A polar bear killed a woman and a boy Tuesday afternoon in the Alaska Northwest community of Wells, according to Alaska State Police.
Officers received a report of a polar bear attack around 2:30 p.m., officers said online report. According to initial reports, a polar bear came into the village and chased several residents, police said.
The bear killed a woman and a boy, police said. Another Wells resident shot and killed the bear “when it attacked the couple,” police said.
The two people who were killed in the shooting were not identified in the report, and officers said officials were working to notify their next of kin.
Austin McDaniel, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Public Safety, said troopers are coordinating with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as they try to send personnel to Wells as soon as time permits.
Wells — a predominantly Inupiaq village of fewer than 150 people — is located at the westernmost tip of the Seward Peninsula, bordering the Bering Strait, just over 100 miles northwest of Nome.
According to Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Subsisting primarily on a diet of marine mammals, males can grow up to 1,200 pounds, females up to 700 pounds, with no natural predators other than humans.
Fatal polar bear attacks are extremely rare in Alaska. In 1990, a polar bear killed a man in the North Slope village of Point Lay. Biologists later said the animal shows signs of hunger. In 1993, a polar bear burst through a window at an Air Force radar station on North Slope, seriously injuring a 55-year-old mechanic. He survived the attack.
With the loss of sea ice and the ocean remaining open later in the year, polar bears are spending more time on land, increasing the chance of encountering humans, Joseph Jessup McDermott said. He is the executive director of Alaska Nannut Cooperative Management Councila tribally mandated organization consisting of 15 tribes in Alaska, including Wells, who traditionally harvest polar bears for a living.
“Over the past few decades, it’s been very, very rare for these types of attacks to happen,” McDermott said. “It’s incredibly tragic that it happened.”
Although McDermott said the Chukchi Sea polar bear population is healthy, there have been reports of polar bears in Northwest Alaska seeking alternative food sources such as garbage. About 10 years ago, residents as far inland as Noatak reported seeing animals, he said.
“Although there have been rare cases in recent years like a bear showing up in Noatuck,” McDermott said, “the presence of bears around communities like Wells is a normal and regular occurrence.”
Some communities in Alaska — several on the North Slope, for example — have had polar bear patrols to keep residents safe. This is not currently the case in Wales.
“Wales currently does not have an active polar bear patrol program due to a lack of government funding, unlike the North Slope,” McDermott said, “but it is something ANCC is looking to pursue with other (non-governmental organizations).”
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