Polar bear spotted on Gaspé Peninsula killed by wildlife officers

Quebec Provincial Police had warned residents near Madeleine-Centre, Que., in the Gaspé Peninsula, to remain indoors after they were alerted about a polar bear sighting near grounds of the old airport.

It was spotted near the old airport in Madeleine-Centre, far south of its normal habitat

The bear was located and killed at around 8:30 a.m. Sunday following an aerial search, wildlife officials said. (Submitted by Jean Bergeron)

After asking residents of a community in the northern coast of the Gaspé Peninsula to hunker indoors for nearly 24 hours after the sighting of a polar bear, provincial police say it's now safe to go outside.

The Sûreté du Québec (SQ) issued the warning at 1 p.m. on Saturday after the bear was spotted in the area of Madeleine-Centre, Que. by the site of the former airport.

The bear was located and killed at around 8:30 a.m. Sunday following an aerial search, wildlife officials said. According to them, it was not safe enough to relocate the bear to its original habitat. 

The mayor of Sainte-Madeleine-de-la-Rivière-Madeleine said he was alerted about the situation on Saturday morning, after a friend of his sent him photos of the bear and one of its footprints.

"It's been a funny day. I've been wondering how a polar bear could get there, it's a bit early for an April Fools' joke," Joël Côté said Saturday while speaking to Radio-Canada.

Sophie Bonneville told Radio-Canada that she spotted the bear near her home after her dog Boris alerted her. Quebec wildlife officials were contacted just after.

A photo of the bear's pawprint next to a person's foot, for scale. (Submitted by Jean Bergeron)

"My partner was shovelling and Boris went on the run because, well, he doesn't stand for anything on our land, not even a crow," Bonneville said. "It looked at the dog, it wasn't afraid."

"After looking at my partner he turned to go back into the woods."

As of Saturday afternoon officials had yet to confirm it was polar bear as they continued to search for its tracks. 

"There's a photo where you can clearly see the bear, and it's white. In terms of colour, it's the right colour," Côté added. "I'm not a specialist."  

Officers with the SQ went door to door to advise residents in the area to stay inside.

A rare but not impossible visit, biologist says

Dominique Berteaux, a biologist and professor at the Université du Québec à Rimouski, had placed his bets on it being a polar bear.

Polar bears found in the spring on the east coast of Labrador move north when the pack ice breaks up, Berteaux said, but noted that sometimes bears can get lost. They're also fantastic swimmers, he said. 

"The Inuit consider it a marine mammal," Berteaux said. "According to the scientific literature, there is nothing exceptional about bear crossing 100 or 200 kilometres while swimming."

Earlier this month, polar bears were spotted more than 200 km to the north, across the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, in the area of Baie-Johan-Beetz. A polar bear was also recently spotted near the Innu community of Unamen Shipu on the Lower North Shore, which is already south of the animal's normal habitat.

With files from Radio-Canada and the Canadian Press