According to Alaska State Troopers, a polar bear attack has resulted in the deaths of two people, a woman and young boy, in a remote village.
Troopers received word of the attack at 2:30 PM on Tuesday, Jan. 17 in Wales, Alaska, a village within the state’s Seward Peninsula. A local resident managed to shoot and kill the polar bear as it attacked the pair, officials state. The woman and child are related, but the identities of the victims is being kept private as troopers work to notify their family.
Wales is a small, hard to reach community of predominantly Inupiaq residents. Around 150 people call the village home, with the nearest town, Nome, residing 100 miles to the southeast. Alaska State Troopers and the state’s Dept. of Fish and Game have yet to reach the area as a result of harsh winter weather. Once conditions allow, both organizations will search the area of the attack.
This remote, westward tip of the northernmost U.S. state is no stranger to polar bears, but attacks remain rare. As Earth’s climate continues to warm, however, human encounters with the largest species of bear on the planet are increasing.
Polar Bear Attacks Expected to Increase
In 2019, the U.S. Geological Survey would cite changes in and loss of sea ice habitat as a driving force in increased human-polar bear conflicts. And as the bears’ use of Alaskan land increases, so does the danger of predatory attacks on locals.
Wales is no stranger to polar bears, though attacks remain exceptionally rare. The last documented case of a polar bear-caused fatality in the area came in 1990, when a bear killed an adult male in nearby Point Lay village. According to Anchorage Daily News, biologists found signs of starvation in that bear.
As sea ice melts and these bears (a species even more imposing than brown bears) lose habitat, they’re moving inland to suitable habitats. They’re not only losing access to prey out on frigid seas, though. Rapid changes to the Arctic region are also causing declines in prey species that rely on the ice. This deadly combination has led to a stark decline in the polar bear population. But it is also forcing starving bears inland in search of prey.
Humans are among polar bear’s prey and have been for millennia. In August of last year, a polar bear attacked and injured a French tourist at her remote campsite in the Arctic Svalbard Islands of Norway when. Her injuries were not life-threatening, but the bear was later euthanized.