Polar bears have a unique status within people’s view. On the one hand, they are respected by the native Arctic peoples and others spend a lot of money to see them; on the other hand, they are feared and even loathed because they are the top predator and King of the Arctic. The problems between men and bears are old and now they are getting worse with a warming Arctic. Especially in the Hudson Bay area before it freezes over, bears had threatened people in the small communities and people used to shoot them. Since 2010, WWF – Canada has been involved in a successful campaign to prevent bear-men encounters and the need to kill each other.

Polar bears wander on their search for food along the shoreline of the Hudson Bay and wait until it freezes over. Due to climate change, this freeze-up starts later and later in the season. Picture: Michael Wenger
Polar bears wander on their search for food along the shoreline of the Hudson Bay and wait until it freezes over. Due to climate change, this freeze-up starts later and later in the season. Picture: Michael Wenger

David Miller, WWF-Canada president and CEO says with steadily decreasing sea ice coverage due to climate change, polar bears in the Western Hudson Bay population are spending more time on shore in summer and away from their primary food source: seals caught from the sea ice. While waiting for the ice to freeze, some scavenge food along the coast, and are attracted to communities. This year (September — December, 2015) the community of Arviat experienced 190 encounters with polar bears with two bears threatening human life put down under Defence of Life and Property (DLP) regulations. There have been 20 attacks on humans in recent years. The bears are attracted by the smell of meat left for the Inuit dog teams, or left out for the families themselves, and of course the odours from town dumps.

As the summer months become longer, polar bears have more trouble to find food sources and thus become less considerate when approaching human settlements. This leads to dangerous encounters for both men and bears. Picture: Michael Wenger
As the summer months become longer, polar bears have more trouble to find food sources and thus become less considerate when approaching human settlements. This leads to dangerous encounters for both men and bears. Picture: Michael Wenger

Bears roaming into or near villages can be very dangerous. Up until 2010, when the WWF-Canada began its program to chase bears out, an average of ten bears a year were being killed under DLP regulations.  Since then the average is down to one a year. The WWF has been funding patrols to detect the bears near villages and chase them away before they pose a risk. The daily patrols in peak bear season (September – December), take particularly at night, significantly reduce conflicts. Patrol teams have a range of tools including loud detonating devices, rubber bullets, beanbags, flares and live rounds. Persistent bears are trapped using seal meat, and then physically transported far away from the community.

The community of Churchill, Manitoba, successfully applies the trapping technique on polar bears. They are trapped and then kept in a holding facility for approximately 30 days before being transported far away into the wild again. During the 30 days, the bears are not fed but receive water and ice. Picture: Eyal Kaplan
The community of Churchill, Manitoba, successfully applies the trapping technique on polar bears. They are trapped and then kept in a holding facility for approximately 30 days before being transported far away into the wild again. During the 30 days, the bears are not fed but receive water and ice. Picture: Eyal Kaplan

“WWF is pleased to see that our ongoing partnership with the Hamlet of Arviat is continuing to pay off for both community members and the polar bears,” said Miller. “We are now working to share these successes with other northern communities to expand the program.” The WWF-Canada is now expanding the successful Arviat model to new communities in the Canadian Arctic, and sharing experiences with northern communities in other parts of the polar bear’s range by hosting a front-line operators’ workshop on Hudson Bay in March of 2016. Field-testing of different management and deterrence techniques is also ongoing, including waste management and devices that release loud noises to scare bears away.

Polar_bear_at_a_camp_near_Arviat

Because polar bears are such an iconic species, some companies offer trips to remote camps along the the Western Hudson Bay to shoot pictures of bears instead of bullets at them. Picture: Michael Wenger

Source: Marc Montgomery, Radio Canada International