/ARCTIC CO-OPS)

Kivalliq Inuit have expressed fear, frustration and grief following a polar bear attack that killed a young Naujaat hunter and injured two others last week.

The residents of Naujaat were preparing Wednesday to hold a funeral for the man who died sometime late last week on a hunting trip.

Three men, described as young but experienced hunters, left Naujaat by boat on Aug. 21 to hunt caribou and narwhal southeast of the community, in Lyon Inlet.

Each of the three was armed, but no one carried a GPS device, said Rob Hedley, the senior administrative officer at the Hamlet of Naujaat.

Based on reports from the two surviving hunters, the group was attacked by a mother polar bear and her cub, likely on Thursday, Aug. 23.

The polar bears mauled one of the hunters so badly that he died from his injuries the following day.

Both polar bears were killed on the site. Other polar bears are reported to have come to the site later on.

When the hunting party hadn’t returned home by the weekend, a search was launched on Aug. 26, which included a Coast Guard icebreaker, a Hercules aircraft and a ground search by local crews.

The men were spotted from a helicopter in Lyon Inlet, about 70 kilometres southeast of Naujaat, early Tuesday morning and flown home.

Hedley said the two surviving hunters’ injuries were minor and the men are at home with their families.

“It was quite scary,” he said.

Hamlet staff were making arrangements for the funeral of the victim, who has been identified as Darryl Kaunak, set to take place on Thursday.

Hedley said the community of roughly 1,000 has seen a high number of polar bears near town this year, while its wildlife officer is often tasked with diverting polar bears away.

Fear and anger have grown in many Kivalliq communities in recent years, as polar bear sightings and polar bear-human conflict becomes more common.

Many Kivalliq Inuit say the attack could have been avoided if Nunavut wildlife authorities acknowledged and addressed the increase in bears around the region.

“We need to address the quota system,” said Aivilik MLA Patterk Netser, who represents Naujaat and his hometown of Coral Harbour in Nunavut’s legislature.

“We’ve seen in years past that the polar bear population is exploding. They’re destroying our cabins and camps.”

And now they’re killing people, he noted—this attack marks the second fatal polar bear attack in Nunavut this year.

Earlier this year, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board decided to increase the total allowable harvest of the Western Hudson Bay subpopulation to 38 polar bears per year; 14 in Foxe Basin and five in the Gulf of Boothia.

But this summer, six polar bears have had to be destroyed in Coral Harbour alone after threatening the safety of local residents, Netser said.

Netser said one issue is the territory’s stipulation that only 30 per cent of harvested polar bears can be female; every polar bear harvested above that amount accounts as four polar bears in the total allowable take.

“It’s outdated,” Netser said. “We need to seriously look at a new [agreement.]”

“We see a lot of female bears with their cubs,” he added. “The Government of Nunavut has to come to the table and say the Inuit know what they’re talking about.”

“We’ve been here for thousands of years and we monitor our wildlife. We’ve never decimated a species. We assess things by seeing things.”

The NWMB plans to hold a public hearing on Nunavut’s draft polar bear co-management plan in Iqaluit this fall.

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