Polar bear shot in Barrow after returning to neighborhood

Posted: Monday, September 23, 2002

ANCHORAGE - A polar bear was shot and killed after it was spotted in Barrow for the second time in recent days.

The bear was killed after it was seen wandering around a neighborhood early Friday morning, wildlife managers said. It was the first casualty from an unprecedented congregation of bears a few miles north of town.

"We give these bears three strikes and they're out," said Charlie Brower, head of the North Slope Borough's department of wildlife management.

First bears are harassed into leaving town on their own. Next they are sedated and hauled away.

The bear killed was old and sick. The animal had been tranquilized and transported earlier in the week, Brower said.

The boar, which weighed nearly 1,100 pounds, was seen again just before children would be heading out to school, so it was tranquilized. It was killed when biologists realized it was the same animal they'd removed once before, Brower said.

While polar bears aren't a rare sight in the Barrow area, they don't show up in town often. That changed this summer when about 60 bears gathered around a pile of bowhead whale bones left at Point Barrow, several miles north.

Barrow whalers usually haul the remains on sea ice in spring. But weak ice in the past several years has prevented whalers from taking the bones offshore.

When the bears began drifting into town, tensions started to rise, Brower said. Bears have been seen lurking around houses, getting into trash bins and hauling out on beaches.

The borough re-established round-the-clock polar bear patrols, which try to greet the animals on the outskirts of Barrow and shoo them back into the wilderness. Public announcements asked people to take extra caution when they left home in the morning. The road to Point Barrow was closed.

"It's unfortunate," Dennis Packer, the borough's chief administrative officer, told the Anchorage Daily News. "People are treating these bears like a cute little Pepsi commercial, or something they would see at the zoo. They forget these animals are the top of the food chain and are predators, opportunists."

The fall bowhead season begins today and as many as 13 whales could be landed and butchered in coming weeks. Brower said the dump bone pile could get bigger.

"That's the only place we can take 'em," he said.

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