Wainwright hunters come face-to-face with hungry polar bear during whale harvest

Still from a amateur video captured by Chad Ukpik Bernick, of Wainwright. A hungry polar bear...
Still from a amateur video captured by Chad Ukpik Bernick, of Wainwright. A hungry polar bear approaches the bowhead whale landed by subsistence hunters. (KTUU)
Published: Apr. 29, 2016 at 7:34 AM AKDT
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The village of Wainwright is reporting a "record breaking" couple of weeks for their whale harvest, successfully hunting six whales in just eight days. But the latest catch attracted a dangerous visitor on Tuesday, as villagers found themselves face-to-face with a polar bear attempting to take some of the meat.

“The crew caught the whale and brought it to town, and we hauled it up, and I guess around that time the bear was hungry enough to come in,” said resident Michael Agnasagga. “People started hollering out for a gun in case it tried to attack some people.”

Agnasagga, as well as another resident, grabbed weapons and fired a few warning shots into the water to scare off the animal. The bear appeared to ignore the warnings and crawled up onto the ice. Agnasagga took aim and killed the bear with a single shot to the head.

Agnasagga said, although the occurrence is rare, it’s part of surviving in an Arctic village

According to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, the killing of a polar bear is legal in certain cases. The agency’s law enforcement chief in Anchorage said in a statement about the occurrence, "Under the 'Native exemption' of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1973, coastal dwelling Alaska Natives are permitted to take marine mammals for the purposes of subsistence or creating and selling authentic native articles of handicrafts and clothing.”

In the end, Agnasagga said none of the bear was wasted, as the village continued its efforts to put food on the table.

“The meat was good and it fed some other people in the village,” said Agnasagga.

A hunting crew was said to be preparing to strike their final bowhead of the season on Thursday.