Nfld. & Labrador

'Bear was looking right at him': Close encounters with polar bears in Labrador

What would you do if you came face to face with a polar bear in your kitchen window? Kate Turnbull and Tim Coombs who live in Labrador know exactly how it feels.

Polar bear warnings issued for coastal Labrador communities after multiple sightings

A file photo of a polar bear spotted in late 2013 in Black Tickle, a small island community off the southeastern coast of Labrador, where one resident says a bear was spotted looking in their window this week. (Courtesy of Angela Dyson)

What would you do if you came face to face with a polar bear in your kitchen window?

Kate Turnbull and Tim Coombs live in Labrador and they know exactly how it feels.

The couple got a terrible fright Monday evening, when one of the large furry animals decided to drop by their home in Domino near Black Tickle, a small island community off the southeastern coast of Labrador..

It's getting a little bit too close when they start coming around your houses.- Jeffrey Keefe

Turnbull said her husband was in the kitchen cooking supper when they heard a loud thump.

When he looked up, the polar bear was at the window looking in.

"That's when he sung out, he said, 'Holy, it's a bear … a bear in the window,'" said Turnbull.

"When he looked out through the kitchen window — the bear was looking right in at him."

Polar bear tracks seen in the snow near Black Tickle, Labrador, last winter. It's believed that around 23 of the large carnivores visited the area in 2015. (Samantha Curl)

The experience has jarring, and Turnbull said she was on edge the rest of the day.

"It was kind of frightening for us, that night I really couldn't sleep — it's too close for comfort when they're coming around the houses like that," she said.

This is the second time in two weeks Turnbull said a polar bear has been around her house.

She told CBC the first one tore the water line off her home and tried to dig up the septic tank.

On Monday evening, Turnbull immediately called her neighbours to alert them.

She also contacted Jeffrey Keefe, a sergeant with the Canadian Rangers in Black Tickle who regularly patrols for bears.

Keefe responded to the call equipped with his shotgun and bear bangers — a small hand-held device used to scare off bears.

By the time he arrived, the bear had left but he followed the animal to the harbour where it appeared to head out onto the ice.

"He's pretty brazen, that one," said Keefe.

"It's getting a little bit too close when they start coming around your houses."

Another bear, another community

Charlottetown is a community in southern Labrador. (CBC)

Turnbull and Coombs aren't alone in their close encounter.

Last Sunday, further down the coast in Charlottetown, Labrador, Dwayne Russell had his own encounter with a polar bear hanging out in his yard.

He heard his team of sled dogs barking and when he looked out the window, Russell saw the bear eating his dog's food.

"I heard the dogs going crazy out there, it wasn't just an ordinary morning bark they were pretty intense," Russell told CBC's Labrador Morning.

"I wasn't expecting to see him in amongst the dogs … but he was there, stood up large as life."

They're a nice animal [but] they're a dangerous one. You got to make sure you give them lots of space.- Jeffrey Keefe

Wildlife officials arrived as Russell headed out the door with his gun.

He said the bear `having a feed` on top of an old refrigerator he uses to store seal meat for his dogs.

"He didn't seem to mind them [the dogs] that much, he was more interested in getting a lunch I think," said Russell.

Wildlife officers fired a couple of bangers at him — "rubber bullets or whatever," Russell said.

"I think it was the second or the third one before he even noticed that they struck him, and he took off."

Russell said the bear came back but the second time kept its distance in the woods.

Like the one spotted on Turnbull's property, this bear wasn't captured and is believed to have headed towards the Atlantic Ocean.

Polar bears are common in Labrador, but they traditionally arrive in the spring as they make their way back north. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC News)

While it is common for polar bears to visit Labrador, they usually arrive in the spring while making their way back north, sticking to the shoreline or out on the ice.

Keefe said they generally do not venture so close to houses.

"The only thing I can figure is that there's a lot of sea ice, so I guess they're on the move earlier … they just wait around for the sea ice so they can get out to the seals."

Last year, Keefe estimated 23 bears travelled through the area.

Way of life

The province issued a polar bear warning Tuesday, saying the animals have been reported in Charlottetown, Black Tickle, Norman Bay and the Wunderstrands area.

Turnbull said communities take precautions such as using proper storage and collecting garbage to avoid attracting bears.

It's always in my mind now. That's just a reality of living here.- Kate Turnbull

She said her encounter with the bear was the closest she's ever had and, while she won't forget it, it won't change how she lives.

"Where they came this close now, it's always in my mind," Turnbull said.

"That's just a reality of living here." 

It's not going to change things for Russell either, who says he knows to be cautious, but still plans to take his dog team out for runs.

"You don't like to see them around, you don't know what they could do," said Russell.

"It's nice to have a gun with you when you comes in contact with one because they're not to be messed with."

Meanwhile, Keefe said he and other rangers will continue to do their part patrolling to keep the community safe.

In the meantime, residents are being told to be on the lookout for bears. Anyone who encounters one should stay calm, back away slowly, avoid eye contact, and contact their local district forestry office.

"They're a nice animal [but] they're a dangerous one. You got to make sure you give them lots of space," said Keefe.

Black Tickle is an island community on the southeast coast of Labrador. (CBC)


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