Polar bear killed outside Iqaluit
“It was already injured, we had no choice but to do that”
A polar bear first spotted at Sylvia Grinnell River just west of Iqaluit was shot dead at an elders’ camp on Frobisher Bay on July 29.
Johnny Nowdluk, a local wildlife officer, heard about the bear when a local fisherman came into his office on July 27 to report a bear he’d seen earlier that day while checking his net at the river.
“We did go over and check and the bear was right above that tower where people go fishing,” Nowdluk says. “We used a shotgun just to scare it away.”
Nowdluk went back into town to pick up the patrol boat to follow the bear.
The bear crossed the river to an island, where it was spotted by Moses Korgak, who was camped across the river with his family.
“They followed it to about two or three miles north of Qaummaarviit [Island, 13 km west of Iqaluit],” Nowdluk says. “By that time I was over there and we made sure it went on land and was away from town. That’s the last we seen of that bear that day.”
But two days later two hunters came into his office to report a bear at an outpost camp near the bay of Two Rivers, a 45-minute boat ride straight across the bay, where four or five elders were camping.
“We were told that they had this bear come in from the north end of the camp, which is probably the same bear that we had to scare away because there were no other bears seen in the area,” Nowdluk says. The man in charge of the elders’ camp had left early in the morning to go hunting down the bay, leaving just the elders and one teenage boy when the bear came into the camp.
“The lady said they were firing shots above and around the bear to scare it away,” Nowdluk says. “They’ve had experience in this kind of stuff before because they’ve been out on the land quite a bit.”
But the bear refused to leave, and kept moving towards the elders, who weren’t sure whether their rifle was even capable of killing the bear. For safety’s sake, they shot it in the foot.
That sent the bear three miles down the bay and onto the tidal flats. By that time, they had reported the bear, and the shooting, to town, and asked for help to make sure the bear didn’t come back.
Nowdluk went by boat to the camp along with RCMP Officer Jimmy Akavak and Alden Williams, another wildlife officer.
“We went over and watched the bear, it didn’t move anymore. We waited for high tide so we could drive right up to it and we followed it onto an island to make sure it was away from the elders. It went behind the island and right at the water’s edge. We had to kill it there. Because it was already injured, we had no choice but to do that.”
Williams says it’s not unusual to see bears this time of year, especially young bears like this one. This bear had only left its mother this spring, and was still learning to hunt.
Another bear was shot in similar circumstances in Qikiqtarjuaq in early August. That bear was also shot at an outpost camp where people were staying and could not be scared away.
Drickus Gissing, the wildlife manager for the Baffin Region, says polar bear sightings are just beginning this year, and will continue until freeze-up, when the bears can return to their hunting grounds.
Gissing says Clyde River, Qikiqtarjuaq and Resolute Bay are where most bear sightings occur in the Baffin region in the fall, while bear-sightings in other communities are more rare.
On average, there has been one polar bear killed around Iqaluit every year for the last five years. The last incident was a mother and two cubs killed in the early days of 2004. The bear before that was killed in November 2002.
The Iqaluit bear’s hide went to the Hunters and Trappers Organization, which rightfully “owns” the bear, since the kill is counted among their annual quota. Meat was distributed to elders and homeless people.