Arviat on polar-bear watch again

People living in Arviat, Nunavut, brace for a possible repeat of last fall's influx of polar bears.

People living in Arviat, Nunavut, are bracing for a possible repeat of last fall's influx of polar bears.

Residents in the hamlet of 2,000 feared for their safety a year ago this month, when an unusually high number of polar bears were spotted roaming through the community as part of their fall migration south.

Resident Annie Ollie told CBC News that a few polar bears have already wandered near her house on the edge Arviat. She and her family are now on high alert, said Ollie, speaking in Inuktitut.

Many blamed the spike in bear sightings last year on a lack of ice around western Hudson Bay, along with a drastic cut in the number of polar bears that hunters could kill.

Residents reported seeing the bears scavenge for food outside their homes and even chase two teenagers down the street.

The roaming bears led residents to patrol the community daily and to try unsuccessfully to scare the animals away with non-violent deterrents such as flares and bear bangers, which simulate the sound of gunshots.

The question of whether Arviat will have a polar bear problem again this year will depend on the weather, local conservation officer Joe Savikataaq Sr. said.

"If we have a quick freeze-up and the ice goes far out from the land, then we shouldn't have too much of bear problems," Savikataaq said. "But if the ice keeps breaking off like last year, then we may have the same number of bears again.

"What was happening last year, we kept getting strong winds off the land and it would break the fresh ice that's forming and take it away."

Nunavut wildlife officials granted Arviat only eight hunting tags for polar bears last year, all designated for emergency kills only.

It was a sharp drop from the 38 tags allocated to Arviat the year before, and Savikataaq said all eight tags were used. There is no word on how many tags will be allocated to Arviat this year, he said.

In the meantime, Savikataaq is advising parents to make sure their children are well-supervised, especially late at night and in the early morning hours, when polar bears tend to wander closer to town.