Rankin Inlet resident Joan Tugak said she has “never been so scared” as when she came face to face with a polar bear that had wandered into town early Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Joan Tugak)

Woman comes face to face with polar bear in Rankin Inlet

‘Never been so scared. I was screaming for my life,’ says Joan Tugak

By Madalyn Howitt

When Rankin Inlet resident Joan Tugak walked into town early Wednesday for her daily coffee at the Quickstop, she didn’t know she’d soon be “screaming for [her] life.”

“Who can expect a bear to be on the road near [the] Quickstop?” Tugak said in a message to Nunatsiaq News, describing the moment she came face to face with a polar bear outside the shop around 7 a.m.

“Never been so scared. I was screaming for my life,” Tugak said

Thankfully, she said, a man named Wayne Kusugak was close by. When he heard Tugak screaming, he came to get her in his truck.

“I’m so thankful for Wayne Kusugak for being there. I screamed all the way to his truck [and] even safe inside the truck, I couldn’t stop,” she said.

Not only was it the first Tugak had seen a polar bear in Rankin Inlet, it was the first time she’d ever seen a polar bear in person, she said.

Once she was in the Kusugak’s truck, they followed behind the bear for a while, she said, keeping an eye out for anyone else who may have been outside. They honked the truck’s horn to warn people.

Kusugak said she phoned a wildlife officer, who helped direct the polar bear away from the community.

A pair of photos taken by Rankin Inlet resident Joan Tugak show a polar bear that wandered into town early Wednesday morning being chased away by a truck. (Photos courtesy of Joan Tugak)

Nunatsiaq News was unable to reach Kusugak to hear his part of the encounter, but a five-second video posted on his Facebook page shows a polar bear running alongside the road and past houses as Kusugak films it and follows in his truck.

In the video caption, Kusugak said he chased the bear toward Williamson Lake.

Rankin Inlet Hunters and Trappers Organization manager Andre Aokaut said the bear eventually left town and swam away.

It hasn’t been spotted since early Wednesday, he said, adding that having a polar bear so close to the town centre is a concern, and there’s a possibility it could come back.

“[It’s] very unusual. We did have polar bears this spring that were sighted. So we’re expecting quite a bit of bears this summer for Rankin Inlet,” he said.

After Wednesday’s close encounter, Aokaut said the HTO office is discussing ways it can help people in the hamlet prepare and stay safe in case another polar bear wanders into town.

“That’s in the works right now, so we’re planning to get their monitors hired for the evening,” he said.

Tugak said after the scary start to her morning, friends and family have been messaging her to check that she’s alright.

She said she keeps having “flashbacks” of looking at the bear.

On Thursday morning, Tugak plans to borrow her daughter’s Honda and drive to the Quickstop instead for her usual coffee.

“I won’t walk anymore,” she said.


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(11) Comments:

  1. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    that is one scraggly looking hungry bear. pretty hard up if it had to wander into town to look for a meal.

    thankfully Wayne was there to pick her up and keep an eye on the bear so others were aware as well.

    this could have been much worse of a story. right time and right place.

  2. Posted by I live in the Arctic on

    a fortunate ending for all involved.

    • Posted by John K on

      Even for the bear! That was a nice surprise.

  3. Posted by Chicken Little on

    Was it climate change that forced the bear into town limits

    • Posted by Yes on

      Yes, the climate changes 4 times a year. In this particular case, it’s summer so the ice has melted. Polar bears are known to go into communities when there is no ice. Hope this helps

  4. Posted by enosamm on

    Sounds like she bearly made it out alive!

    • Posted by Garth on

      Hopefully Wayne can still hear out of his right ear, if he can hear her screaming from inside the vehicle she has some good lungs.

  5. Posted by Cynthia Gentles on

    I imagine that electric fences are being used more and more to secure attractants from the bears and this will be more important for other bears too as species migrate and intermingle. When camping in bear country you have to be smart (and brave sometimes) and I use a powerful but lightweight and compact portable electric bear fence around my campsite. The more we make it less likely for all bears to associate our spaces with tasty treats, the better. Good fences can be found at bearsentry.com
    Thanks for the story.

    • Posted by Facepalm on

      lol… omg, you serious?

    • Posted by Old timer on

      FYI Bear fences don’t work lot of it was tryed on dog teams in arviat but it not getting the bear to back off and all the fences that were use are all in the garbage now.

  6. Posted by Biologist on

    Never has the Polar Bear population been so high since the 1960s, we will see more and more Polar Bears venture into communities as the number of bears are so high now, the older bears push the younger teenage bears away and we tend to see these teenage bears go into camps and communities.
    Very healthy population of polar bears.

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