Thursday, May 18, 2023

Polar Bear Stopped with a .44 Magnum on Arey Island, Alaska, August 16, 2014


 image of Arey island by Eric Mckittrick 23 August, 2003 link to license cc 2.5

Arey Island is a seven mile long barrier island in the Southern Beaufort Sea off the coast of the North Slope of Alaska. It is a flat, barren island, which is mostly privately owned.

During August of 2014 two United States Fish and Wildlife personnel were on duty on the west end of Arey Island recorded as off the mouth of the Hula Hula and Okpilak Rivers, 8.5 miles WSW of Kaktovik. 70 deg 05'23.67" N, 144 deg. 00'43.12"W. One of them defended themselves against a polar bear on August 16, at about 9 a.m. The incident was recorded as number 549 in the freedom of information act (FOIA) response AmmoLand received. 

What happened is reconstructed from the sparse reporting in the FOIA response. 

The Fish and Wildlive personnel did not have any dogs with them. The food was in a bear resistant container, outside of the tent. The Fish and Wildlife pair did not have bear spray with them, nor was bear spray used. In Kaktovik, the temperature was recorded as 39 degrees F, with a 20 mph wind from the East. Earlier, at 5 am, the wind had been 30 mph. For those of you who have not slept in a tent, 20 to 30 mph winds are significant. A tent has to be strong and well anchored to remain in place with a 30 mph wind. If the wind was averaging 20 mph, there were almost certainly gusts to 30 mph. When the wind was averaging 30 mph, there were almost certainly gusts to 45 mph.

One of the Fish and Wildlife personnel was sleeping in a tent. They had a .44 magnum. A fat and healthy boar polar bear arrived on the scene and attempted to enter the tent. The sleeper woke up, detected the polar bear, shot and killed the polar bear with the .44 magnum. The shooter was not injured, except perhaps, for some lost hearing ability. 

Some people might believe the boar polar bear was just looking for a little interspecies companionship in the bleak landscape. Polar bears are, most of the time, at the top of the food chain. They are opportunistic hunters. They live by killing and eating other living things. It seems unlikely the bear was there to cuddle.

Even at the relatively warm temperature of 39 degrees, shelter is essential to survival in a place such as Arey Island. With Kaktovik only 8.5 miles away, a healthy person could probably find shelter there. There is not much to make shelter from on a windswept barrier island such as Arey Island. If a polar bear forces its way into your tent, there may not be much tent left over.

In the reporting recovered in the FOIA, a person reviewing the incident made this comment:

Fat, curious  bear. If had had bear spray, this would have been a good time to use it. The individual did not carry ANY deterrents. Only a .44.

This reporter suspects the after the fact commentator did not bother to consider what the weather was when the incident happened. Weather was not mentioned in the abbreviated facts given in the information from the FOIA request. As a meteorologist in a previous career, this correspondent only took a few keystrokes to determine what the weather was on that day and time, from a reporting station in Kaktovik, only a few miles away. 

Bear spray with a 20 mph wind is useless. Even a slight breeze has major effects on bear spray. Bear spray inside a tent is more likely to debilitate a person in the tent than a bear outside of it. Waiting for a bear to enter the tent with you, in order to spray it, is not a wise option. How much damage the tent sustained in the fight for survival with a healthy polar bear, was not mentioned. The bear was killed.

The incident was recorded as a Defense of Life and Property report (DLP) in Alaska. 

©2023 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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