Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut August 19, 2016 - 1:30 pm

Nunavut man says polar bear encounter terrifying, but not unusual

Despite their frequent appearance, Leo Karetak doesn't support killing more polar bears in Arviat

LISA GREGOIRE
A pair of muddy polar bear paw prints on Leo Karetak's GMC Jimmy are all that remain of the bear who paid Karetak a late-night visit Aug. 15 in Arviat. (PHOTO BY NOEL KALUDJAK)
A pair of muddy polar bear paw prints on Leo Karetak's GMC Jimmy are all that remain of the bear who paid Karetak a late-night visit Aug. 15 in Arviat. (PHOTO BY NOEL KALUDJAK)
Leo Karetak, 30, was up late carving a piece of quartz granite in a shed behind his father's house when he saw the bear foraging in his neighbour's garbage. What was he carving? A polar bear of course. (PHOTO COURTESY L. KARETAK)
Leo Karetak, 30, was up late carving a piece of quartz granite in a shed behind his father's house when he saw the bear foraging in his neighbour's garbage. What was he carving? A polar bear of course. (PHOTO COURTESY L. KARETAK)

Maybe it was the polar bear he was carving that conjured the Arctic’s fiercest land predator to pay him a visit. Or maybe it was just his neighbour’s garbage.

Whatever it was, that polar bear sure gave Joe Karetak a fright Monday night.

Karetak, a 30-year-old mechanic millwright apprentice at Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank mine, was up late carving a quartz granite polar bear in a shed out behind his father’s house in Arviat Aug. 15.

It was after midnight and time to go to bed so he opened the door to the shack and stepped outside. That’s when he heard a noise.

“I saw an object eating garbage. It was a polar bear, like, 20 feet away,” Karetak said. “I was terrified.

The bear was too close. Karetak didn’t feel safe running to his dad’s house

Now Karetak — like most others in the southern Kivalliq community — is used to seeing polar bears in Arviat but usually he’s in a safe place when he sees one. Or he has a gun. He had neither.

The shed, he said, likely wouldn’t have held up against a determined polar bear. “If he wanted to, he could have got in,” Karetak said.

Luckily Karetak did have a phone on him so he called the hamlet’s bear monitor, Leo Ikakhik, who came quickly and scared the bear away.

Polar bears migrate through that area of the Kivalliq region every year so it’s not uncommon to see bears at the community’s dump or at a place called Century Island where Arviat residents often go to hunt, Karetak said.

The community has taken to holding Halloween celebrations indoors annually for fear trick-or-treating children might be vulnerable to attack.

The frequency of polar bear visits in town has led some local leaders to demand higher quotas for that western Hudson Bay polar bear sub-population.

Arviat South MLA Joe Savikataaq, before he was named Community and Government Services minister, criticized the Government of Nunavut for not heeding advice from the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board to increase the quota to 38 animals from 24.

Environment Minister Johnny Mike did increase the quota in October 2015 but only by a modest four animals. The quota is now 28.

When asked if he thought the community should be able to hunt more polar bears to keep people safer, Karetak said no.

“I mean, I’m not sure what to do. It’s hard to say. But bears won’t ever stop going through there. It’s a migration route for them. I’m not sure killing more of them is the answer. There has to be a different way,” he said.

But he knows some disagree with him. “I’m not big on politics,” he added. “Everyone has an opinion.”

A hunter, Karetak said he’s hunted plenty of seals, caribou and other animals but has never had a polar bear tag and so has never harvested one.

As part of their ongoing efforts to keep the community safe, Arviat teamed up with World Wildlife Canada to hire Ikakhik to be a bear monitor.

Rather than just kill bears that come into town, Ikakhik drives around on his ATV with a gun and loud “bear bangers” to scare polar bears away.

And when bears are most common in the fall when the sea ice starts to freeze, the hamlet has had some success luring them away from town by placing pails of seal meat frozen in water a couple kilometres east and north of Arviat. 

They give the bears an easy food source so they can forage from a safe distance and then be on their way.

 

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