Polar Bear Blog – Different Polar Bears, Different Places

Well, my brain is all twisted up after that trip! I’ll try to be a bit more eloquent than my last post but the message is still the same… I was pretty anti-hunting before this trip (and I guess I still am) but, man, there is something about a polar bear hunt that really gets inside you.

Roland and I tracked bears for almost two weeks, following pressure ridges and open leads on the sea ice. Tracks were few and far between, some of the elders said that when the bears are around town in November and December, they tend to move off in the spring. Others figured that the whale carcasses in Kaktovik were keeping more polar bears over in that area and others just said there was a really nice floe edge on the west side of Banks Island. Who knows. Polar bears like to move, so that much is true anyway.

But being out on the sea ice, following fresh tracks and knowing that bears are just ahead of you is really something. I mean when my Inuk guide asked me which tracks I wanted to follow and I paused too long, he actually gave me heck for taking too long…! Since when does an Inuk worry about time, ha!

Pounding away in the Alliak behind Roland’s snowmobile hot on the heels of a male bear, probably eight or nine feet was still an incredible experience, even if his tracks just somehow disappeared. The Inuks say you shouldn’t go after those bears, they don’t want to be found, maybe its bad luck if you do. So maybe this guy wanted to be hunted and not photographed. It sounds pretty weird but I could believe it after being out there.

We did track, mostly on foot though, a mother with two very young cubs though. She followed a pressure ridge, breaking into seal dens along the way while her cubs watched and sometimes played about 20′ away from her. They started running way before we saw them, probably from the sound of our machine. She took them along the ridge, then cut along another one, stopping to watch us probably around the time when we first saw her tracks. It was pretty amazing to get a little look into her life.

There were grolar bears found, just not by me this time. Pat Ekapohak is a really experience hunter that travels up to Wynniatt Bay and Prince of Wales Sound in the spring. He saw a mother with two cubs, all hybrids plus the tracks of two others, one of which he thinks is a ten foot male. Given the fact that he’s hunted 140 or so bears in his life, I tend to take his word for it. The good news is that he invited us to travel with him next year… the bad news is that guys were already heading north to try to find that big hybrid. Can’t blame a guy for trying to make a living though… hybrids are the only ones left where you can sell the skin to the states. Wait and see I guess…

Ulukhaktok is a little bit split on the grolar bear, I would say.  Some folks think its interesting and maybe a good attraction while others don’t think that grizzlies or hybrids belong on the island and that we should shoot them when we see them.  Their reason is mostly for people’s safety at camps.  Grolars are more aggressive on the ice and faster than polar bears, plus f0lks think they are more likely to break into cabins.  Either way, there seems to be more hybrids appearing rather than less.

The people in Ulukhaktok are really friendly, genuine folks, one of the nicest towns in the arctic for sure.  I think they might be a bit leery about outsiders coming in with new ideas and given the CITES and US ban on polar bear skins, you can’t really blame them.  Still, they set aside tags for sport hunters that probably won’t ever arrive and then the unused tags cycle through the community until they get filled in the spring.  Each person gets two good weather days and can go out once before you have to give up the tag.  Whether you go out for a few hours or camp for a week or two on the ice, its up to you but when you come home, that’s it until your name comes up again.

I’d still like to see tourism develop up there but the polar bear hunters and the wolf hunters and most folks are free people, making a living off the land.  The more we save polar bears, maybe the more that gets taken away.  You look at all the money spent on zoos and polar bear enclosures and maybe that could have been used to pay the Inuks to tracks bears and record information, there’s a lot of knowledge up there that just gets passed around over tea.

So there you go – maybe a bit clearer than my last post, ha… then again, maybe its not. Folks down south wonder how people could hunt polar bears and folks up north wonder how people could lock polar bears up in zoos without much hope of either place really understanding the other.  Sounds a little depressing… maybe its just the post-trip blahs, hard to say.

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