The attack took place in Wales, Alaska, which has around 170 residents, according to the 2020 Census.
In a press release, Alaska State Troopers said they got a report about a polar bear attack in the village. Early reports demonstrated that the polar bear had gone into the area and “chased multiple residents,” according to the release.
“The bear fatally attacked an adult female and juvenile male – it was shot and killed by a local resident as it attacked the pair,” the release noted, adding, “[n]ext of kin notifications are still in progress.” Personnel with the troopers and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are set to go to Wales when the weather permits them to do so.
Joseph Jessup McDermott, the executive director of the Alaska Nannut Co-Management Council, (ANCC) told Anchorage Daily News that these kinds of incidents aren’t common.
“Over the past few decades, it’s been very, very rare for those types of attacks to occur,” McDermott said. “It’s incredibly tragic it happened.”
The ANCC is a “tribally authorized organization” made up of the 15 tribes in the state that have customarily harvested polar bears as a means of livelihood.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, there have been reports of polar bears in the northwestern region of the state looking for things to eat, like garbage. McDermott said, however, that the polar bears in the northwestern area are considered to be in good health. He said that around a decade ago, people who lived further inland said they were seeing the polar bears.
“While rare instances like a bear showing up in Noatak have occurred in recent years,” McDermott noted, “the presence of bears around communities like Wales is a normal and regular occurrence.”
“Wales does not currently have an active Polar Bear Patrol Program due to lack of government funding, unlike the North Slope,” McDermott said, “but this is something that ANCC has sought to pursue with other (nongovernmental organizations).”
According to the World Wildlife Fund, polar bears are strong predators and are a threat to humans and their belongings. Over the past several years, there have been over 20 reported direct human attacks in the animals’ range.
A 2017 study in The Wildlife Society noted that up to that time, incidences of polar bear attacks being reported were “extremely rare.” The group also discovered that “nutritionally stressed adult male polar bears were the most likely to pose threats to human safety.”