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Hunting polar bears by aircraft

The Story

Hunters stalking polar bears in Alaska in 1957 do it in a very modern way: they use airplanes. Gliding above the pack ice in the Bering Strait, they spot their prey and use the plane to herd the bear to a suitable spot. A quick landing and they dash out to shoot the bear, since shooting from the plane is illegal. In this CBC Radio interview, two veterans of the hunt say trophy-seekers will pay up to $5,000 (almost $43,000 in 2015 dollars) for the opportunity to bag a polar bear.

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: May 6, 1957
Guests: Doc Eisentrout, Barney Lamm
Host: Maria Barrett, Bill McNeil
Duration: 4:33
Photo: Library and Archives Canada image e000945284

Did You know?

• Inuit and aboriginal peoples in the regions surrounding the Arctic Circle have long hunted polar bears. Known as nanuq in the Inuktitut language, the polar bear provided both meat and clothing.

• In 1957, Alaska was a territory of the United States but not yet a state. In a 1974 report to the Third International Conference on Bears, biologist Jack Lentfer said aerial sport hunting for polar bears began in the region in the late 1940s. Local guides and bush pilots devised the method to allow sport hunters to shoot a trophy-sized bear in the shortest time possible. Lentfer's report also noted: "The skin was taken as a trophy and the meat was usually left on the ice."

• At the time of this clip, Alaska's restrictions for polar bear sport hunters outlined a season (January through April), prohibited the shooting of cubs or females with cubs, and limited hunters to one bear each. New regulations in 1967 specified that guides could take out a maximum of six hunters per year and that hunters had to have a permit. In 1971, the number of such permits was limited to 300.

• As of 2015 only aboriginal Alaskans are entitled to hunt polar bears. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hunters must hand over all skulls and hides from their catch for tagging.

• Barney Lamm, one of the interviewees in this clip, ran a charter airline and Ball Lake Lodge, a fishing camp in Northern Ontario. According to the CBC Digital Archives clip Mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows?, he shut down his camp in 1970 when it became evident that the fish were contaminated by mercury from a nearby chemical plant.




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